Iraq continues to refuse UN arms inspectors, although the UN is making greater efforts to
change Iraq's attitude. This is especially true after reports from Russia
in early June indicating that Iraq may be holding samples of the smallpox
virus, a disease wiped out in the 1970s. The U.S. and Russia were supposed
to be the only two nations holding samples of the virus. Since late 1998,
when Iraq expelled UN arms inspectors, and suffered four days of bombing
by U.S. and British aircraft, Iraq has continued to fire on aircraft
maintaining the northern and southern no-fly zones. Through August, 1999,
British and U.S. aircraft have attacked Iraqi ground targets about a
hundred times. This low level war is taking apart Iraqs remaining air
defenses bit by bit.
Iraq maintains its stubborn and destructive position because the Baath
party, which has run the nation for nearly four decades, has painted itself into
a corner. Saddam Hussein, the leader of Baath for nearly three decades, is
particularly ruthless and opportunistic. Baath support comes from about a third
of the population, mainly the Suni Moslem Arab minority. Shiia Moslem Arabs are
the majority, and non-Arab Kurds comprise a fifth of the population. Saddam
deprives the Kurds and Shiias of food, medicine and other necessities and then
points to the resulting suffering as a compelling reason to lift the embargo.
Expert at waging media warfare, Saddam gets away with this. He wants to resolve
the disputes with the UN and his neighbors on his terms and is willing to kill
vast numbers of Iraqis to do it.