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Nothing personal.

MADELEINE ALLBRIGHT, the American ambassador to the United Nations had great difficulty in convincing the UN press corps in late March that dropping the American demand for Saddam Hussein's removal as a precondition for the lifting of sanctions against Iraq, did not constitute a policy change. Rightly so.

In contrast, Warren Christopher, the US secretary of state, was on firmer ground when in his testimony to the Congressional Committee on Appropriations he talked of the "de-personalisation of the Iraqi policy".

It is worth recalling that President George Bush personalised his policy towards Iraq to such an extent that he became obsessed with snuffing out Saddam Hussein's life or power. Earlier he had acquired a similar obsession towards General Manuel Noriega, the ruler of Panama. After Noriega had been forced out of his refuge inside the Papal nunciature, an elated Bush was said to have shouted to his wife Barbara: "We got him! We got him!" like a greenhorn at a Texas turkey shoot. To Bush's deep regret and disappointment, Saddam did not turn into another Noriega.

Like Noriega, Saddam is a thoroughly unpleasant person whose disappearance would be little lamented. But as it is, there is nothing in the 23 UN Security Council resolutions on the Gulf crisis and war which calls for the removal of Saddam Hussein. That, however, did not bar Bush from pursuing his obsession as part of the American policy to be implemented through US agencies, such as the CIA, and possibly through UN resolutions.

Paragraph 21 in the Security Council ceasefire resolution 687, containing a preamble and 34 paragraphs, provided Bush with a chance to attach his aim to a UN document. It entitles the Security Council to review the provisions of the embargo against Iraq every 60 days in the light of the implementation of all relevant Security Council resolutions to determine whether to "reduce or lift the prohibitions" against Iraq.

By publicly and repeatedly stating that the UN sanctions would not be lifted so long as Saddam Hussein remained in power, Bush tried to provide an incentive to the Iraqi army generals to overthrow their president. The ploy did not work.

At the same time Bush's stance was in direct contradiction to Paragraph 22 of the same Security Council resolution. It states that once Iraq had done what was required of it in the various clauses of the resolution, the prohibitions against Iraq "shall have no further force or affect".

In any case, it seems fair to say that the secret services of the United States, Britain and Israel over the two and a half years have failed to come up with a means of physically disposing of Saddam Hussein. That is part of the reason why Washington has modified its policy.

Second, the new stand brings the United States closer to what Bill Clinton had said in his interview to The New York Times on the eve of assuming office on 20 January. After stating that in his view the presidency of Saddam Hussein was not in the best interests of the Iraqi people, Clinton added then: "It is not the policy of America to choose rulers for other people."

Third, the moderation in the US stand towards Iraq has been accompanied by a hardening of attitudes towards Iran. This is the result of personnel changes at the top of the state department, and the reassessment of the balance of forces between Iran and Iraq by the Gulf monarchies and Israel.

Clinton's appointment of Samuel Lewis as the head of policy planning at the state department signalled that Israeli thinking would greatly influence American policies in the Middle East. A former US ambassador to Israel, a fellow of the Dayan Centre at Tel Aviv University and a director of the New York branch of Bank Leumi, Israel's biggest bank, Lewis is widely described as "more Zionist than the Rabin government".

Faced with increased resistance by the Hizbollah in south Lebanon and Hamas in the Occupied Territories (both of them partly funded by Iran), Israel has begun demonising Islamic fundamentalism two years ago, when a severely battered Iraq had ceased to be a threat to its security.

A further impetus for this policy was provided by the collapse of the Soviet Union in December 1991 -- a development which raised the prospect of Israel losing its ideological and strategic importance to Washington. Israel is now in the forefront of a campaign against Islamists everywhere.

With Iran emerging as a regional superpower, diplomatically and militarily, the official view in Israel has softened towards Iraq, the only country which has the potential of becoming a counterweight to a resurgent Iran.

Saudi Arabia's King Fahd cannot have failed to notice that of the Western and Israeli leaders who led the anti-Saddam campaign -- Bush, Thatcher, Gorbachev, Mitterrand and Shamir -- only Mitterrand is still (barely) in power. Durability in political office is seen as a virtue in the Arab world.

With its regional allies, Israel and Saudi Arabia, concurring, it was about time for Clinton to take the first step away from the policy towards Baghdad he had inherited from Bush. There was no need for pretence.
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Title Annotation:US policy toward Iraq
Publication:The Middle East
Date:May 1, 1993
Previous Article:Blundering towards a solution.
Next Article:Into an ideological void.

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