'Fearless'Saddam throws down the gauntlet

Gulf teeters on the brink - US President spends the day discussing his sex life
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The Independent Online
IN A sharp escalation of the confrontation between Iraq and the UN Security Council, Saddam Hussein yesterday warned that Iraq would halt all UN weapons inspections within months unless sanctions imposed on Iraq were quickly lifted.

The Iraqi leader, dressed in a green military uniform, said in an address to mark the seventh anniversary of the Gulf War that Iraq was determined to carry out resolutions demanding an end to weapons inspections. The Iraqi National Assembly, a rubber stamp body, has demanded they be finished by the end of May.

The American ambassador to the UN, Bill Richardson, replied that he was "dreaming", and that force "is an option". But President Saddam evidently calculates the US has little support, apart from Britain, for military action against Baghdad. The Arab world made clear during the last crisis in November that it was against attacks on Iraq. President Saddam said in an address that Iraq did not fear military threats.

Iraq also condemned the US rejection of a Russian offer to supply reconnaissance aircraft to replace the US U-2 planes which carry out surveillance for the UN weapons teams. Baghdad complains that the US and Britain dominate the inspection process.

By committing himself so publicly to ending inspections, and sanctions, President Saddam is likely to precipitate conflict or intense diplomacy. The latter is more likely, as Washington does not see how action by its forces - reinforced this week by the British aircraft carrier HMS Invincible - would force him to comply with the resolutions on disarming Iraq.

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