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Enough already - it's time to confront Iraq

ONCE AGAIN, AS has happened almost annually since Iraq lost the Persian Gulf War, we are on the brink of military action against Saddam Hussein.

Three U.S. missile attacks, seven years of crippling sanctions and a fearsome armada of American and British warships have failed to cow the Iraqi dictator into giving up his weapons of mass destruction.Part of this is our fault. We have made too many empty threats. We have allowed Saddam to violate other terms of his 1991 surrender without punishment. We have threatened to use force far more often than actually using it. And when we did, we were not forceful enough.

Even our own Congress agrees the previous missile strikes were a "pat on the wrist."

Saddam is a simple, if brutal, Arab leader with an uncomplicated view of the world. He understands 2,000-pound bombs better than dip-lomatic nuances. And he suffers from delusions of grandeur.

It should never be forgotten that Saddam invaded Kuwait in 1990 because U.S. Ambassador April Glaspie gave him the erroneous im-pression that Washington would not interfere in regional territorial disputes. Our government did ultimately intervene and inflicted a humiliating defeat on Iraqi forces.

But it did not remove Saddam from power. Instead, it encouraged Iraqi opposition groups to overthrow him and failed to protect the northern Kurds and southern Shias from his murderous reprisals when they didn't succeed.

In 1996, when Saddam again sent his army into northern Kurdistan, the Clinton administration responded with missile strikes on anti-aircraft defenses in southern Iraq - the wrong target altogether. And it has been so eager to get international backing for any further military action, Saddam is convinced the United States won't act unilaterally.

Those who sit with us on the U.N. Security Council are also to blame. Either because of greed (Russia wants Iraq to pay off a huge Soviet-era debt, France and China want access to Iraqi oil) or the naive belief that diplomacy can still sway Saddam, three of five permanent council members do not favor the military option.

Moscow's actions are especially cynical. Under a Russian "compromise" negotiated in November, Saddam was supposed to grant un-limited access to U.N. weapons inspectors in return for a Russian promise to try to get sanctions lifted. Neither happened; all it did was encourage further defiance on Saddam's part while giving him three more months to hide his nuclear, chemical and biological arsenals.

Lastly, our Arab allies must share the blame. Torn between their fear of Saddam and admiration for him as the only Arab leader with guts enough to stand up to the United States, they have remarkably short memories. Even Kuwait, a victim of Saddam's aggression, is against the use of force to make him behave.

But anthrax, botulism and VX nerve gas cannot be taken lightly. Chief U.N. weapons inspector Richard Butler says Saddam has enough of these biological agents to "blow away Tel Aviv" or any Arab capital he may covet. So it is up to the United States and its only responsible ally, Britain, to do something about it.

Together the two nations have three aircraft carriers in the gulf, supported by 14 other warships, 25,000 soldiers and sailors, more than 100 combat aircraft stationed in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, and B-52 bombers as far away as Guam.

Pentagon spokesman Kenneth Bacon says potential targets include elite military units such as the Republican Guard, which provide security for Saddam's regime, Iraqi command and control posts that gather intelligence and direct forces in the field, stockpiles of chemical and biological agents, the missiles that deliver them or the production facilities that manufacture them.

There will be civilian casualties, given Saddam's penchant for using his people as human shields. But, in the words of British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Saddam "must be stopped, and stopped soon."