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Anti-Iraq Coalition At UN Shows Signs Of Wear and Tear

IT has been more than two years since Iraq invaded Kuwait, but the United Nations' unfinished business in Iraq continues with no end in sight:

* More than $200 million worth of food, medicine, and fuel will soon be on its way to the Iraqi people under a long-sought Iraq-UN relief accord finally signed last week.

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* UN weapons inspectors looking for an estimated 100 ballistic missiles will continue their search in Iraq through this week.

* Concrete pillars at the rate of about three a day are being placed along a new Iraq-Kuwait border drawn by a UN commission.

* Most economic sanctions against Baghdad are still firmly in place; the prospect of Iraqi oil sales remains open.

Amid all the monitoring of post-war Iraq, the US-led coalition remains solid, but last week a rare crack appeared. United States officials first called the new UN aid agreement an unacceptable "cave-in" to Iraq, because it provided for far fewer UN security guards than the UN originally wanted and limited them to northern Kurdish territory. But France, Britain, and the UN Secretary-General wanted an accord in place before winter and saw the terms as the best to be had.

It is true that we sat down and discussed ... every aspect," says US Ambassador to the UN Edward Perkins. But none of the differences were "unbridgable," he says, and the US now "welcomes" the memorandum.

Some UN members are weary of the time and energy spent in pressing Iraq to comply with UN terms and privately admit that they think Baghdad is being pushed too far.

"I think [the alliance] is showing some signs of wear and tear," comments Michael Hudson, a professor with Georgetown University's Center for Contemporary Arab Studies.

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Yet Iraq's sporadic defiance of UN terms and harassment of UN personnel also acts as a unifying force. "Overall I think the [degree of] unity remains extraordinary," says Richard Murphy, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.

ONE of the most troubling aspects of the sanctions for many nations is that the pinch falls in the wrong place. "All present resolutions on Iraq should be implemented to the fullest, but we shouldn't overly punish the Iraqi people for the noncompliance of their leaders," says one Security Council diplomat. "We have to strike a balance. We discuss the issues and always get to some kind of compromise."

If a public split in the ranks should appear at some point, the 26-month-old economic sanctions may well be the reason. The Council kept them in place after the war to force Iraq's compliance with the UN cease-fire demand that Baghdad's weapons of mass destruction be eliminated.

"The sanctions have become punitive against the Iraqi people - they're no longer a penalty to [Iraqi President] Saddam Hussein's aggressiveness," says Clovis Maksoud, former US and UN representative of the League of Arab States. He argues that the sanctions bolster Hussein. "The regime now has a chance of diffusing the level of opposition to it politically."

"You can't punish the Iraqi people to try to get to Saddam Hussein because he will continue to eat his caviar," agrees an African diplomat. If Iraq reaches an accord on oil sales and cooperates more fully in locating and destroying weapons, Baghdad would make a "good case" for at least a partial lift of sanctions, he says. Yet he doesn't see anything likely to shift the Council's position.

Baghdad's cooperation is vital to any windup of UN activities in Iraq, but much will depend on how much unity the Council maintains.

If the US, for instance, insists on holding sanctions in place until Saddam is out of power some UN members may balk. "Ultimately, the UN is going to have to have a say in how UN operations go," observes Mr. Murphy. "We [the US] cannot always have it entirely our way."

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