UN may resort to force over Iraqi weapons

BAGHDAD yesterday increased the pressure on a UN inspection team charged with disarming Iraq, as thousands of demonstrators gathered outside the Ministry of Agriculture and shouted insults at the inspectors maintaining a vigil outside the building.

'Tell the whole world, Iraqi workers have lost patience. They can no longer stand the humiliation,' declared Fadhil Mahmoud Khareer, a trade union leader.

The government appears intent on drawing a line beyond which it will not allow UN inspectors to pry. 'We will never allow you from now on to humiliate Iraq,' the union leader shouted at Mark Silver, the head of the inspection team. 'We are under great pressure from our workers. If we could control them in the past, we won't be able to contain them in the future.' Iraqi guards are protecting the inspectors from demonstrators hurling eggs and fruit.

Iraq's latest attempt to break the shackles imposed on it by the Security Council has raised serious concerns among policy-makers in Washington, London and Paris, where force to break Iraq's will is once again being contemplated, however reluctantly.

Rolf Ekeus, the Swedish head of the UN Special Commission which is disarming Iraq, returned from Baghdad empty-handed yesterday after failing to persuade the authorities to allow UN weapons inspectors to enter the Ministry of Agriculture. The inspectors believe it contains a treasure trove of information on Iraq's long- range ballistic-missile projects. Mr Ekeus will now report to the Security Council, possibly precipitating a new confrontation with Iraq.

The United States will consult other members of the Gulf war coalition on how to resolve the stand-off, a State Department spokesman said yesterday. 'The US is determined to see that Iraq meets all its international obligations under Security Council resolutions. We hold Iraq responsible for the safety of all UN personnel in Iraq,' a spokesman said.

Any punitive tactics with Iraq are bound to draw unfavourable comparisons with the Council's easy-handed treatment of Serbia, which is blamed for numerous human rights abuses committed by its allies in Bosnia, the failure of the latest ceasefire and the steady bombardment of Bosnian civilian positions. The stronger the action against Iraq, the louder the accusations of double standards will ring, Western diplomats fear.

Although the Special Commission is based at UN headquarters in New York, it takes its direction from Washington, and has close links with US army intelligence, the CIA and the National Security Agency. US army officers have played a prominent role in its many missions to ferret out and destroy secret stockpiles of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction.

President George Bush and his advisers are equally aware that the allied victory over Iraq looks increasingly hollow. Iraq has made the work of humanitarian agencies more perilous with a series of attacks, one of them fatal, on UN guards in Iraqi Kurdistan.

Baghdad has also refused to sell oil so that war compensation payments can begin and it is stepping up its economic blockade of the Kurds. One of its most serious acts, from Kuwait's point of view, is Baghdad's refusal to accept the new border drawn between the two countries by a UN commission.

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