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Some Hope on Iraq Situation

For almost eight years Iraqis have suffered under United Nations trade sanctions brought on by their government’s invasion of Kuwait and sustained by its efforts to hide illegal weapons from U.N. inspectors. Richard Butler, the Australian diplomat who heads the inspection program, thinks a major easing of the sanctions may soon be possible. Until now Butler has been unstinting in his criticism of Iraq’s continuing efforts to hide some of its chemical and biological weapons. This makes his current optimism especially notable. Iraq’s actions should soon show if those hopes have been misplaced.

Three days of talks in Baghdad have led to what Butler calls a “new level of Iraqi cooperation.” A specific program has been agreed upon for verifying that Iraq has destroyed or revealed the hiding places of all of its illicit weapons, including long-range missiles and chemical and biological warfare agents. If Butler is satisfied that Iraq is holding nothing back he can recommend to the U.N. Security Council as early as October that sanctions be eased. That would probably allow Iraq to resume selling as much oil as it wanted. But, as Washington has made clear, it would not mean lifting all restrictions on exports to Iraq.

The intriguing question is why Saddam Hussein has suddenly decided, if indeed he has, that the time has come to end his deceptions and abandon his covert weapons program. Are the sanctions undercutting his power base within the security forces and the Baath Party? Has mass frustration reached a point where the regime feels threatened? Or does Iraq think it has hidden some of its covert weapons so well that no one can find them?

Saddam Hussein is an inveterate liar. He may be lying about his intentions now. Or, looking at the increasing strength of his enemy Iran, he may have decided that the time has finally come to start reconstructing his enfeebled economy.

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