BEHIND U.S. ACQUIESCENCE in the partial lifting of economic sanctions against Iraq and Saddam Hussein's acceptance of limitations on his national sovereignty lies the geo-political reality of Iran. While Iraq remains the chief irritant in the Persian Gulf, Iran is currently the greater threat. Hence, it is in the U.S. interest to restore and maintain equilibrium, as best it can, in the oil-rich Iran-Iraq-Saudi Arabian triangle.
Humanitarian concerns are very much at stake in the U.N. Security Council's decision to allow the Baghdad regime $2 billion in oil exports over the next six months, with the proceeds to be distributed under strict U.N. supervision. The U.N. Children's Fund has said 4,500 children under the age of five are dying each month. Malnutrition is rampant throughout the population. And the United States is taking more and more criticism for the hardships Mr. Hussein has imposed on his people.
Yet there is nothing new in this situation. What is new are factors that cause nations to shift strategy as conditions change.
Example: World oil supplies are so tight that the addition of 600,000 barrels a day from Iraq will not send prices plunging.
Example: The U.S. has given up on its efforts to help warring Kurdish tribes in northern Iraq, even flying out Iraqi nationals compromised by their association with Washington.
Example: Russia, France and China, eager for entry into the Iraqi market, have been determined to break down the Anglo-American embargo in existence since the gulf war.
Example: Iraq is so debilitated it no longer is as great a threat to its neighbors as it once was. Instead, these neighbors resent the U.S. presence and would like to take it down a peg, even while recognizing the imperative of having the dominant world power on the scene.
Example: The U.S. has never favored the dismemberment of Iraq, a fact of life that Saddam Hussein has exploited for his own survival. This explains President Bush's reluctance to destroy the Iraqi army and President Clinton's use of mosquito-like missile attacks to punish rather than topple the Baghdad regime.
By putting a six-month leash, subject to three-month renewals, on Iraqi oil exports, the U.N. will exert what pressure it can to insure Saddam Hussein's good behavior. This includes dismantling its nuclear, chemical and biological weapons programs. The Baghdad dictator will probably be around for some time, alas, because equilibrium in the Persian Gulf is preferable to the instability that would result from Iraq's collapse disintegration.
Pub Date: 12/11/96