Iraq: It's Over, Again

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It's a familiar endgame. UNSCOM workers are returning to Baghdad; they'll resume weapons inspections Tuesday. Iraqi newspapers are declaring victory in the standoff, because it drew attention once more to their country's plight under sanctions. The Clinton administration warily awaits the return of the inspectors and talks half-heartedly about restoring funding to the depleted Iraqi opposition in absentia. And the U.S. and Britain rattle some more sabers at Saddam, insisting that it'll be different next time. "Force will be used with no further warning if compliance is not forthcoming," said Britain's U.N. ambassador Jeremy Greenock. He may even have believed it.

Special Report But has anything really changed? Certainly not on paper. Iraqi Deputy PM Tariq Aziz made a point of mentioning that the U.N. inspectors can return to their duties "according to the memorandum of understanding" -- the agreement inked with Kofi Annan last time round. In fact, the rhetoric on all sides has not advanced one jot. There are the same vague assurances of a sanctions review from the secretary general, and the same refusal to talk about sanctions in Washington. Even the military, which came less than 30 minutes away from air strikes this weekend, is getting used to the routine. "This can't go on forever," Defense Secretary William Cohen declared (and not for the first time). With the U.S. and Iraq locked into this cycle of crisis and relief, we can only hope that 's true.