Saddam Gets a Visit

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It's been almost a decade since Saddam Hussein has had a gentleman caller, and so Baghdad's excitement was hardly surprising. Particularly since Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez chose to become the first head of state to visit Iraq since the 1991 Gulf War over Washington's strenuous objections. The left-leaning populist (and former coup leader), who was recently reelected by a landslide, isn't much concerned, though, with his image in Washington. That much was clear when he visited Cuba last year for an exhibition baseball match against his pal and idol, Fidel Castro. But Chavez's position as leader of one of the largest oil suppliers to the U.S. and also as current chair of OPEC has bolstered his insouciant disregard for Washington's sensibilities.

The Venezuelan leader is on a tour of the Mideast handing out invitations to his planned OPEC heads-of-state summit in Caracas next month, which would be the first such confab among oil-producing states in a quarter century. Having promised to raise his people out of poverty by sharing Venezuela's oil wealth, Chavez has a considerable interest in wrangling oil-producers back into line with the cartel to ensure that prices keep on going up. Not that Washington's overly worried. Chavez ultimately needs the U.S. even more than it needs him, and OPEC has proved singularly incapable of enforcing the discipline of its production cuts.

Still, Chavezís visit will have broken a taboo against engagement with Baghdad, and coming on top of comments by French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine two weeks ago that continued sanctions against Iraq were "cruel, ineffective and dangerous," it may presage a breach in the embargo. Then again, Chavezís initiative could be a blessing in disguise. After all, if Saddam actually accepted his invitation to Caracas next month, that would present his enemies with their best opportunity in nine years to overthrow the Iraqi dictator.