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Thursday, 22 November, 2001, 14:39 GMT
Iraq fears US military attacks
UN weapon inspectors in Baghdad, Iraq in 1998
Iraq set tough conditions for the return of UN inspectors
Roger Hardy

The Iraqi foreign minister, Naji Sabri, has said that if United Nations sanctions were lifted, the country would consider allowing UN weapons inspectors to return after an absence of three years.

The foreign minister's remarks - to the Arabic newspaper Al-Hayat - come amid continuing speculation that in the next phase of President Bush's self-declared war on terrorism, he may turn his attention to Iraq.

If the Iraqi foreign minister was hinting at a new flexibility, he nevertheless set tough conditions for the return of the weapons inspectors.

Tough conditions

The UN, he said, must first lift the sanctions it imposed in 1990 - following the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait - and must also rid the Middle East of weapons of mass destruction.

Baghdad street scene
There is no evidence linking Iraq with the 11 September attacks
This is a far cry from the UN Security Council's position,This is a far cry from the UN Security Council's position, which is that if Iraq allows the weapons inspectors back, there will be a progressive lifting of sanctions.

But what is interesting is the likely motive for the minister's remarks.

For several weeks Iraqi officials have been overtly concerned that after bombing Afghanistan, the Americans will start bombing Iraq.

There is no clear evidence linking Iraq with the 11 September attacks on America.

But some senior US officials want to take action against a country that has developed weapons of mass destruction and that is seen more broadly as a threat to American interests in general.

Damaging to relations?

That prospect is troubling some of Washington's key allies in the Middle East.

A senior Saudi prince, the former intelligence chief, Turki bin Faisal, has issued a strong warning that it would be a mistake to make Iraq the next military target.

Speaking to the New York Times, he said that bombing Iraq would damage relations between Arabs and the West.

See also:

12 Nov 01 | Middle East
Iraq fires mortar into Kuwait
07 Nov 01 | Middle East
Iraq 'smart sanctions' postponed
06 Nov 01 | Business
Iraq's trade fair gets underway
30 Oct 01 | Middle East
Iraq condemns US 'aggression'
28 Oct 01 | Middle East
Rumsfeld: Iraq may be target
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