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U.S. Faces a Fight in United Nations Over Continuing Sanctions in Iraq

By Robin Wright

Nine years after Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait threw the strategic Persian Gulf into crisis, the United States has reached a crunch point in policy.

The Clinton administration must decide over the next month whether to do battle with its own allies to keep alive a policy aimed at undoing the regime of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein -- or compromise in ways that might help a leader who was once compared to Hitler stay in power.

The core of the U.S. dilemma is that no end is in sight to its costly strategy, despite recent rumbles of unrest in southern Iraq. The policy also is now openly scorned by three of the U.N. Security Council’s five permanent members, each with veto power, who are expected to vote next month on a course of action.

In the past, the United States has ultimately prevailed with the argument that Iraq should not be readmitted to the community of nations as long as it refuses to comply with basic terms of the 1991 Persian Gulf War cease-fire, most notably on destroying all its weapons of mass destruction. Baghdad still refuses to take the first step in the process -- the listing of what is in its arsenal -- which was supposed to have been completed in a matter of days eight years ago.

Yet Washington is finding it ever harder both to sustain its policy and to contain Hussein in the context of several events over the past three years.

Iraqi troops have driven the U.S.-funded Iraqi opposition from its base in northern Kurdistan and into exile. The opposition’s political headquarters now is in London.

U.N. weapons inspectors trying to find and shut down Iraq’s deadly nuclear, biological and chemical weapon and ballistic missile programs were expelled. Any new team would have to start the search virtually from scratch.

Eight months of almost daily U.S. and British airstrikes in response to Iraqi provocations have failed to cow the Iraqi military. Pilots have flown roughly 70 percent as many sorties as NATO flew in its 78 days of saturation bombing of Yugoslavia, yet Iraq has managed to rebuild several facilities hit since four days of Operation Desert Fox last December led to an escalation over the northern and southern “no-fly” zones.

Hussein has defied every intelligence prediction of internal trouble or an imminent demise.

A new UNICEF survey reports that child mortality in Iraq has doubled since the Gulf War. Although it blames the Baghdad regime for not doing enough to help mothers and children, the survey of 24,000 families also concludes that the toughest sanctions regime ever imposed on any country shares the blame.

The confluence of these factors is widening the gap at the United Nations over what to do next about Iraq.