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Editorial: Sanctions must stay

Saddam uses the world's compassion to seek an evil end

Tuesday, September 19, 2000

Children are dying in Iraq of malnutrition, and people of good conscience in America and elsewhere naturally are appalled. But before they are moved to call for the end of U.N. sanctions, they should consider who is to blame and the possible consequences of naive compassion.

Saddam Hussein is to blame.

All of Iraq's problems stem from the fact that the Iraqi dictator decided to invade a sovereign country, Kuwait, in 1990. In losing the subsequent "mother of all battles" to a U.S.-led alliance operating under a U.N. mandate, Iraq agreed to conditions on disarmament. Sanctions were imposed in 1991 until the Iraqis complied with them.

A decade later - and by at least one estimate half a million dead babies later - Iraq is still not meeting its obligations. An initial pretense of compliance gave way to open defiance of the world organization. In late 1998, after resisting in every way possible, Iraq finally barred U.N. weapons inspectors whose job was to track down the manufacture of weapons of mass destruction. The United Nations set up a new inspection outfit more acceptable to Baghdad, but Iraq still won't let that team onto its territory.

The argument is increasingly made that because Saddam Hussein is unmoved and his people are suffering, continuing the sanctions does nothing but prolong the agony and is therefore immoral. That the pressure has failed so far is evident and so is the suffering. But what good will come of lifting sanctions?

The first benefit will accrue to Saddam Hussein. Lifting sanctions might make it somewhat easier for individual Iraqi traders and their customers, but it also would fill Iraqi government coffers. It would be naive to think that the new money stream would be directed to the benefit of Iraqi's suffering citizens.

This is a dictator who has built palaces for himself while his people struggled, who allowed poison gas to be used to kill Kurds (many of them women and children), who took five years to accept the United Nations' offer to allow the sale of oil to fund humanitarian supplies.

That U.N. program has allowed Iraq to sell oil in quantities approaching pre-Gulf War levels, and Iraq has been able to buy billions of dollars worth of food and medicine with the proceeds. So what is the exact nature of the malnutrition problem? Just the other day U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan told the Security Council that Iraq would not permit independent experts into the country to assess the situation for the purpose of making the food-for-oil program more responsive.

This is not surprising. The New York Times has reported that Iraq also has refused the help of some private organizations. The truth is that Saddam Hussein does not care a whit that Iraqi children and their families are suffering - except in one important respect: Their plight is a way to try to shame the world into lifting sanctions so that he may better pursue his goals of building terrifying weapons.

Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said it well at the United Nations last week. She told reporters that Saddam Hussein "can pick up the key to let himself out of the sanction box" - and he can do that by admitting U.N. inspectors.

The plight of Iraqis is severe, but it will pale in comparison to what the people of Israel and the United States could suffer if Saddam Hussein were empowered by the unconditional lifting of sanctions. He would then be free to build his arsenal and the world's compassion would be answered with ashes.

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