The latest escalation was precipitated when a man wielding a skewer attacked the UN inspectors who have been trying to gain access to the Ministry of Agriculture in Baghdad to track down details of Iraq's ballistic missile programme. The UN Special Commission withdrew its inspectors after an 18-day vigil, when the Iraqi guards did not intervene.
Mr Fitzwater said: 'The Iraqi regime must be held accountable for its defiance of the UN resolutions and for the safety of all UN personnel in Iraq, as well as other international personnel providing assistance to the Iraqi people.'
Washington was consulting with the UN and its Gulf war allies and 'we are not ruling out any option, including the use of military force . . . I'd say this is about as serious as any (crisis) we've faced,' with Iraq, Mr Fitzwater said.
Adding to the mood of confrontation, President George Bush said: 'Iraq has not complied with the UN resolutions, and we are insisting that they comply with the UN resolutions.'
Iraq has been challenging the Security Council's writ for three weeks, but the withdrawal of the UN inspectors has signalled a new low in relations with the international community. The UN has been sending inspectors and demolition experts to the country for more than a year, but about 1,000 tons of chemical and nerve gas agents remain to be destroyed.
The UN is expected to keep sending in inspectors and humanitarian workers to safeguard the Kurds and the Shia in the south and to ensure that Iraq does not try to rebuild its chemical, nuclear and biological arsenals.
UN diplomats are faced with the dilemma of asking for military action and finding that it does more harm than good, or of doing more damage to the credibility of the UN by letting Saddam Hussein ignore its orders. Many feel that unless Iraq starts co-operating military action is inevitable.
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