Leading Article: Drop sanctions as the first step to a free Iraq

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IT IS now widely assumed that the object of western policy in Iraq is the removal of Saddam Hussein - a polite way of saying killing him, because it is hard to see how he might be dislodged otherwise. But it is not stated explicitly, and that is just as well. The French government argues, in a high moral tone, that assassination should not be a tool of foreign policy. That is correct, although the state which murdered a Greenpeace activist on Rainbow Warrior is in no position to say so.

If Britain were engaged in a war of national survival with Iraq, as we were with Adolf Hitler, the argument would be different. But the United Nations is simply trying to force Iraq's compliance with international law on weapons of mass destruction. In pursuing this objective, the use of force must be limited. Even if it could be argued that the rule of law will be flouted as long as Saddam is in power, there can be no consensus that the death penalty is called for.

There are more pragmatic considerations. If Saddam were toppled, who would succeed him? It is a reasonable assumption that whoever it was would not be quite so pitiless towards either the peoples of Iraq or their neighbours. But it raises the question of how such an alternative leader might build a constituency of support in the country that would prevent its slipping into anarchy.

Rather late in the day, the governments of the United States and of Britain seem to have turned their mind to the conditions required to undermine Saddam's internal position - and if support for Iraqi opposition groups strengthens the chances of an attempt on Saddam's life, few would mourn. But the likelihood is that there is no short cut. We are brought back again to the need to lift sanctions on Iraq: in the long run, free trade is the surest way to undermine totalitarianism.