Allies threaten further strikes against Saddam: UN team quits as Iraq refuses to seal missile test equipment

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The Independent Online
THE PROSPECT of more allied strikes against Iraq loomed large yesterday after Baghdad refused to meet United Nations orders to seal missile testing equipment at two sites. There were stern warnings by senior members of the Clinton administration to President Saddam Hussein that continued defiance would not go unpunished.

The UN team, which had arrived on Saturday, departed abruptly, spawning fears of punitive attacks on the sites or on Baghdad to force compliance with Gulf war ceasefire resolutions requiring the elimination of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. 'I was not allowed to do what I went in for and that is why I came out immediately,' Mark Silver, the UN chief inspector, said.

Hours after a frustrated UN inspection team had confirmed the latest stand-off, Vice-President Al Gore declared on American television that President Saddam 'should understand very clearly that he can't trifle with the world community'. 'The United Nations could consider a range of options, one of which could include the use of force against those facilities,' Mr Gore said. Warren Christopher, the Secretary of State, had warned that use of force was 'entirely possible' if President Saddam did not comply.

The order to Iraq to seal the equipment came last week in what was described by UN officials in New York as a 'compromise' solution after Baghdad's refusal to allow cameras to be installed at the sites to make sure they were not used secretly. The US position is that the UN now has the right, under existing resolutions, to demand full destruction of the sites by Iraq. 'If that's not done, then the United Nations will have to react,' Mr Christopher said. A formal destruction request could be issued by the Security Council as soon as today.

Iraq's Foreign Minister, Mohammad Saeed al- Sahaf, wrote to the Security Council urging it to 'bear its responsibility . . . to stop a new military aggression'. Iraq had suggested moving the equipment to another site where it could be monitored as a way of defusing the dispute, and said the departure of the team was unjustified.

'The team rejected the Iraqi offer and made a dramatic move by leaving Iraq without any objective justification,' the Iraqi Culture and Information Ministry declared.

Some US officials believed yesterday that despite the now looming showdown, Iraq would give way, as it has on some similar occasions in the past. But if President Saddam remains defiant, the US will not act alone, as in last month's cruise missile attack on Iraq's intelligence HQ. Britain and France at least will be involved, too.

RIYADH - Iraqi troops opened fire with handguns and automatic rifles across Saudi Arabia's border twice this month, prompting a complaint to the UN, the Saudi foreign ministry said yesterday. The incidents, on 1 and 4 July, were the first since the 1991 Gulf war, in which Saudi Arabia joined the US-led coalition, AP reports.