Crumbling coalition is no match for wily Saddam

A decade after Iraqi tanks rolled in, sanctions have brought untold suffering to millions, while failing to bring about fall of regime
Click to follow
The Independent Online

A decade after the Gulf War, the West is still searching for a way of getting rid of Saddam Hussein and the chemical, biological and nuclear weapons facilities he is believed to be developing and stockpiling.

A decade after the Gulf War, the West is still searching for a way of getting rid of Saddam Hussein and the chemical, biological and nuclear weapons facilities he is believed to be developing and stockpiling.

At 9pm Washington time on 1 August 1990, a startled Dick Cheney - now Republican vice-presidential candidate, then Defense Secretary in the Bush Administration - was phoned at home by an aide to be told Iraqi tank columns had crossed the Kuwaiti border at dawn and were racing, unopposed, towards Kuwait City.

The American response was to send their troops half-way round the world, lead an army of 500,000 men and women, and seven months liberate Kuwait and route Saddam's forces, after a ground campaign lasting barely 100 hours.

But apparent victory turned into a stalemate which persists. At least three times in the decade, allied aircraft have launched major attacks, the last Operation Desert Fox in December 1998. Since then, US and British warplanes have flown strikes against Iraqi targets almost every other day.

No-fly zones have been imposed in the north and south of the country. Stringent UN sanctions have been in force since the invasion and, with varying success, UN arms inspectors have tried to garner information about Saddam's weapons of mass-destruction. To scant avail.

As the years passed, the original Gulf coalition has crumbled, and deep splits have emerged among the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, pitting Britain and the US against Russia, China and, increasingly, France.

Though crippled by sanctions, Iraq is starting to edge out of international isolation. Several Gulf states - though not Kuwait - have resumed ties. Eighty countries will be represented at the forthcoming Baghdad trade fair. Yesterday, rail links between Iraq and its former sworn enemy Syria, were restored, the first time in 18 years.

But if others wobble, amid mounting international unease at the humanitarian crisis which the blockade has helped cause, the US and Britain are adamant that sanctions must stay until Iraq has stopped trying to build chemical, nuclear and biological weapons.

"There is still evidence of all three," said senior Foreign Office diplomats. "We expect Saddam to carry on seeking to improve bilateral relations with as many countries as possible, and to sow new discord among the Western allies."

Saddam's bait is primarily economic, the prospects of rich contracts for the country's reconstruction to be paid for out of sharply increased oil revenues. But the real crunch will come in a few weeks, with the possible return of the first UN arms inspectors since the departure of the last such mission, Unscom in December 1998.

Last week Hans Blix, the Swedish diplomat who leads the latest team, called Unmovic, said they would be ready to start at the end of the month. Whether Iraq will allow them in is another matter. Unmovic, with fewer Westerners in its ranks, is reckoned more acceptable to Saddam. Though "Blix will be firm", says a British official, the mandate of the team contains more carrots as well as sticks, notably a more clearly mapped path towards the lifting of sanctions.

Iraq has said it will have no truck with Unmovic. The West waits to see whether that is bluff, or a reflection of Saddam's belief that the leaking sanctions dam, may soon collapse, perhaps when a new President enters the White House next January.

Comments