- The Washington Times - Friday, March 2, 2001

A key Senate Republican said yesterday that if the Bush administration wants to ease some sanctions on Iraq it should also increase military pressure on Saddam Hussein by arming opposition groups.

Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas urged the White House to "begin to train and, if necessary, arm" Iraqi opposition groups.

"We seek an expanded and more robust policy," said Mr. Brownback, chairman of the Foreign Relations subcommittee on the Near East and South Asia.

At a hearing called to discuss proposals made this week by Secretary of State Colin Powell to modify sanctions on Iraq, Mr. Brownback suggested expanding the use of U.S. air power to turn no-fly zones in northern and southern Iraq into "no-drive zones."

That would effectively use U.S. and British warplanes to block Saddam's army from much of his country.

Mr. Powell proposed, during a trip to five Arab capitals and Israel that ended Monday, easing sanctions on Iraqi imports of consumer goods to win Arab backing for tighter sanctions on oil exports and weapons imports.

Mr. Brownback's call for arming the Iraqi opposition and increasing military pressure on Iraq is a sign of worries on Capitol Hill that Mr. Powell's plan could be read as a weakening of U.S. resolve to confront Iraq.

The call for increased military confrontation on Capitol Hill aimed at not just containing Saddam but on replacing him comes as Iraq is intensifying contact with Arab capitals.

Diplomats describe a major offensive by Iraq to exploit the weakening international resolve to maintain sanctions.

The diplomatic overtures are accompanied by a barrage of increasingly vitriolic attacks on the United States and Great Britain.

One Arab diplomatic report described the tenor of Iraqi statements as "marked by triumph at the apparent deadlock and Washington's lack of options."

Iraq has always claimed victory over the United States, even after it was driven from Kuwait and had large portions of its army destroyed in the Gulf war.

Mr. Brownback said, "Saddam won a good portion of the propaganda war" and managed to persuade many Arabs that U.N. sanctions are causing the Iraqi people to suffer. But Iraq has refused to buckle under and end its programs to acquire weapons of mass destruction.

"After 10 years, sanctions have not achieved their intended goal," he said.

A panel of analysts warned, however, that if the Iraqi opposition is armed and inserted into areas of Iraq not under Saddam's control, he could strike out at them and draw U.S. troops into a war.

U.S. backing for an ill-prepared opposition campaign could turn into "another Bay of Pigs," said analyst Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Mr. Powell's "smart sanctions" aim at stopping unmonitored oil exports, whose revenue bypasses the U.N. oil-for-food program, and toughen efforts to stop weapons imports.

Meanwhile, several Arab governments have voiced disappointment at Mr. Powell's recent tour of the area, summing up his trip as an effort to muster "Arab support for tightening the screws on the leadership in Baghdad."

Western diplomats in the area say that the continuing if not growing attitude of defiance by Saddam is helping him to rejoin the mainstream of Arab politics.

Saddam's stature received an added boost in January when several European countries increased pressure on Washington to revise its sanctions policy.

France was in the forefront of the anti-embargo movement, describing it as "cruel, inefficient and unjust." The continuing ostracism of Iraq "no longer makes sense," a senior French official said at the time.

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