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Friday, 1 December, 2000, 17:00 GMT
Analysis: Saddam's route out of sanctions
Saddam Hussein
Baghdad is campaigning for an end to the no-fly zones
By Middle East analyst Roger Hardy

Simply put, Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein wants sanctions off his back, more money in his pocket and Western warplanes out of his skies.

After a decade of United Nations sanctions, imposed when his forces invaded neighbouring Kuwait in 1990, he senses that the time is ripe for a concerted campaign to get rid of them.

Saddam Hussein senses that freedom from sanctions is close
Saddam Hussein senses that freedom from sanctions is close
The regional mood in the Middle East and the wider Muslim world provides him with a favourable climate.

The Palestinian intifada has intensified anti-American feeling. By standing up to the American superpower, seen as inherently anti-Arab and anti-Muslim, he can gain further support and sympathy.

Multi-pronged campaign

His main aim is escape from sanctions, and to pay the minimum price for doing so. But, not for the first time, he risks overplaying his hand by pursuing other goals simultaneously.

Saddam Hussein's demand that customers pay a 50 cents surcharge on every barrel of Iraqi oil they purchase is a naked attempt to violate sanctions and bypass the UN's oil-for-food programme.

Under that programme, the UN keeps Iraqi oil revenue in a special account in New York. The money can only be used to buy food and medicine, under careful UN supervision.

Deputy PM Tariq Aziz and Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov
Deputy PM Tariq Aziz (left) and Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov
The Iraqi leader wants petrodollars he can spend as he pleases.

On another front, he is campaigning for an end to the no-fly zones in northern and southern Iraq.

The no-fly zones were not the result of UN resolutions, but were imposed by the US, UK and France to limit the Iraqi leader's ability to repress his own people - though France subsequently withdrew.

He has always seen the zones as an intolerable infringement of Iraqi sovereignty.

Inspection mission

In waging his multi-pronged campaign, he has undoubtedly scored some successes. There are now frequent international flights into Baghdad, weakening sanctions and reducing the country's sense of isolation.

Diplomatically, Iraq is no longer isolated in the Middle East. It takes part in Arab summits, and a gradual normalisation of relations is under way, even with former enemies such as Syria, Iran and Saudi Arabia.

Saddam Hussein may also be able to use the oil weapon at a time of high prices and nervousness about supply.

Unscom inspectors leaving Baghdad
There have been no inspections since Unscom left two years ago
But his big challenge is still to bring sanctions to an end, rather than merely eroding them at the edges. This can only be done by the UN Security Council, which still insists Iraq must first allow the return of UN weapons inspectors.

It is a price that the Iraqi leader is loath to pay.

But even his friends on the Security Council - Russia, France and China - realise the condition must be met.

The best Iraq can hope for is that a new inspection mission would operate under a more acceptable (that is, weaker) mandate than its predecessor, Unscom.

For two years, since Iraq expelled the Unscom team, there have been no inspections. And the suspicion remains that Saddam Hussein has not abandoned his ambition to produce weapons of mass destruction.

In January, a high-level Iraqi delegation is expected at UN headquarters in New York for talks with Secretary-General Kofi Annan on how to break the deadlock.

The Iraqi leader seems to sense that freedom from sanctions is close. But he will not be able to escape scot-free.

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See also:

01 Dec 00 | Middle East
Analysis: Saddam steps up defiance
26 Sep 00 | Country profiles
Country profile: Iraq
01 Dec 00 | Media reports
Oil exports: The Iraqi statement
30 Nov 00 | Middle East
Iraq rejects new arms inspectors
18 Aug 00 | Middle East
UN panel: 'Iraq sanctions must go'
01 Dec 00 | Middle East
Eyewitness: Bitter legacy of sanctions
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