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Friday, 1 December, 2000, 17:02 GMT
Analysis: Saddam steps up defiance
Saddam Hussein
Saddam is much less isolated than in the past
By BBC Middle East analyst Roger Hardy

The Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein is stepping up his defiance of the West.

His latest action - stopping oil exports - is part of a campaign designed to free the country from a decade of United Nations sanctions.

Last month Saddam challenged the West by sending domestic flights into the no-fly zones patrolled by US and British warplanes.

Policy-makers in Washington and London - the two western capitals struggling to maintain a tough line against Iraq - are watching the latest developments with unease.

Iraqi passengers disembark in Basra
Western policy on Iraq is less effective than at any time in the last decade
During the last decade they have taken the lead in Western efforts to contain Iraq, to deprive it of weapons of mass destruction, to curb its ability to make trouble in the Middle East and - although this is not said too loudly - to topple Saddam Hussein's regime and replace it with one which is more amenable.

But these efforts have only achieved the most limited success.

Less isolated

Iraq is militarily weaker than it was 10 years ago, but still strong enough to threaten its neighbours if it chooses to.

UN sanctions have crippled Iraq's economy and hurt its people - but they have left the Iraqi dictator in power and, some would argue, have actually strengthened his grip on power.

In the last few weeks Saddam has shown he is much less isolated - both in the region and internationally - than in the past.

And now he is thumbing his nose at the US and Britain by carrying out his threat to halt oil supplies.

Western hawks will be hoping George W Bush wins the US elections, since he is committed to tougher action on Iraq.

But whoever wins will have to face the reality that Western policy on Iraq is less effective and less coherent than at any time in the last decade.

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