Cautious Saddam pins his hopes on delaying tactics - President shows signs of taking shrewder line (GUARDIAN UK) Brian Whitaker in Cairo and Ewen MacAskill 12/09/02)
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All the actions of Saddam Hussein over the last few months suggest he
is anxious to avoid confrontation. He knows that the US president,
George Bush, needs only the slightest excuse to set out on the road
to war, and the Iraqi president appears intent on avoiding giving him
When the United Nations weapons inspectors hunted for biological,
chemical and nuclear weapons in Iraq between 1991 and 1998, President
Saddam sought to deliberately obstruct their work. Iraq eight times
produced declarations that were supposed to amount to a full account
of its biological, chemical and nuclear weapons, and eight times it
was caught lying.
This time the mood in Washington has changed. The Iraqi president
knows that if the declaration he provided on Saturday is found to be
incomplete or untrue, he will have taken a step closer to a war that
will only end with the demise of his government.
That is why he agreed to allow UN weapons inspectors to return after
an absence of four years, why he accepted the new UN resolution 1441
on Iraq, and why he handed over the 12,000-odd pages of
documentation. Logically, it is in his interests to comply with the
UN resolution. He may have got rid of all his weapons of mass
destruction - if he ever had them - before the inspectors arrived.
Within a few years, the inspectors could conclude they have been
unable to find anything, sanctions would be lifted and he could go on
to preside over one of the wealthiest countries in the Middle East -
and even covertly re-arm at a later date.
President Saddam, throughout most of his rule over Iraq, has
repeatedly taken the wrong option, resulting in two costly wars and
the imposition of sanctions. But over the last few years there are
signs he may have learned his lesson. He and his advisers have shown
themselves to be more astute at diplomacy, from securing
international sympathy for the plight of the sanctions-hit Iraqi
population to support in the Arab world for his backing for the
At other times his actions suggest a lack of understanding of
international opinion, such as his decision to invite the world´s
press to Iraq to witness a mock referendum on his presidency: his
99.9% vote was universally ridiculed.
His semi-apology to Kuwait on Saturday that coincided with the
handing over of the declaration falls between clever and cack-handed.
Instead of a full apology and a list of what happened to some 600
missing Kuwaitis, his statement amounted to incitement of the Kuwaiti
population. The semi-apology was rejected by Kuwait and would not
have won him support among other Gulf rulers.
The Iraqi strategy on its arms declara tion is to cast doubt on US
and British claims that it has any hidden biological, chemical or
nuclear-related weapons in the hope that world opinion - and
especially other members of the UN security council - will be
sufficiently uncertain of the truth to prevent a military attack. If
the US insists on attacking anyway, the aim will be to make its
behaviour look as unreasonable as possible.
There are signs that Iraq will pursue various other public relations
gambits. There have already been official hints that it will announce
its own form of "regime change" with a new constitution
and "political pluralism and freedom", though there is little doubt
that any changes will be purely cosmetic.
Iraq´s difficulty in drafting its declaration to the security
council - since it had decided to plead not guilty to possessing
weapons of mass destruction - was to avoid making statements that
could easily be proved false, while at the same time giving a full
and detailed account of its activities as required by resolution
It may have included vast amounts of irrelevant material in order to
slow down the inspectors´ analysis. But this is also a consequence of
the sweeping demands made by the resolution.
Iraq has so far insisted that it destroyed them unilaterally in the
1990s, a claim that the UN inspectors of that period refused to
believe. One new tactic might be to blame Britain and the US for the
disappearance of some items, which it is claimed were destroyed by
missile attacks during Operation Desert Fox in 1998. Iraq has also
indicated that it will attempt to spread blame for the pre-1998
weaponry beyond its own borders, threatening to name companies and
countries that helped it develop weapons of mass destruction in the
Iraq can also be expected to argue that everything associated with
weapons of mass destruction by western intelligence agencies is
either for civilian use or for permitted military use. This could
make it difficult to prove to the satisfaction of security council
members such as Russia, France and China that Iraq has been cheating.
President George Bush said last week that the onus was on Iraq to
prove that it has no weapons of mass destruction, but the course set
by UN resolution 1441 puts the onus on the inspectors to disprove
Iraq´s declaration, a process that could take months.
Baghdad´s calculation is that France, Russia, China and others will
insist on turning the inspectors into detectives, delaying any
prospect of military action until the hot weather arrives. That would
force the US to choose between maintaining the UN consensus and
striking out on its own, with all the political risks that would
Saturday A day ahead of schedule, Iraq hands over 12,000 pages of
documentation in response to UN demands for a full declaration of all
weapons of mass destruction and their components. It also offers an
apology of sorts to Kuwait.
Yesterday Inspectors fly the documentation from Baghdad to Cyprus,
where the pages are split into two batches. Part is flown to
Frankfurt and then to New York, HQ of Unmovic. The rest goes to
Vienna, HQ of the international atomic energy agency.
Thirty-five more inspectors arrive as colleagues conduct a search at
a geological research facility centre at Fallujah, near Baghdad.
Today The inspectors will open the documents and begin sifting
through them to see what is new.
Tomorrow Hans Blix is due to meet the UN security council to tell it
how much of the documentation is new. This meeting could slip to
later in the week. More inspectors are to arrive, bringing the total
in Iraq to 70.
Next week Blix is hoping to be able to return to the security council
to provide an initial assessment of the documentation.
January 26 Sixty days from the start of their work, inspectors have
to report to the security council on their progress and offer a plan
for continuing inspections. If the conclusion was that Iraq was
guilty of a material breach of the UN resolution, the security
council would meet to discuss war.
(Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2002 12/09/02)
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