Confrontation with Iraq: Saddam ensures he is spectre at the feast: The Iraqi leader may be looking in vain for signs of discontinuity in the policy of the US, writes Patrick Cockburn

PRESIDENT Saddam Hussein has probably long intended to bring the Iraqi crisis to the boil at the moment of the inauguration, for two reasons. He wants to ensure that dealing with Iraq is at the top of Bill Clinton's agenda, to show it is a problem that will not go away. Secondly, he wants to emphasise the discontinuity between George Bush and Mr Clinton by adopting a more pacific stance after today.

There are also hints that President Saddam would like to treat the crisis as one in relations between Iraq and the United States rather than Iraq and the United Nations. An example of this came when Nizar Hamdoon, Iraq's UN representative, offered to let a congressional mission visit southern Iraq on a fact-finding mission. When Tariq Aziz, the Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister, visited the UN in November, he adopted a militant stance. When he comes again next month, he is likely to be more conciliatory.

Mr Clinton's recent interview, in which he said he was not 'obsessed' with President Saddam and would judge him by his behaviour, probably made hearts beat faster in Baghdad. But it may not, in the long term, mean anything very specific other than Mr Clinton's instinct that it may not be in his political interests to continue the prolonged cold and occasionally hot war with President Saddam when he wants to get on with his domestic agenda.

There are therefore calls in Washington for a political stance on Iraq to go hand-in-hand with military activity. The problem is that once missile and bomber attacks are used for more than compelling Iraqi compliance with specific UN resolutions, it is difficult to justify them as contributing to the political demise of Saddam Hussein. Some Clinton advisers advocate heavy bomb attacks on the Republican Guard and presidential guard units as a way of hitting at the centre of the Iraqi leader's power. But this is easier said than done, going by experience during the Gulf war.

Another political option would be greater military and political support for the Iraqi Kurd and Shia opposition. But Turkey, Iran and Syria are nervous about the development of a de facto Kurdish state in the three northern provinces of Iraq; they fear the repercussions on their own Kurdish minorities. Saudi Arabia has also been edgy about aid to the Shias of southern Iraq.

Colin Powell, Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, has reportedly advocated massive use of force, but it is doubtful if there is a political consensus to resume a bombing campaign approaching the scale of that of 1991. Nor is there a guarantee it would succeed in getting rid of President Saddam. A more acceptable move would be the extension of a no-fly zone to the whole of Iraq. From the US point of view, the most satisfactory policy would be a slow, low-profile siege of Iraq backed up by the use of force which would gradually tighten the squeeze on President Saddam. But it is precisely this situation which the Iraqi leader seems determined to avert by staging small-scale incidents and intermittently provoking showdowns, which may lead to military losses but also underline to the world that he still rules in Baghdad.

For the moment, Mr Clinton and his staff are eager to back away from the president-elect's thoughts of last week about limiting the scope of the confrontation. George Stephanopoulos, Mr Clinton's director of communications, says there is 'no daylight' between Mr Clinton's and Mr Bush's positions, and in the next few weeks the new president will want to show that he will react no less strongly than Mr Bush.

The retention by Mr Clinton for the moment of Dennis Ross, head of policy planning at the State Department, and Edward Djerejian, Assistant Secretary of State, who were key figures in Mr Bush's Middle East policy, does not tell very much about future policy towards Iraq. For the past two years this has been largely controlled by the White House and the National Security Council, while the State Department has been central to Arab-Israeli peace talks.

The retention of Mr Djerejian and Mr Ross does, however, indicate that the Clinton administration will not introduce radically different policies from those of his predecessor.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
peoplePair enliven the Emirates bore-draw
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark episode 8, review
Britain's opposition Labour Party leader Ed Miliband (R) and Boris Johnson, mayor of London, talk on the Andrew Marr show in London April 26
General electionAndrew Marr forced to intervene as Boris and Miliband clash on TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistant - Accounts Payable - St. Albans

£26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...

Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions