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Saddam Hussein staged a national day of humiliation on Sunday.

He didn't call it that, of course. He called it an election. That goes to show how gullible Saddam thinks folks in the rest of the world are.Make no mistake. Anyone who herds all the voting-age citizens of his country into polling places decorated with portraits and posters extolling his own virtues, then hands them a ballot with only his name on it and has them each place a check next to the "yes" box in front of the watchful eyes of election officials is a master at the art of humiliation.

The bully has forced an entire nation to say "uncle."

The tactic served two purposes. First, Saddam forcefully reminded Iraqis that he is in charge and that dissent will not be tolerated. This comes after high-level defections within his own ranks as well as an increase in anonymous grumbling to the media from others in his administration.

Second, Saddam hopes to show the world he is firmly in command and that Iraq is strong once again. No one is fooled by the so-called near-unanimous show of support, but the United States should heed the signs of Saddam's show of power.

Plenty of evidence exists that Saddam is defying the United Nations and secretly rebuilding germ-warfare facilities. Many experts agree Saddam appears up to his old tricks, and that the facade of a plebiscite was a strong indication of this. Unfortunately, many U.N. members have indicated a need to overlook some of the dictator's actions because they thirst for the rich Iraqi oil.

As for the day of humiliation, Saddam's henchmen smile broadly and say it signals a move toward democracy, an elected parliament and opposition parties. Don't count on it. This aggressive dictator made similar promises at the end of the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

Sunday's charade should spur the Clinton administration to lobby other members of the U.N. security council to renew pressures on Iraq and to demand open and honest inspections of all potential chemical weapons sites.