Iraq holds firm to bar on US arms inspectors

Iraq says it will not back down from its decision to bar Americans from taking part in UN arms monitoring. Washington refuses to rule out military action. Patrick Cockburn examines the unfolding crisis.
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The Independent Online
Iraq says it is ready for military confrontation after barring two American arms inspectors from entering the country. The United States says Iraq has "made a mistake" by worsening the confrontation that has led to the United Nations Special Commission (Unscom) on Iraqi missiles and weapons of mass destruction suspending its work after six years.

Neither Iraq nor the UN Security Council show any enthusiasm for escalating the crisis, while one important option for the UN - suspending the oil- for-food programme - has apparently been ruled by the US. James Rubin, the US State Department spokesman, said the agreement under which Iraq exports $2bn (pounds 1.25bn) worth of oil every six months is a separate issue from the present dispute.

Meanwhile, Richard Butler, Australia's former ambassador to the UN, the head of Unscom, said he could finish his work in Iraq within a year if Baghdad resumed co-operation. He said: "From day one, Iraq dragged its feet. They can have this over with in six, nine or 12 months." Iraq believes the US and Britain are determined to use weapons monitoring as an excuse to maintain sanctions for the foreseeable future.

In Baghdad, the ruling Baath Party newspaper said the leadership had taken the decision to bar Americans from taking part in the inspection teams after losing all hope that sanctions against the country would be lifted. "There is no other alternative before Iraq to get out of the dark tunnel of the embargo in which America put the country," said the daily Al-Thawra. Iraq has given the 10 American members of the 40-member Unscom team a week to leave the country. Baghdad has long regarded Unscom as being under effective US control.

Russia, while condemning the Iraqi move, said it opposed the use of force. Yevgeni Primyakov, the Russian Foreign Minister, said in Cairo at the conclusion of a Middle East tour: "We are against any use of force against Iraq. I speak about this because some voices appear, particularly in the United Kingdom, to be speaking about the use of force against Iraq. We strongly object to this."

Britain said on Thursday it did not rule out any option, including the possible use of force, to bring the Iraqi leadership back into line on weapons inspection. In practice, however, the UN's options are limited since missile strikes in 1993 and 1994 proved symbolic rather than effective. Other possible measures include extending the no-fly zone for Iraqi aircraft over central Iraq or banning travel by Iraqi officials.