Leading Article: Saddam cannot win his gamble

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The Independent Online
SADDAM HUSSEIN always had an odd sense of timing. If, when eyeing Kuwait three years ago, he had waited until his nuclear weapons were ready he might have captured his prize with impunity. Now, just as international pressure was building up to lift sanctions against him, he damages his case by moving troops to the border and staging phoney demonstrations.

It is just possible that he wants sanctions to continue. They foster the siege mentality that consolidates his grip on power, and they probably enrich his cronies in the black market. If he is really in as deep trouble at home as he is said to be, threatened by popular discontent and military plots, these war games might seem more likely to save him than the uncertain prospect of sanctions being lifted next year - especially as that would mean co-operating with humiliating monitoring procedures and maybe recognising Kuwait.

If this reading is correct, he is taking a characteristically dangerous gamble to save his position. The United Nations then faces a dilemma. If Saddam likes sanctions, it is the strongest possible reason for lifting them. But to do so under military threat is virtually impossible. In any case, this interpretation may be wrong. Saddam may have persuaded himself that a show of strength could increase his bargaining power with the UN. In that case, he must be disabused.

Without firm knowledge of Saddam's motives, the UN can only respond to what it sees. Military movements must be met with defensive deployments, as is now happening. Saddam must be given no opportunity for military miscalculation. As to whether sanctions should be lifted, the debate must wait. To discuss lifting them would seem to vindicate his military manoeuvres. Equally, to suggest the prospect is even more remote than before would diminish the incentive to comply with UN conditions.

When this crisis is over, the issue can be re-examined. Sanctions are always a tricky weapon, usually inflicting more pain on populations than on rulers. In Serbia they probably strengthened Slobodan Milosevic for a time until the pain increased. In Iraq they have contributed to the enormous suffering that Saddam has inflicted on his people, but they have not yet got rid of him. They have, however, curbed his military ambitions, which is what regional security demanded.

The arguments for and against sanctions are finely balanced. They should not be lifted unless they have been sufficiently complied with to provide reasonable insurance against further aggression. The alliance that defeated Saddam must hold together in pursuit of that aim.