'Containment' policy weakened

Policing Saddam

Behind this week's missile bombardments of Iraq lies one of the oddest of all US policies in the Middle East: "dual containment". Proposed by the former head of the Middle East desk at the United States National Security Council, Martin Indyk, the aim was to curb the power of both Iraq and Iran.

Israel had long advanced the same thesis. Iraq and Iran - so Mr Indyk told his masters - were the opponents of "peace" in the region; their influence must be countered by American economic, political and military pressure. And US diplomats assiduously took this approach with the Gulf states: the greatest danger to their stability, they told the kings and emirs, came from Baghdad and Tehran.

But this week's missile assaults on Iraq seem to make America's stated Middle East policy a little more difficult to understand. Bombing the Iraqis who support the Kurds opposed to Iran - the Kurdish Democratic Party which invited Saddam Hussein's troops into Arbil - gives kudos to Jalal Talabani, whose alliance with Iran seems to grow stronger by the hour.

Iran has deplored the US air strikes, but its Kurdish allies have been the principal beneficiaries of this week's American adventure. Many a glass of warm Pepsi must therefore have been raised in Tehran in support of President Bill Clinton's latest adventure. Perhaps even to Martin Indyk. Or did the Americans not realise they were involving themselves in the Kurdish civil war?

Mr Indyk is perhaps the most interesting figure in this whole process. He is now US ambassador to Israel but formally worked for Aipac - the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee - which lies at the heart of the Jewish lobby in the US. A committed Zionist, Mr Indyk co-founded the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, an Aipac satellite, and has always allied himself with the right-wing Israeli Likud party which won the elections last May.

This, however, did not stop Mr Clinton appointing him ambassador to Israel where his advice to Yasser Arafat - after the March suicide bombings that slaughtered dozens of Israelis - was "to use more stick and less carrot".

The American "stick" is being used with ever greater frequency against Iraq and Iran; last year, Mr Clinton told an audience at a New York Jewish meeting that he would impose economic sanctions against Iran. Now the sword is pointing at Iraq. The Israelis are happy - providing, of course, Saddam Hussein does not fire missiles at them. And Mr Indyk must be satisfied. What chance, the Iranians must be wondering, that the "stick" is next used against them?

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