US poised for air strikes as Saddam stays defiant

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The Independent Online
THE United States signalled last night that it was fast losing patience with continuing Iraqi defiance of international resolutions, and appeared on the brink of launching punitive air strikes against targets inside Iraq.

As President George Bush considered his next move in the seemingly unending test of wills with Saddam Hussein, the Pentagon indicated military action might be imminent. 'We are prepared, all that is needed now is words from the commander-in-chief,' one senior defence source said.

Nizar Hamdoon, Iraq's ambassador to the United Nations, met the Security Council President, Yoshio Hatano, last night, and offered to enter into a dialogue with the council, to find ways to 'ease the tension'. But after the meeting Mr Hatano said his patience was also wearing thin.

Tensions were aggravated yesterday when Iraq mounted a third raid in as many days on a UN compound across the border with Kuwait. On Monday, the UN Security Council warned Baghdad of 'serious consequences' if the incursions continued.

US defence officials meanwhile voiced fresh concern that Iraq was once again deploying anti-aircraft missiles into threatening positions within no-fly zones in both the south and the north of the country. Last week, the Gulf war allies came to the edge of military action against Iraq over the placement of missiles in the southern zone.

Nor had there been any solution yesterday to a third dispute, triggered by a ban placed by Baghdad at the weekend on flights into the country of UN aircraft, carrying UN personnel responsible for monitoring compliance with UN ceasefire resolutions.

A spokesman for President Bush underlined that Baghdad's apparent determination to snub UN resolutions had become a 'matter of extreme concern'. He reiterated that under an ultimatum delivered to Iraq last week by the US, Britain, France and Russia, over the movement of missiles, no further warning would be given to Baghdad before military force was used.

Describing the deepening mood of crisis, a Western diplomat remarked: 'Patience around here is wearing very thin indeed.' The accumulation of problems with Iraq was moving the allies towards a military solution.

The US General John Shalikashvili, supreme commander of Nato forces in Europe, confirmed that Iraq was redeploying surface- to-air missiles. 'In the last few days they have moved them into operational condition,' he said. 'And they are within the northern no-fly zone right now.'

Risking the West's wrath, page 12