Allies threaten air strikes on Iraq

AMID last-ditch efforts to defuse the crisis between the international community and Iraq, the US, Britain and France were preparing to issue a 72-hour ultimatum of renewed military action to Baghdad, diplomatic sources said yesterday.

The military strategy being discussed calls for symbolic air strikes against selected military targets as well as buildings the UN has earmarked for destruction. One of the first acts of the Gulf war allies would be to order Iraq's air space closed for all Iraqi fixed-wing and helicopter flights. American A-10 'Warthog' anti-tank aircraft would be sent to strike at any ground movements by Iraqi military, forces, diplomatic sources said.

Rolf Ekeus, the head of the UN special commission on Iraq, stiffened the UN position yesterday, saying he wanted unconditional access to Iraq's suspected military planning headquarters in a Ministry of Agriculture building. Because of the violence directed at inspectors who had maintained a vigil outside the central Baghdad building for 18 days, his proposals for a compromise solution involving 'neutral' inspectors were no longer on offer, he said. Mr Ekeus said he was continuing his talks with Iraq's UN Ambassador, Abdul Amir Al-Anbari, however.

He described the mood of their discussions as 'serious', but was adamant that there would be no more UN compromises with Iraq on the range of access it should have to suspected Iraqi military buildings.

The UN Special Commission, which has close links with Western intelligence, is convinced that the Ministry of Agriculture building is the archive of Iraq's weapons programme and that to lose it would be an enormous blow to Saddam Hussein's hopes of rebuilding his military machine. UN inspectors say the building, which reportedly has four floors underground, houses blueprints, scientific research and development findings, and procurement data.

The air strikes and other actions being planned are intended to bolster the Security Council's authority in Iraq, by forcibly reminding Baghdad that it must submit to the terms of the UN ceasefire resolution 687, adopted at the end of the Gulf war.

The likelihood of military action being taken rose yesterday, as Mr Ekeus ordered the team of five military inspectors who had confronted Iraqi demonstrators outside the Ministry of Agriculture to leave for Bahrain. Security men held back hundreds of demonstrators who shouted 'Bush, Bush, listen well, we all love Saddam Hussein' and other anti-US and anti-UN slogans when the team left their hotels in the centre of Baghdad. Some 65 UN inspectors, including aerial surveillance experts, chemical weapons experts and support staff, remain in Baghdad.

The allies would also step up the psychological pressure on President Saddam's regime by increasing their military presence in the north of the country where the Kurds have been under severe pressure due to a blockade by Iraqi forces. That action would be aimed at persuading Iraq to sign a memorandum of understanding with the UN that would allow UN forces to stay in the country providing humanitarian assistance.

By leaking details of the military objectives, the allies hope to persuade Iraq that it would be better off compromising over the inspection of the Ministry of Agriculture building in Baghdad, rather than lose some of the concessions it has extracted in the terms of the ceasefire resolution.

When Iranian fighter planes suddenly attacked Iranian rebels inside Iraq last year, the Allies gave tacit permission to Baghdad to start flying combat missions on its border with Iran, even though it violated the ban on flights of all fixed-wing aircraft. Since then Iraq has used fixed-wing aircraft to attack Shia rebels in the south. It also used military attack helicopters against rebel forces after the ceasefire, again with tacit Allied approval.

The strategy is aimed at persuading Iraq to allow unrestricted access for the UN rather than face renewed military conflict in which Iraq would lose all the concessions it had gained.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
The write stuff: masters of story-telling James Joyce, left, and Thomas Hardy
books...begging to differ, John Walsh can't even begin to number the ways
Sport
Jose Mourinho on Sky Sports
footballEXCLUSIVE COLUMN Paul Scholes: It was not a leg-breaking tackle, as the Chelsea manager had claimed
Sport
Romelu Lukaku scored twice to add to the hat-trick he registered in the first leg in Switzerland
football
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
tv
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Brand Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Do you wish to be part of an exciting journey ...

Guru Careers: Talent Manager

£30-35k (P/T - Pro Rata) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienc...

Recruitment Genius: Print / Warehouse Operative

£17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity to join ...

Beverley James: Accounts Payable

£23,000: Beverley James: Do you have a background in hospitality and are you l...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower