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A Double Answer to Baghdad

The world has been witnessing yet another round of Baghdad bazaar bargaining.

The bazaar shopkeeper cannot be allowed to win his cat-and-mouse bargaining game.

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Because he quite clearly has been hammering out in the back shop not some innocent civilian products but a trio of the deadliest, most difficult to control weapons known.

Iraq's Saddam Hussein has cried wolf too many times. His treaty-breaking demands to break off UN inspections of his secret superweapons programs (nuclear, biological, chemical) return like seasons on the calendar.

The Iraqi despot's bobbing and weaving have put Washington in a similar position - that of repeatedly threatening to take tough military steps only to back off after a military buildup, or, at max, make a jabbing missile strike.

Except for the US and Britain, veto powers on the UN Security Council have been inclined to settle each time for sending the weapons inspection teams yet another time into battle.

To describe it as a battle is no exaggeration. The inspectors have had to operate with speed, guile, and bravado to counter the rapid movement of evidence by Hussein's guardians.

Given the repeated confrontations between Baghdad and much of the rest of the world, what's to be done?

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The optimum solution would be for the Security Council to take two steps simultaneously:

1. Send its inspectors back immediately to push into any and all sites likely to hide weapons components, plans, or records of biological, chemical, and nuclear programs.

2. Authorize US forces in the Gulf to make strikes at will at key security targets and weapons sites - if inspectors are thwarted despite Iraq's promise of full cooperation.

Obviously there is a hitch to this approach. Wouldn't the inspectors become human shields at key sites? To answer that, the UN would have to demand that sites be cleared of defending troops that might detain UN teams. And the teams would have to go in with adequate evacuation plans in place. If that can't be agreed in advance, no deal.

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