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Countering Baghdad

SADDAM HUSSEIN is the cruel but clever dictator of a defeated Arab country. He still wants to be a leader of the Arab world. But to do that, he must build himself up in the eyes of frustrated Arab populations by defying the West; how much the Iraqi people might suffer in the process is of no concern to him.

Saddam's latest tactic has been to defy the United Nations by refusing to allow the monitoring of two missile sites. According to Security Council resolutions that Baghdad agreed to after the Gulf war, Iraq may not test missiles with a range of more than 100 miles and must allow ongoing monitoring of sites.

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This is an ugly game - for all concerned. By not complying with the UN, Iraq will not be able to sell some $1.6 billion in oil it desperately needs to feed and care for its population. Iraq is still under an embargo.

Moreover, the West is again threatening the use of force. While President Clinton was in Tokyo, Vice President Al Gore Jr. warned that force might be used against Iraq, presumably by bombing the sites.

Another bombing of Iraq, following the cruise-missile attack last month in retaliation for an alleged Iraqi assassination attempt against President Bush, is not a first or even a second solution. It would further humiliate Iraqis and play into Saddam's strategy of angering Arabs and exalting himself. The two missile sites are not an immediate threat to anyone's security, and the Security Council is right to try to resolve the issue through diplomacy. On July 12 it dispatched Sweden's Rolf Ekeus to Baghda d.

Why not turn Saddam's game on its head? Creative diplomacy aimed at saving Iraqis from the cruelty of their dictator-leader is needed. This would speak more loudly to the Arab world than military force, although force must remain an option.

Saddam calculates that the more he draws the West into military action, the more he inflames the grievances of the Arab world that give him power. Some of those grievances are legitimate. The West must be more sensitive to feelings in the Arab world that Western policies are merely self-serving. The US must continue its commitment to the overall Arab-Israeli peace process that was part of the price for Arab participation in the Gulf war coalition against Saddam.

Warnings prior to the Gulf war that the "Arab street" would rise - from Algeria to Lebanon - never materialized. But the West would be wise to note that angers in the Arab world may not be manifest in the way it imagines, and that fundamentalist passions there continue to build.

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