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Thursday, 10 August, 2000, 11:19 GMT 12:19 UK
Iraq: Breaching the isolation barrier
Baghdad arch
Baghdad has seen few dignitaries in the past decade
By World Affairs Correspondent Nick Childs

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is one of precious few high-profile visitors to Iraq.

And this is despite the growing controversy surrounding Iraq's continued international isolation, and the maintenance of UN sanctions.

Huge Chavez
Chavez's visit alarmed the US
That is one reason why the United States has been so exercised by Mr Chavez's travel plans.

While the Venezuelan leader has a reputation as something of a foreign-policy maverick, the fear is his visit might set a precedent.

There was a flurry of concern in Washington when the Pope expressed his desire to make a Millennium pilgrimage to Iraq, but those plans eventually foundered.

Before that, Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's biggest diplomatic coup since the Gulf War was perhaps when UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan hurried to Baghdad to head off a new military confrontation in 1998.

Hardliners

Formally, there is little prospect of a change in Iraq's situation.

Quite simply, the United States and the UK won't allow it.

Saddam mural
The US and Britain are determined to keep Saddam isolated
The concern among the hardliners on Iraq is that, after such a long time - and with apparent political stalemate between Iraq and the United Nations - the sanctions regime and the diplomatic isolation will simply crumble anyway.

For some time now, there have been growing numbers of businessmen and other such visitors heading to Iraq, anticipating a time when deals with the country will become easier.

The United States and the UK have stepped up their efforts to contain Baghdad, but there is no doubt it is proving an ever more difficult task.

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See also:

01 Aug 00 | Americas
Chavez promises revolutionary change
31 Jul 00 | Americas
Chavez: Visionary or demagogue?
06 Aug 00 | Middle East
US keeps grip on Iraq
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