UN to call Saddam's bluff over expulsions

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Iraq and the UN Security Council are moving towards a confrontation tomorrow when UN weapons inspectors in Iraq - including 10 Americans whom Iraq has ordered to leave the country - will try to resume work monitoring the destruction of Baghdad's missiles and weapons of mass destruction, writes Patrick Cockburn in Jerusalem.

Richard Butler, the head of the UN Special Commission (Unscom) on Iraq weapons said after briefing the Security Council: "I will issue instructions now for the suspension of Unscom activities to end, with resumption of all normal work in Iraq, including in the field, beginning Monday morning."

Iraq has ordered Americans working for Unscom to leave the country by Wednesday, but it is not known how President Saddam Hussein will implement his threat. Russia, France, Egypt and other states sympathetic to the Iraqi case have made appeals to the Iraqi leader to back down. If he does not, then the US will probably introduce a resolution in the Security Council banning travel by Iraqi officials. This will be largely symbolic, because they seldom leave the country anyway.

The US is moving cautiously, seeing few advantages in a confrontation. Bill Richardson, US ambassador to the UN, called for "incremental pressure" on Baghdad. He said: "This is not an attack against the United States. This is an Iraqi attack against the UN and the Security Council."

Tariq Aziz, Iraq's deputy prime minister, said that the aim of the US in maintaining sanctions was to topple Saddam, and that a US military strike would make no difference to Baghdad. "The US has its special objectives on Iraq, whether we co-operate with the UN Security Council or not, whether we co-operate with Unscom or not," he said.