Leading article: Time to rethink policy on Iraq

WE'LL HUFF and we'll puff but we won't blow Saddam Hussein down - any more than we're going to topple Slobodan Milosovic in Serbia. The best we can hope for in the escalating crisis over Iraq's decision to throw out the weapons inspectors is the same as in Kosovo: that somehow the threat of force can impel a return to the bargaining table. A shoddy compromise will then be worked out until Saddam Hussein or Milosovic see an opportunity to turn up the heat or take advantage of distractions in America to push the line forward again.

It is a dreary repetition which has gone on, in Iraq's case, for eight years now. And it will keep on repeating itself every few months for the simple reason that, for the West, sanctions are a substitute for doing nothing, not a means of achieving an agreed and defined aim.

Despite the UN inspectorate and eight years of search and destroy, there simply isn't the trust between the two sides to bring about a resolution. The UN inspectorate always believes, and will always believe, that however much they find there will still be more to discover. Given Saddam Hussein's record, it has to be said that it is a perfectly reasonable assumption.

The Iraqis, on their side, sense that the West is growing tired of the game. France, Germany, China and Russia want butter not guns and sense the profit in Iraq. At the same time, the politics of the Middle East has moved away from isolation of Iraq as a pariah state. In the intensifying mood of fear and hatred of Israel under Benjamin Netanyahu, even Iran and Syria see advantages in closer relations with Baghdad.

It is time we were honest about what we can, and cannot do, in Iraq. Yes, we can get the inspectors back. But it is also time to concede that Iraq has a point on sanctions. We are destroying Saddam's people while ennobling him as a martyr. Give him open trade - it will do far more to undermine him than isolation will ever do. But keep the inspectorate and back it with force. Knock out some of his presidential troops' installations every time he pushes too far.

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