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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

U.S. Forced To Respond To Saddam Aggression

WASHINGTON -- After six years of leading the world community against Iraq, the United States almost cannot avoid responding to the latest aggression by President Saddam Hussein -- this time into the rugged mountains of Iraq's northern Kurdish enclave.

Washington once again may be forced to act -- despite an array of complicating factors and a growing frustration in the United States that a short war five years ago turned into an open-ended commitment -- or risk that Hussein will finally win a round in their long-standing confrontation.

After Saddam's defeat in the 1991 Persian Gulf War, the United States effectively was trapped indefinitely in the position of enforcer in the Gulf -- a role further necessitated by ongoing U.S. and Western dependence on oil exports from the resource-rich region.

Now, for the first time since the Persian Gulf War, the Iraqi leader has retaken control of territory under U.S. air protection above the 36th parallel.

The Iraqi leader also will have proved that his army, demoralized and decimated during the U.S.-led Operation Desert Storm, is again a threat to Baghdad's oil-rich but vulnerable neighbors.

"This is the single most important violation of the red line that the United States and its allies drew after the Gulf War. He has to be stopped and to pay a price for violating that red line -- or he's a threat to the whole region again,'' said Henri Barkey, an expert on Iraq and the Kurds at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, who just returned from the region.

The latest crisis is not the first since Iraq was isolated by the international community. And the Iraqi attack on Irbil, the Kurdish government seat, might not be the last, administration sources fear.

But in many ways, it was not unexpected, largely because the United States was granted only a limited mandate to act against Iraq after its 1990 invasion of Kuwait.

A series of UN resolutions gave the U.S.-led coalition of more than 30 countries freedom to liberate Kuwait. But it fell far short of allowing the military force from six continents to either occupy Iraq or change its leadership.

Ironically, Saddam was not in violation of any of the UN restrictions on troop movements when he invaded the Kurdish north. Rather, he once again found a loophole that gave him a sliver of maneuverability.

Since 1991, he has not been allowed to fly warplanes over the U.S.-protected "no-fly'' zone above the 36th parallel. But there is not a "no-drive'' zone prohibiting troop movements into Kurdistan, as there has been since 1994 in the southern, Shiite-dominated area where Saddam dispatched troops en route to Kuwait.

The violation in the north is instead over a more general stipulation in UN Security Council Resolution 688 that Hussein cannot engage in human-rights abuses of his own citizens.

At its core, each Iraq crisis always gets back to Saddam, who has defied all earlier U.S. intelligence assessments about his political longevity.

The Bush administration predicted that Hussein probably could not survive 18 months after the Gulf War. But Bush left office in 1993, and Saddam is still in power.