Iraqi leaders from Saddam Hussein on down are making peace noises, talking about eventual democracy, and even trying to lure 2 million suffering Kurdish refugees back home with promises of safety and even autonomy. While Saddam obviously can't be trusted, his apparent willingness to make concessions --and the plight that prompted them -- offer at least a glimmer of hope for meaningful change in Iraq, including possible even his ouster.

Meanwhile, tragedy and suffering seem to be spreading in Iraq. Though the plight of the Kurds is most visible, other Iraqis also are dying from fighting and lack of medical care. Saddam and his cronies may feel they have no choice but to relax their grip on power or see the entire nation collapse in death and ruins around them.No dictator, no matter how ruthless, can cling to power when the entire country falls apart. There are rumors of officials in Saddam's Baathist Party making subtle statements, trying to put distance between themselves and Saddam so that the party can survive in power even if Saddam falls.

In the north, where Kurdish refugees are concentrated, U.S. and British forces have ordered Iraqi police and soldiers away from camps being set up to receive refugees. Iraqi officials have protested bitterly, saying this is interference in their internal afffairs -- which it is. But they seem to be complying, nonetheless.

Iraq remains a devastated nation. Much of the infrastructure is in ruins and there are no supplies for rebuilding. The oil embargo is still in effect. The economy is almost non-functional. Some cities are near-ghost towns. In the south of Iraq, the Shiite rebellion is not dead. Hit-and-run Shiite raids have killed dozens of soldiers in recent days.

Even worse, a crop failure may be in the making. Because of a lack of pesticides, insects have damaged much of the winter wheat due for harvest in May. And what little pesticide is available can't be used in aerial crop dusting because allied forces have grounded all Iraq flights in the north where most wheat and barley crops are located. The drafting of farmers into the army last fall also added to the agriculture problem. Estimated crop losses run as high as 75 percent.

The rest of the world certainly would be willing to step in and rescue a starving Iraqi nation. But to be effective, such intervention must also require that Saddam step down. Promises of a democracy and minority autonomy are too little, too late. The only meaningful thing Saddam has to offer at this point is his resignation.