With God on our side.

Position:US air strikes against Iraq

"ANOTHER BATTLE has started, another holy war ordained by God," trumpeted Saddam Hussein after the American air strike on 13 January. Just as he did after his forces were humiliatingly ejected from Kuwait two years ago, he sought to portray the debacle as a defeat for the West. Though his own survival is as much at risk as ever, he could be right. Introducing God into the conflict was more than a mere rhetorical flourish.

Saddam Hussein is regarded as a troublesome menace as much by his brother Arab leaders as by governments throughout the rest of the world. But bringing the weight of American and Allied airpower to bear upon him as a means of enforcing UN Security Council resolutions arouses serious misgivings in much of the Middle East. That includes Iran which has as much reason to seek revenge as Kuwait. The United Nations, and the United States in particular, are widely perceived as practising double standards.

Shortly before the latest Iraqi crisis, Israel expelled more than 400 Palestinian supporters of the Islamic fundamentalist movement Hamas to spend the winter on bare hillsides in southern Lebanon. The UN Security Council duly passed Resolution 799 condemning the action and demanding the immediate and safe return of all the deportees. The United Nations despatched two successive envoys to Israel. Yitzhak Rabin sent them packing. Boutros Boutros Ghali, the UN secretary-general, told the Security Council he would recommend further action. As The Middle East went to press, that was just about that.

At the same time, a team of mediators led by Lord Owen, a former British foreign secretary, and Cyrus Vance, a former US secretary of state, appeared close to brokering a deal which might bring some sort of peace to Bosnia-Hercegovina. It involved breaking up the Bosnian republic, a recognised member of the United Nations, into a patchwork of separate cantons for the country's Muslims, Croats and Serbs.

Perhaps this is the only feasible solution. But it rewards Belgrade with large areas of territory seized by force and will leave the Bosnian Serbs unpunished for committing well-documented atrocities on a huge scale. Yet it is precisely on the grounds of seeking to extend his borders and brutally suppressing Iraq's Shias and Kurds that Saddam Hussein has been subjected to retribution with the blessing of the United Nations. As if to underline the irony, the United States and its allies have balked at enforcing the no-fly zone over Bosnia...

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