Although the smoke and dust from the Persian Gulf war haven't entirely settled yet, it's not too soon to start making sure that Iraq pays for its crimes.
Already attempts are being made to portray Iraq as being too poor to make reparations. Though such descriptions are not far off the mark, Iraqi poverty is no reason to let Baghdad wriggle off the hook.To require Iraq to make whole its every last victim is probably not a realistic goal. Iraq already owes up to $70 billion borrowed for its eight-year war against Iran - and Teheran is pressing its own claim for compensation from that war. What's more, Baghdad itself - with a per capita income less than one-fifth Kuwait's - has legitimate rebuilding needs.
Even so, the collection of some reparations still should be an early priority for the planners of the gulf peace. As a matter of principle and a warning to future aggressors, Iraq must compensate those it unjustly injured. Such payment should be internationally supervised and independent of the say-so of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.
Luckily, it would be relatively simple to design a mechanism for automatic payments. Most of Iraq's oil flows through pipelines across Saudi Arabia and Turkey. The United Nations could levy a percentage of every barrel permitted to reach the international market.
Obviously, the Kuwaitis must be the chief beneficiaries. Rebuilding their country will cost at least $50 billion. And Iraq owes a debt to individuals whose family members the invaders abused or killed.
But others suffered too at the hands of the Iraqis. The Saudis and the Israelis absorbed Scud missile attacks almost daily for a month. These caused a few civilian deaths, many injuries and extensive damage. And hundreds of thousands of foreign nationals had their lives disrupted and their savings snatched away when they were forced to flee Kuwait.
With a protracted payment schedule, surely Baghdad could make good on many obligations without reducing Iraq to abject poverty. The objectives to reparations are certainly legitimate. One of them should be to demonstrate that an international outlaw can't get away with brutalizing its neighbor. Another should be to keep Iraq from rebuilding its depleted military muscles by forcing Baghdad to spend its money elsewhere.