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Thursday, January 21, 1999 Published at 17:27 GMT

World: Europe

Kosovo: Echoes of Iraq

US firepower in Gulf now ready for the Serbs

By Diplomatic Correspondent Barnaby Mason

The western powers are debating whether to resort to military action to compel the Yugoslav President, Slobodan Milosevic, to change his policy and the behaviour of his security forces in Kosovo.

There are uncanny echoes between Nato's current confrontation with Mr Milosevic and previous international confrontations with President Saddam Hussein of Iraq.

President Milosevic seemed to take a leaf out of the Iraqi leader's book: He ordered out the American head of the mission set up by the European security organisation, the OSCE, while saying the rest of the monitors could stay.

The Iraqis have in the past banned American arms inspectors, but not others, in an effort to exploit divisions between the United States and Europe.

The Russians are active trying to promote a compromise over Kosovo, as they have often been over Iraq.

There are similar parallels in the debate about air strikes: Doubts about whether they would work, and fears that the result would be the withdrawal of all the monitors, the best source of reliable information about what's going on in Kosovo.

Strikes mean monitors leave

December's air strikes on Iraq have meant the end of the UN weapons inspection operation - even the imperfect set of eyes and ears of Unscom has disappeared.

One of the weaknesses in western strategy on both Kosovo and Iraq is the vagueness about what happens after air strikes; there is no appetite in either case for sending in ground troops to enforce a particular outcome.

But it's unwise to push the comparison too far. If military action is taken over Kosovo, it will be an operation by the whole of Nato.

The air strikes on Iraq were mounted by the US and UK alone, with other western governments either lukewarm, silent or opposed.

And the special factor in Kosovo is the KLA, the ethnic Albanian guerrillas who would clearly benefit from any attack on the Serbs.

The West is still opposed to an independent Kosovo for fear it would destabilise the rest of the Balkans. But even here there are echoes of the fears about the disintegration of Iraq.

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