Ousting Saddam Hussein


President Bush's appeal to the Iraqi people and the Iraqi military to overthrow Saddam Hussein was a fitting response to the Baghdad regime's first overt acknowledgment of Iraq's crumbling military position. Iraq's offer to give up Kuwait was loaded with unacceptable conditions. If the conditions were mainly to save face and Mr. Hussein is genuinely determined to call off the war, diplomats will ascertain his intentions soon enough.

Saddam Hussein has the choice of getting out or being thrown NTC out of the little neighboring country he has claimed as Iraq's 19th province. Obviously, he wants to cover his retreat so as to protect his pretensions to be the new Saladin or the new Nasser. Just as obviously, it is in the U.S. interest to deny him a chance to make mischief another day.

Mr. Bush was careful not to make the ouster of Mr. Hussein a specific U.S. war aim. This would overstep United Nations resolutions and put stress on Arab members of the international coalition already pressured by the deaths of Iraqi civilians.

So he made an appeal to Mr. Hussein's internal opposition. By calling for the ouster of the Iraqi dictator from within, the president was pointing to a solution that would be preferable to decapitation from without. Not only would martyrdom be denied Saddam; allied forces would be relieved of the daunting task of thrusting all the way to Baghdad or chewing up the Iraqi army bit by bloody bit.

For the United States, the "nightmare scenario" has always been one in which Mr. Hussein would emerge from defeat still holding office and a hero to the Arab masses for having stood up against the West. Although a severe reduction of Iraq's war-fighting potential has already been achieved, this diplomatic trap remains a danger. When France, just before the Jan. 15 deadline, offered a deal linking withdrawal to a Middle East peace conference on the Arab-Israeli dispute, Washington was rightly worried Saddam Hussein would take it and make a mockery of the huge buildup of allied forces. As it happened, he remained intransigent.

Now the Iraqi strongman has come up with a formula that would make his retreat from Kuwait dependent on an immediate cease-fire, withdrawal of allied forces from the region, Israel's withdrawal from occupied lands, abrogation of U.N. resolutions condemning his seizure of Kuwait and reparations for the damage Iraq has suffered.

It is an offer that signifies weakness, not strength, timed to the Baghdad bombing tragedy and potentially crucial talks in Moscow. Three weeks ago, this newspaper said the Middle East would never have peace until Mr. Hussein was out of power. Now that Mr. Bush has called for just that, and Secretary of State James Baker has insisted there will be no post-war aid unless Iraq has new leadership, U.S. intentions have become a lot clearer. Not only must Iraq get out of Kuwait, but Saddam Hussein has to get out of office.

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