Saddam Hussein's press spokesman, Abdul Jabbar Mohsen, said the inspectors were CIA spies bent on destroying Iraq.
The US Secretary of State, James Baker, issued a tough warning to Iraq, saying America and its allies were 'very serious' about forcing it to comply with ceasefire resolutions and allow the inspectors access to buildings allegedly containing information on weapons of mass destruction.
Rolf Ekeus, the head of the UN Special Commission on Iraq, said last night that he and Iraq's ambassador to the UN, Abdul Amir al-Anbari, had not reached any solution on allowing weapons inspectors into Baghdad's Agriculture Ministry. Talks would resume this morning at which time he expected Iraq's 'final answer'.
Earlier, Mr Anbari had raised hopes of a peaceful solution to the crisis, predicting there would be an agreement. But after studying the latest Iraqi response, Mr Ekeus said: 'We are under pressure, time is against us and every hour that goes is making things worse.'
Talk of compromise was downplayed by Mr Baker, who said the confrontation over allowing inspectors to enter the Agriculture Ministry was the latest example of Iraq's 'cheat and retreat policy'.
In a speech in Manila, he said George Bush had 'not ruled out any option'. There were some kinds of military force that would not need approval by the UN Security Council, he said.
Foreign Office sources in London said the overthrow of Saddam would be a happy outcome of any action against Iraq, and added that the Americans had not ruled in or out any specific form of action.
The Independent on Sunday has learned that in the months before the start of the Gulf war, the policy planning section of the Foreign Office was urging the allies to change their war objectives from the reconquest of Kuwait to the overthrow of Saddam, a plan resisted by the Americans.
Douglas Hurd, the Foreign Secretary, is giving strong backing to the American position in the latest crisis, strengthening speculation that the RAF could play a leading role in any strike.
Tam Dalyell, Labour MP for Linlithgow, pressed his party leader, John Smith, to demand a recall of Parliament to discuss the situation before any British forces were committed.
Senior members of the US administration, who gathered in Camp David yesterday to advise President Bush, are divided on whether Iraq will retreat or, as in the month before the Gulf war, go over the brink. Last night, they were studying the statement from Saddam's press spokesman, which appeared in Babel, a paper run by his son, Odei.
It told Iraqis: 'The duty of a citizen is to treat (the inspectors) with all humiliation when they come to our country. Waiters must not provide them with accommodation and give food to those who have denied milk to our children. No one should give them a glass of water, drive a car for them, guide them or answer any of their questions. They appear to be savages, despicable streetwalkers, criminal murderers and thieves.'
Since last year's ceasefire, Iraqi officials have seen intrusive inspections by UN teams as Washington's way of underlining Iraq's defeat in the war and humiliating president and government. Their strategy has been to resist UN demands as far as possible but not to the point of provoking a crisis.
The stakes are high for Mr Bush. If he handles the crisis as adeptly as he did the Gulf war he might guarantee his victory in November's presidential election.
His difficulty is picking targets. Saddam is probably invulnerable, moving secretly from bunker to bunker. Foreign leaders who have met him recently say they were first driven around Baghdad, frequently changing cars and drivers. According to Tariq Aziz, previously foreign minister, Saddam refused to pick up a telephone during the Gulf war because he was convinced the allied forces would monitor the call, identify his voice, locate him and try to kill him.
In Baghdad yesterday, there were queues outside food shops and petrol stations as people stocked up in expectation of war.
(Photograph omitted)Reuse content