Iraq on collision course with UN

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The Independent Online
IRAQ MOVED closer to a confrontation with the United Nations yesterday when a senior Iraqi leader accused Richard Butler, head of the UN team looking for Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, of seeking to implement an American policy of continuing sanctions.

Tariq Aziz, the Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister, who is in charge of the negotiations with Mr Butler, said the UN team "is back to its old games, to its old tricks, games of confusing the major issues and the minor issues". He denied that Iraq had any biological, chemical or nuclear weapons or the means to deliver them.

After the first morning session with Mr Butler, the former Australian ambassador to the UN, Mr Aziz held an unprecedented briefing in Baghdad. He said that, despite strict monitoring of Iraq by the UN, Mr Butler's team had no evidence to show that Iraq still possessed non-conventional weapons. An Iraqi complaint is that the UN holds Iraq guilty unless it can prove its innocence.

Iraq's sharp tone may mean that relations with the UN will move to a crisis faster than had been expected. Mr Butler produces his six-monthly report on Iraqi compliance with UN resolutions in October when Iraq has implied that it might end the whole inspection process if sanctions were not lifted.

In a statement last week a meeting of the Iraqi leadership, chaired by President Saddam Hussein, said that this week's talks with Mr Butler would be decisive in deciding Iraqi policy. It asked why Iraq should submit to intrusive inspections and monitoring if the United States and Britain were determined to resist "taking any step whatsoever to alleviate and lift the embargo".

Mr Aziz made the same points yesterday, accusing the inspection team led by Mr Butler of procrastinating by giving undue attention to minor issues. It is not clear, however, if Iraq intends to stop co-operation with Mr Butler and whether it will do so immediately.

As Mr Aziz and Mr Butler met, taxis arrived outside the Foreign Ministry each carrying a small wooden coffin on its roof rack said to contain an Iraqi baby which died as a result of sanctions. The taxis were accompanied by grieving, black clad women.

While the propaganda is cruel Unicef, the UN children's fund, says almost a third of Iraqi children suffer from malnutrition and in the Saddam Children's Hospital, the largest paediatric hospital in Baghdad, Dr Dhia al-Obaidi, the director and consultant paediatrician, said: "Before the war the mortality for children under five was 23 per thousand; now it is 120 per thousand."

If Iraq does throw out Mr Butler and declares it has fulfilled the terms of the cease-fire agreement of 1991 it is unclear what the UN Security Council could do. Use of armed force is unlikely to be effective in winning Iraqi compliance. There would also be international resistance to starving Iraq out.

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