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US hardline on Iraq leaves full-scale invasion a 'hair-trigger' away
Julian Borger in Washington, Ewen MacAskill, and Ian Black in Brussels
Thursday October 3, 2002
Washington last night revealed its intention to use UN weapons inspections as a possible first step towards a military occupation of Iraq by sending in troops, sealing off "exclusion zones" and creating secure corridors throughout the country.
In a leaked proposal for a UN resolution drafted by the US with help from British officials, the Bush administration is seeking to transform the inspections process into a coercive operation. The resolution would place a full-scale invasion of Iraq on a hair trigger, authorising UN member states "to use all necessary means to restore international peace and security" if Iraq does so much as make an omission in the weapons inventories it presents to the security council.
Weapons inspectors would operate out of bases inside Iraq, where they would be under the protection of UN troops. UN forces or the forces of a member state would enforce no-fly and no-drive zones around a suspected weapons site, preventing anything being removed before inspection.
Diplomats at the UN said there was no doubt that US troops would play a leading role in any such enforcement, allowing the Pentagon to deploy forces inside Iraq even before hostilities got under way.
The release of the draft helped Washington regain momentum in security council talks a day after Iraq took the initiative by agreeing to inspections under existing UN guidelines. That agreement was welcomed by France and Russia, but dismissed as empty by the US and Britain. Jack Straw, the foreign secretary, called the existing guidelines "defective".
The resolution will be debated over the next few days among the permanent five security council members. President George Bush's negotiating position was bolstered yesterday when the House of Representatives agreed to a war powers resolution handing him open-ended authority to take military action against Iraq.
The Senate, where there was tougher opposition to such a blanket authorisation, was reported to be moving towards support of the White House line.
Under the US draft, security council member states could send their own inspectors into Iraq to operate alongside the official UN teams and these extra inspectors would have the "same rights and protections accorded other members of the team". Member states could also "recommend" to the UN teams which sites to search and how to do it. Iraqi officials could be taken out of the country, along with their families, for questioning, in order to remove the fear of Iraqi government reprisals.
The Iraqi deputy prime minister, Tariq Aziz, said there was no need for a new resolution and that the existing resolutions were good enough for inspectors to do their job.
John Pike, the head of GlobalSecurity.org, a Washington military thinktank, said the resolution was worded in such a way that Iraq was almost certain to reject it, even if the alternative was invasion.
"I could never imagine Iraq agreeing to this. If you're going to be invaded you might as well make the invading force shoot their way in. It's the sort of proposal meant to be rejected," Mr Pike said.
British officials said the draft represented more of a discussion paper for the five permanent members than a formal document to be circulated within the full security council. British experts worked alongside their US counterparts at the state department in the early stages of its drafting, but it was then handed to the White House and the Pentagon, who added some of its tougher elements.
A Downing Street spokeswoman said: "We are not going to comment until final resolutions are published."
But it was clear that London was uneasy with some items in the draft, particularly the use of troops to quarantine suspect sites and to guard the inspectors' routes to the sites. One British official pointed out that it was put within square brackets and could be jettisoned later.
The intention behind the clause, the official said, was to avoid the situation under earlier inspection regimes whereby "inspectors were coming in the front door and kit was moving out the back."
Further anxiety about the US position came from Chris Patten, the EU's commissioner for external relations. In a speech in Chicago today hewill say: "If the US were to fall prey to the temptation to act alone and outside the framework of international order, even for the best of motives, it would be setting off down a very dangerous path."
Diplomats in New York and Washington said it was clear there was a split between the state department and the Bush administration's hawks over how far the US should compromise, particularly over the threat of force.
The French have proposed an alternative resolution, which would make inspections tougher, but omits the authorisation of military action in the event of Iraqi intransigence or evasion, deferring such a decision to a later resolution.
Resolution main points:
· The US (as a permanent member of the UN security council) can ask to be present in any inspection team and thus gain access to any part of the country
· The inspectors can set up bases throughout the country. They will be accompanied at those bases by soldiers under the UN banner sufficient to protect them
· The UN will have the right to declare no-fly, no-drive and exclusion zones, ground and air transit corridors, to be enforced either by the UN or by member states which could include the US
· Iraq must agree to free and unrestricted landing of aircraft, including unmanned spy planes
· The UN can take anyone it wishes to interview out of Iraq, along with his or her family
· Any false information provided by Iraq or any failure to comply with the resolution would automatically entitle member states to use all necessary means to restore international peace
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