Baghdad crowds condemn US 'spies'

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The Independent Online
Thousands of Iraqis demonstrated yesterday in Baghdad against the US as American members of United Nations arms inspection teams were prevented from entering suspected weapons sites for the sixth day.

"Yes, yes for Saddam [Hussein], the sword of the Arab nation," the crowd chanted, hoisting banners that read: "No, no for American spies."

A UN envoy, Jan Eliasson, said on his return from Baghdad to Stockholm yesterday that he did not expect the Americans to be expelled immediately. But Mr Eliasson, a Swedish minister, warned of incalculable consequences if the worsening dispute were not resolved.

"We are facing an escalation that could end in armed conflict with terrible suffering," he said.

In a letter which the envoy was taking to the UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, in New York, Iraq asks for the UN inspection teams to be better "balanced", by including more members from other countries on the UN Security Council and fewer Americans. Iraq also asks for the UN surveillance planes to be provided by countries other than the US.

Tension escalated sharply on Friday as President Bill Clinton declined to rule out a military response if President Saddam acts on threats to fire on the next US surveillance plane used by the UN. The flight will be tomorrow. "It would be a mistake to rule in or out any particular course of action," Mr Clinton said.

There was no sign yesterday, however, that America's allies on the Security Council were ready to approve the use of force. Iraq hailed an affirmation at the weekend by French President Jacques Chirac that France rejected force. Mr Chirac said that although Iraq must implement in full Security Council resolutions, Paris opposed "brutal methods". Russia and China, like France, have potentially lucrative oil contracts pending in Iraq, and want a diplomatic settlement of the dispute.

Iraq says American inspectors were trying to pressure others on the teams not to give Iraq a clean bill of health and prolong the sanctions imposed after Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990.