Iraq crisis: Annan prepares for last ditch trip to Baghdad

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The Independent Online
KOFI ANNAN, Secretary-General of the UN, is to launch a last gasp effort to avoid war in the Gulf with a mission to Baghdad to persuade Saddam Hussein to allow his presidential palaces to be opened to arms inspectors.

Mr Annan was holding consultations with the five permanent members of the Security Council in New York last night but senior sources in London indicated that he could go to Baghdad later this week.

Robin Cook, the Foreign Secretary, made it clear Britain was "very supportive" but Downing Street emphasised that if the mission failed, Britain and the US remained ready to take action.

In spite of remarks by US defence chiefs last week that it would take another week to build up the military presence in the Gulf, senior British defence sources continued to raise the military tensions. "We are ready to go now," one said.

Mr Cook will use a debate in the Commons today to set out the reasons why the allies are preparing for military action. Foreign Office sources re-issued details of intelligence reports gathered from Hussein Kamil, a defector from Saddam's inner coterie, who disclosed as early as 1995 that the dictator was hiding vast quantities of material involved in the production of weapons of mass destruction.

"UNSCOM has evidence that several organisations including the Special Republican Guard, the Special Security Organisation, and the Intelligence Organisation, have been involved in the mechanism (of concealment)," said a Foreign Office report.

The Government motion supports the efforts to reach a diplomatic solution with Iraq but expresses its full support for the resolve of the Government to "use all necessary means to achieve an outcome consistent with UN resolutions".

Leading Labour dissidents were meeting last night over their tactics for opposing the Government in the debate; around ten are expected to abstain or vote against. The Labour MPs are also planning to lead a vigil in protest at the war outside Downing Street tomorrow.

Meanwhile, a poll today by Talk Radio will show that 80 per cent of people are against war with Iraq.