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Western Press Review: Saddam Marches. . . Again

Prague, 2 September 1996 (RFE/RL) -- Iraqi President Saddam Hussein adventured militarily Saturday against Kurdish territory in northern Iraq, killing Kurds in battle and -- reports said -- in deliberate executions. Then, yesterday, he announced that the troops were withdrawing. Press commentary denounces the Saddam march and speculates on U.S., U.N. and world response.

BOSTON GLOBE: Hussein's act was that of a desperate and calculating ruler

The paper published yesterday an analysis by Ethan Bronner in Amman, Jordan. Bronner wrote: "After his failed conquest of Kuwait five years ago and the punishing sanctions that resulted, President Saddam Hussein might have been expected not to test the world's resolve through another military adventure such as his capture Saturday of the Kurdish city of Irbil. But this was the act of both a more desperate and perhaps more calculating ruler, a measured, limited move aimed at making a point internally and externally and taking advantage of a set of regional shifts that may make it harder for the West, led by the United States, to force him back. Faced with dissent in his military, a new, more sympathetic government in Turkey, a freshly divided Kurdish region where rival Iran has been meddling, an Israeli-Arab peace process in crisis and an American presidential campaign in bloom, Saddam Hussein appears to have decided that this was the time to move."

LONDON TIMES: The Iraqi dictator has lost none of his appetite for confrontation

"President Saddam Hussein once more has caught the West napping," the paper says today in an editorial. The Times says: "Saddam claims that he merely has been helping out his friends in the Kurdish Democratic Party and, less plausibly, that his men soon will vanish quietly whence they came and wait for the Kurds to open a 'democratic dialogue' on reunifying Iraq." The editorial concludes: "The Iraqi dictator has lost none of his appetite for confrontation. If the United States wants to curb the man, it must strike at his military assets. An obvious starting point is the sites whose secrets, in defiance of the Security Council's legally binding edicts, he again is trying too hide."

NEW YORK TIMES: Moving U.S. military forces to a higher readiness was right, but the first response should be economic

The paper editorializes today: "Whatever else Saddam Hussein may be up to in northern Iraq, he is probing to see if the United States and its allies still are prepared to enforce the tight limits they imposed on Iraqi military activity following the Persian Gulf war. Washington needs to respond firmly. President Clinton was right to move military forces to a higher readiness, but the first response should be economic, aimed at halting the plan to allow limited Iraqi oil sales." The Times goes on: "America's main goals with regard to Iraq remain what they have been all along -- to deter a regime that has shown its contempt for international law and opinion from further acts of external aggression and to keep Saddam Hussein from rebuilding and rearming his military forces in ways that threaten international peace."

The editorial concludes: "Baghdad is playing a provocative game in crossing a military line it has largely respected for the past five years. Washington should make clear that it is ready to respond forcefully, if needed. At that point, a minimally responsible Iraqi leader would back off, in order to spare the Iraqi people unnecessary further suffering. Regrettably, Saddam has failed that minimal test of responsibility in the past, and may do so again."

LONDON DAILY TELEGRAPH: The oil embargo and sanctions have turned Iraq into a nation of paupers

The paper carries today, labeled analysis, an article by Robert Fox. Fox writes: "Washington's verdict on Saddam Hussein's latest military adventure against the Kurds is that 'he never misses an opportunity to miscalculate.' The march into the protected area of Kurdistan around Arbil, however, does not seem to be the idle gesture of a compulsive gambler." Fox says also: "The decision to attack appears to have been born of desperation and low tactical cunning. The continuing sanctions and oil embargo since the Gulf war in 1991 have turned Iraq into a nation of paupers." The writer continues: "As the Americans say, Saddam is a repeat offender who, when in doubt, will resort to arms and fight. He also may be a repeat offender, as in his August 1990 invasion of Kuwait, in his miscalculation of American response."

POLITIKEN: The United States still doubts the intentions of Hussein

Jacob Moeller commented in the Danish newspaper yesterday: "There is still doubt in the United States about the intentions of Saddam Hussein. (The current offensive against the Kurds in Northern Iraq) could be one of his many attempts to test the limits (of international tolerance). But it could also be the beginning of a large-scale military operation. PUK (the Iran-backed Kurdistan Patriotic Alliance) has announced already that the Revolutionary Guard (elite Iraqi troops) side by side with PUK's rivals and Baghdad's friends (Kurdistan Democratic Party) have killed dozens of Kurdish civilians. But the PUK has an interest in dragging the United States into the conflict. It already has made a formal request for American help." Moeller says, "The spokesman of Iran's Parliament announced yesterday that 'the offensive against the town of Abril is being conducted with the approval of Washington.' "

LONDON GUARDIAN: The Kurdish crisis demonstrates the failure of the international community

In an editorial today, the paper says: "The Kurdish crisis is an ancient tale brought alarmingly up to date along the most dangerous faultline of the Middle East. It demonstrates both the failure of the international community to answer the questions left by the Gulf War, and the capacity of the Kurdish liberation movement for being its own worst enemy." The Guardian says that the Kurds have "exhibited an unhappy facility for supping with the devil -- Saddam Hussein." The paper adds: "The Gulf War left Iraq in a limbo which the allies have been unwilling or unable to resolve. Saddam remains there, whether because he has proved too cunning to remove or because, deep down, the allies prefer him as a bulwark against the unknown, and Iran." The Guardian says: "History apart, any analysis of the current crisis ends up with the embarrassing fact that the Iraqis were invited in by one of 'our' Kurds."

LOS ANGELES TIMES: The Bush administration predicted Saddam would not survive, but he is still in power

Writing from Washington, D.C., Robin Wright says in an analysis in today's edition: "After six years of leading the world community against Iraq, the United States almost cannot avoid responding to the latest aggression by President Saddam Hussein, this time into the rugged mountains of Iraq's northern Kurdish enclave." He adds: "At its core, each Iraqi crisis always gets back to (Saddam), who has defied all earlier U.S. intelligence assessments about his political longevity. The Bush administration predicted that (Saddam) would not survive 18 months after the Gulf War. But Bush left office in 1993, and (Saddam) is still in power."