Iraq is converting donated aid trucks into rocket launchers, claim US chiefs

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The Independent Online

The US intensified its psychological war against Iraq by showing slides to a United Nations meeting that claim to show trucks delivered to the country for humanitarian aid have been converted into rocket launchers and military vehicles.

Washington took the highly unusual step of sharing data on Iraq at a session of the sanctions committee of the 15-nation Security Council -- ostensibly to persuade the committee to ban the import to Baghdad of trucks under the UN's oil-for-food programme, and allay criticism it is unneccessarily holding up vital humanitarian imports.

Washington is also seeking to convince sceptical members of the council that Iraq is a genuine menace to its region, with documentary evidence of its continuing military build-up in the absence, since late 1998, of UN weapons inspectors.

Not by accident, the US has produced its evidence on the eve of meetings in New York between a high-level Iraqi delegation, the UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, and Hans Blix, the head of the inspection commission, for talks aimed at breaking the deadlock between Baghdad and the UN.

It also comes as the drumbeat of threats against Iraq from the Bush administration grows steadily louder.

Proof that Saddam Hussein's regime has been converting trucks into missile launchers would strengthen Washington's claims that Iraq is building ballistic missiles in its pursuit of weapons of mass destruction.US officials hope Saddam will take the possibility of American military action seriously enough to agree to permit the weapons inspectors back into the country.

Some take the Iraqi delegation's readiness to meet Mr Blix as a positive sign that Iraq is feeling the pressure from the West. But, if past precedent is any guide, the inspectors will return only after much prevarication and arduous negotiation - if they return at all.

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