Iraq: Now For The Shouting

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NEW YORK: The game has changed in the Gulf, with U.N. arms inspectors heading back to Baghdad on Friday, following Iraq's acceptance of a deal brokered by Russia. The U.S. continues to monitor the situation closely, unconvinced that Saddam Hussein will allow UNSCOM unrestricted access to strategic sites - and Washington maintained its military build-up in the region in case he doesn't.

As is the pattern in negotiated deals, all sides today proclaimed victory. The answer to whether anything substantial has changed will emerge in the coming weeks as UNSCOM gets back to work. How did the Russians get Iraq to back down? "The Russians believed the important thing was not to punish Iraq, but to get UNSCOM back in business," says TIME correspondent William Dowell. "After all, UNSCOM has destroyed more Iraqi weapons than were destroyed in the entire Gulf War."

While no formal undertakings appear to have been given to Iraq on the composition of UNSCOM or on the lifting of sanctions, Dowell believes there is a greater sensitivity now to Baghdad's concerns. "There is also a growing view that sanctions may not be the best way to keep Iraq under control. There's a concern that sanctions are not doing away with Saddam but are weakening Iraq's middle class, which could have disastrous long-term consequences."

Dowell believes the crisis also highlighted problems in Washington's Mideast and Gulf policy, as President Clinton found little support from most of the Gulf War alliance for anything stronger than verbal condemnation of Saddam. "We've retreated from the precipice and that's given us time to rethink what we're going to do," says Dowell. Because even if the game has changed, it's not yet over.