Britain left owing debt to Saddam Hussein

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The Independent Online

Saddam Hussein can hardly have believed his luck when a hijacked aircraft with 40 British hostages on board landed in Baghdad on Saturday.

Saddam Hussein can hardly have believed his luck when a hijacked aircraft with 40 British hostages on board landed in Baghdad on Saturday.

His decision yesterday to release them without using them as a bargaining chip to obtain the lifting of 10-year-old United Nations sanctions put Britain in the unenviable position of being in debt to the Iraqi President.

As a result of this propaganda coup, which secured a peaceful end to the hijacking at Baghdad airport, President Saddam came a step closer to realising his dream of having sanctions lifted while keeping his weapons of mass destruction. Britain and the United States, the two hardline members of the UN Security Council, have until now resisted any change in the sanctions regime that has restrained President Saddam since the 1990 invasion of Kuwait.

The Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, appeared set in the same confrontational mode yesterday when he refused to thank the Iraqi President. "I would not thank any government for carrying out its clear international obligation to stop a terrorist hijack," he said.

But the other permanent Security Council members, France, Russia and China, are pressing for an end to the sanctions. Diplomats agree that instead of weakening President Saddam, the sanctions have strengthened his totalitarian regime.

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