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Time for the `Haiti Gambit' Against Saddam

A broad coalition of forces inside and outside Iraq have reasons to urge the dictator to step down and leave peacefully

THE United States gambit against Saddam Hussein is running out of steam. Sanctions against Iraq will soon be lifted, leaving a deep source of regional destabilization. The time has come to rethink the strategy and secure broader international cooperation on two key goals: identification of Saddam personally as the key problem, and broad public diplomacy that works for his peaceful departure from office.

Will Saddam meekly pack his bags? No, but here is a new approach working off the ``Haiti model'' - with or without Jimmy Carter:

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* Personalize the issue. Saddam is the problem - the sole architect of his own people's anguish, as well as that of his neighbors. The legacy of his gross conduct guarantees there can be no peace in the region until he is gone. The problem is not just the weapons, but the hand on the trigger. Washington must be explicit on this; believe it or not, most Iraqis believe the US agenda is actually to keep a weak Saddam in power as a convenient bogeyman - and Saddam plays on this fact with his own people.

* Seek new allies. US-dominated efforts to remove Saddam have failed. The French and the Russians are eager to do business with Iraq; let them take the lead in obtaining Saddam's peaceful departure. If they do not, they risk adventurous gambits by Saddam that would imperil trade and investment.

* Offer Saddam a Haiti-style solution. He can leave in peace, his fortune intact, with virtually any successor (vicious sons and uncle excluded), who can then restore Iraq's economy. Right now his inner and outer circles fear that a violent act - such as a coup or assassination - against him will take them down with him. This scenario offers the Saddam clan and its circle a chance to remove the destroyer of the country while staying alive and retaining considerable power themselves. That option should frighten Saddam more than any other strategy against him to date.

* Publicize and internationalize the problem. Call upon Jordan's King Hussein, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Syrian President Hafez al-Assad, and Saudi King Fahd to endorse a plan for Saddam's departure in peace. Nearly all have avoided personalizing the issue to date. But all have reason to want to see Saddam go and almost none have any incentive to want to see him remain. Egypt desperately wants broad Arab reconciliation. Saddam stands in the way. All these leaders can say that Saddam has faithfully served his country, but has now become the obstacle to future progress and reconciliation and should peacefully step down. This would require constant public diplomacy.

* Include Iran. Tehran is now one of the main sanction-busters since it is excluded from regional strategy and prefers a weak Saddam to a pro-US regime. But Iran hates Saddam and would love to see him go if it were assured that a wholesale revolution in Iraq was not the American game.

* Offer carrots to any successor to Saddam, such as the lifting of sanctions and embargoes. These can be negotiated with a new regime that moves toward gradual reform and more-inclusive government. It includes offers to help alleviate Iraq's serious problem of virtually no access to the Gulf. The goal is to restore Iraq to the international community.

Saddam will not simply pack up and leave because the international community calls for him to do so. But the combined weight of the US, Britain, France, Russia, Turkey, Iran, the Gulf states, Egypt, Jordan, and Syria - in both private and public diplomacy - can bring new weight to bear. The deal for those who stay behind in power in Iraq - who right now face a no-win future -

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is almost irresistible.

The key to the strategy is to instill broad public recognition that a peaceful, orderly departure by Saddam is in everyone's best interest. His prolonged grasp on power will only result in further regional convulsion, possibly more war or civil conflict, eruption of sectarian violence, a threat to the ruling Sunni Arab elite, and likely more foreign intervention.

This is hardly a sure-fire strategy. But it appeals to a far broader coalition of interests than any of the harsher tactics invoked so far that have not attained the desired goal. Saddam's hold on power is in virtually no one's interests anymore - except for Saddam himself. Let us work on a public diplomacy that goes beyond a Western coalition in the United Nations Security Council to embrace everyone's interests in the region. The Opinion/Essay Page welcomes manuscripts. Authors of articles will be notified by telephone. Authors of articles not accepted will be notified by postcard. Send manuscripts by mail to Opinions/Essays, One Norway Street, Boston, MA 02115, by fax to 617 -450-2317, or by Internet E-mail to OPED@RACHEL.CSPS.COM.

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