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Time for the west to stop being Saddam's scapegoat Severe sanctions imposed by the west have proved a convenient way for Iraq's president Saddam Hussein to deflect the blame for his nation's woes, but the forthcoming election of a new US president could engender a fresh approach to the Iraqi dictator Mark Tran Friday March 24, 2000 American presidents come and go, but Saddam Hussein clings on to power with the persistence of a barnacle. Despite losing the Gulf War, and suffering 10 years of crippling sanctions, which have seen Iraq - once a modern state - crumble around him, President Saddam's hold on power seems as secure as ever. As the suffering of the Iraqi people deepens, the US and Britain - the two principal proponents of sanctions - are coming under increasing pressure to lift the economic siege. As a UN security council debate gets underway on the UN oil-for-food program - which was designed to alleviate the humanitarian plight of ordinary Iraqis - several human rights groups, including Human Rights Watch and Save the Children (UK), have called for a radical overhaul of the sanctions. They are, in effect, urging the west to junk most of the measures which have been in place since Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990. The US and Britain argue that President Saddam bears the prime responsibility for Iraq's devastation, particularly the high child death rate caused by a medicine shortage. Peter Hain, minister of state at the Foreign Office, said recently that children are dying because the Iraqi government does not order enough medicines and fails to distribute the drugs the country does receive. President Saddam, Mr Hain argues, is playing politics with suffering. One expects no less from someone demonised as an evil dictator. The situation is reminiscent of Cambodia after the Vietnamese drove out the Khmer Rouge in the late 1970s. The west isolated the Vietnamese-backed regime in Phnom Penh and supported the Khmer Rouge in its camps in Thailand. Even those Cambodians who had little time for the Phnom Penh regime criticised the west for wanting to fight the Vietnamese and their allies down to the last Cambodian. At times, it seems the US and Britain want to fight Saddam down to the last Iraqi. Given Saddam's ruthlessness, the present policy is a moral and a practical dead end. As the Guardian's Ewen MacAskill has reported from Iraq, the sanctions provide Saddam with an all-too-convenient scapegoat for the country's problems - the west. Saddam is going to be a headache for the next US administration. Vice president Al Gore has hinted at a more aggressive stance by agreeing to meet dissident Iraqi exiles, despite the fact that the opposition is notoriously divided. George W Bush, the Republican candidate, has spoken of forceful responses to any sign that Iraq is developing weapons of mass destruction. Neither approach seems very promising, taken on its own. There is, however, an approach that would really put the frighteners on Saddam - cosying up to Iran, Iraq's bitter regional rival. There are signs that America is planning to play the Iranian card. US secretary of state Madeleine Albright last week announced an easing of sanctions against Iran, in acknowledgement of the more moderate policies being pursued by Iranian president Mohammad Khatami. Baghdad has already betrayed its nervousness at this diplomatic duet between the US and Iran. After this week's mortar attack in Baghdad, Iraq blamed the US for encouraging Iranian "aggression" against Baghdad. With a new president in the White House, there will be a chance for a fresh approach to Iraq. With the prestige of being the new president, the next incumbent could well agree to less a draconian regime of sanctions and deflect Iraqi resentment away from the west towards its rightful target, Saddam. Couple that with the west's rapprochement with Iran and there is the making of a more effective policy towards Iraq. -- ----------------------------------------------------------------------- This is a discussion list run by the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq For removal from list, email email@example.com Full details of CASI's various lists can be found on the CASI website: http://welcome.to/casi