UN guard killed as Saddam calls for a holy war

THE killing of a United Nations guard in northern Iraq has dramatically escalated the war of nerves being waged with the UN across a number of fronts, while Saddam Hussein's defiant speech yesterday calling on Arabs to overthrow their leaders and launch a 'holy war' against the United States has put him back on collision course with the Gulf war allies.

Earlier, the US reiterated that it was determined to see Iraq comply with UN resolutions, and warned that it held Iraq responsible for the safety of UN personnel on its territory. 'We are very concerned about Iraqi behaviour,' a State Department spokesman, Richard Boucher, said after the weapons inspectors in Baghdad faced hundreds of protesters outside the Agriculture Ministry in a fruitless attempt to gain access to the building.

Despite bellicose noises from Washington and elsewhere, there appears to be little appetite for taking military action against Iraq. The resolve of the international community to keep the pressure on Saddam Hussein is also ebbing as it finds itself unable to deal with the war in Yugoslavia.

The UN guard, a Fijian, was shot and killed by an unknown gunman in the Kurdish part of northern Iraq as he slept in his bed. He was shot at close range. Another Fijian, who was woken by the shot, saw an unknown person flee from the room. The killing is the latest in a series of violent incidents in which the 500 lightly armed guards sent to protect Kurdish civilians and distribute humanitarian aid have been targeted.

The incident has rattled the UN Secretariat where officials were unsure yesterday whether the entire force of guards would now be pulled out. 'We are being harassed by the Iraqis on all sides, it's a war of nerves,' a senior UN official said.

The killing of the Fijian guard has deeply shaken the UN, unused to having its peacekeeping and humanitarian workers directly targeted. Serious consideration is being given to withdraw some of the guards in northern Iraq or to increase their security.

Two Austrian guards were severely injured by shrapnel last week when a grenade was fired at a house they were using as a residence. That incident followed a grenade attack on a car carrying Danielle Mitterrand, the wife of France's President Francois Mitterrand as she visited Kurdish areas of Iraq. These incidents prompted a tightening up of UN security, but the lightly armed guards have no real protection against a determined attacker.

A more serious issue is the outright defiance by the Iraqi authorities of the UN Security Council. Its refusal to renew a memorandum of understanding giving the guards a legal basis to be in the country is but one example. Saddam Hussein is testing the patience of the Gulf war allies by rejecting the terms of the UN ceasefire resolution on the grounds that it undermines his country's sovereignty.

Iraq has flatly rejected the findings of a UN commission on its border dispute with Kuwait. It refuses to export oil under UN control, which would pay war compensations and finance the destruction of its weaponry. And it has refused to allow UN inspectors to enter a building in central Baghdad since 5 July. The UN is looking for evidence of Iraq's long-range ballistic-missile operation, but the Baghdad authorities are defying their demands for access.

Saddam Hussein's speech yesterday marked the 24th anniversary of the coup which brought the Baath party to power. He used it to single out Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Egypt as well as Syria while announcing plans to introduce multiparty politics. He also offered an explanation for his new mood of belligerency, saying that the trade embargo would not be lifted even if Iraq 'does everything it can do, in addition to what it has already done'. The US and its 'accomplice in crime' Britain, wanted to 'colonise our country' during the Gulf war, Saddam Hussein said, but had failed.

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