Dreaming of Hussein's ouster


This editorial appeared yesterday in the New York Times: Awash with money from Congress for covertly promoting Iraqi opposition to Saddam Hussein, the Clinton administration is once again dreaming about engineering his ouster.

The only problem is that no one in Washington has figured out how to do so. Instead, the administration is preparing to renew its courtship with Massoud Barzani, a Kurdish factional leader who betrayed Washington and other opposition groups by forming a temporary military alliance with Baghdad in 1996.

There are no magic strategies for managing Saddam Hussein.

The appeal of covert operations is that they are relatively cheap, do not require American troops and can proceed without Washington's skeptical gulf war allies. In recent months, Congress has pressed the administration to step up covert activity against Baghdad. But Iraq's opposition groups are even more divided and discredited now than in 1996, when Mr. Barzani invited Iraqi troops into the Kurdish region to thwart a rival leader, Jalal Talibani. The soldiers smashed the CIA's operations center and executed opposition activists.

Yet for want of a better alternative, Washington has invited Mr. Barzani, along with Mr. Talibani, to new planning talks.

The most serious internal opposition to Saddam Hussein comes from Iranian-backed Shiite groups in southern Iraq, from which the United States keeps a healthy distance. The Iraqi National Congress, which Washington once hoped would create a broad-based opposition, has little remaining support.

Iraqi military officers, meanwhile, are understandably reluctant to plot against Saddam Hussein without clearer promise of American military backing than Washington is prepared to offer. The United States should learn from past mistakes and steer clear of covert operations in Iraq.

Pub Date: 7/30/98

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