Iraqis change defiant tone and admit...

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Posted by Tony from ( on Monday, September 30, 2002 at 0:47AM :

Iraqis change defiant tone and admit likelihood of war

By Andrew Gumbel and Kim Sengupta

30 September 2002

As US and British diplomats fanned out across the globe yesterday in an effort to ram their toughly worded resolution on Iraq through the United Nations Security Council, the Iraqis appeared, for the first time, to be resigned to the likelihood of war.

Envoys were spread from Paris to Moscow and from Ankara to Beijing to urge support for an ultimatum to Saddam Hussein that the Iraqis have said they cannot accept.

But while the French, the Russians and the Chinese all seemed determined to give UN weapons inspections a real chance before giving the green light to a US invasion, the Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister, Tariq Aziz, said: "I hope the Security Council will be strong enough and fair enough to resist American pressure. But I am not confident about the capability of the UN to resist American pressure and American manipulation."

Mr Aziz's tone was different from the defiance he expressed just a day earlier, when he said it was out of the question for Iraq to accept more stringent conditions for weapons inspections than those already put in place by the UN. That refusal became the focus of international discussions yesterday, and it remained to be seen whether the Iraqi position would further divide the permanent members of the UN Security Council, or tip the balance against Baghdad.

President George Bush and Tony Blair are believed to be seeking a very short time-frame for Iraq to give details of its weapons programmes, to be followed by full verification by inspectors granted access to everywhere including President Saddam's private residences, which have previously been off-limits.

A fatalistic Mr Aziz accused the Americans of doing everything to prevent the weapons inspectors from returning to Iraq to maximise the justification for war. "If the inspectors declare that Iraq is free of weapons of mass destruction, which is the case, and we are sure of that, what is George Bush going to do?" he asked.

"We cannot boast we can break the US army," Mr Aziz added. "But we shall defend our homeland, it is our responsibility and we are prepared for it.... Our people will fully support us and play their part in the struggle that lies ahead."

Baghdad is pinning its remaining hopes on talks in Vienna today between its officials and Hans Blix, the chief UN weapons inspector.

Mr Blix has been promised an up-to-date list of equipment and materials which have both civilian and military uses and how they are deployed, for the first time since the monitors pulled out in 1998.

The tough US and British line has prompted misgivings domestically. Yesterday three US congressmen visiting Iraq, all Democrats, insisted that weapons inspections had to be given a chance and that the Iraqis seemed inclined to co-operate.

While the congressmen spoke, from Basra, US and British warplanes attacked that city's airport and were reported to have knocked out its radar. This appeared designed to turn up the pressure on Iraq.

-- Tony
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