Iraq's Hussein Raises Eyebrows by Freeing American Hostages

Article excerpt

SADDAM HUSSEIN'S purpose in releasing two Americans jailed in Iraq for five months may be a familiar one: He could be trying to soften his image, and persuade the international community to lift the UN sanctions that have hurt the Iraqi economy since the end of the 1991 Gulf war.

If so, he will still have a long way to go before convincing the United States - the driving force behind the sanctions - that he deserves more lenient treatment.

Secretary of State Warren Christopher said in a broadcast interview yesterday that the release changed the US view of the need for sanctions "not at all."

Secretary Christopher said he had no idea why Iraq had suddenly freed William Barloon and David Daliberti, two US defense-contractor employees who were captured in March after straying across the Iraq-Kuwait border.

"It's very hard to probe the mind of Saddam Hussein. Perhaps he was trying to court some international favor," Christopher said on NBC's "Meet the Press." "There comes a point where the disadvantages of keeping them outweigh the disadvantages of releasing them. That probably happened here."

The timing of the release could have been an attempt to counter negative publicity.

Just last month, the United Nations Security Council voted to extend its Iraq economic sanctions for another 60 days, citing among other things allegations that Iraq had been less than forthcoming about newly discovered aspects of its biological-weapons effort.

Saddam may thus be hoping that his "humanitarian" action in freeing the Americans could redound to his credit in August, the next time the sanctions are considered. Some US allies, such as France, have long wanted the sanctions lifted. US intransigence, in Saddam's view, is the key to the continued pressure on his country. …