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 Monday, 13 January, 2003, 12:54 GMT
Iraq: Prepare for the worst
UN weapons inspectors in Iraq
Will UN inspectors be able to break up Iraqi "scientist cells"?

It is a confusing time.

The US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld signs an order sending another 62,000 troops to the Gulf region, nearly doubling the size of American forces there - yet President Bush, officials say, has not taken a decision to go to war.

In such a situation, it is best to hope for the best but prepare for the worst

The UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw offers odds of 40 to 60 against a war - yet the UK Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon scoffs at such an approach and prepares to despatch a British force.

Deadline?

The date of 27 January - on which weapons inspectors will report to the Security Council - is, according to the British Prime Minister Tony Blair, not a deadline.

He insists the inspectors must be given "time and space" - yet a senior Bush administration official quoted by the Washington Post says that it is a "very important day (marking) the beginning of the final phase."

In such a situation, it is best to hope for the best but prepare for the worst.

Gloomy view

If you take the gloomy view, you believe that it doesn't actually matter very much what the inspectors find.
This is the "Heads the US wins, tails Iraq loses" scenario.



If they find evidence that Iraq has or has tried to acquire illegal weapons, the United States could declare that Iraq has failed to cooperate and was in breach of Security Council resolution 1441.

The US might then attack, with or without Council backing, with or without allies, possibly in mid to late February.

If nothing is found, then the US might argue (and probably soon after 27 January) that Iraq has hidden its weapons and attack anyway.

This is the "Heads the US wins, tails Iraq loses" scenario.

Optimistic view

The optimists hope that if the inspectors do uncover weapons of mass destruction, then that process will be allowed to continue until Iraq is fully disarmed.

And if the inspectors don't find anything definitive, they should be given that "time and space" to go on looking - maybe for as along as the year which the International Atomic Energy Agency says is needed.

This argument is based on the assertion that Saddam Hussein cannot be a threat while inspectors are crawling all over his infrastructure.

It seems to me that either Saddam will turn over these weapons at the very last minute or there will be military action

Richard Perle
President Bush is expected to meet Tony Blair in Washington soon after the inspectors make their report on 27 January. That meeting could be decisive.

In the meantime, the heads of the UN inspections teams Dr Hans Blix and Dr Mohammed El Baradei are going to Baghdad on January 19 and 20.

Neither is so far satisfied with Iraqi answers about what happened to materiel still unaccounted for when the inspectors left in 1998.

Message reinforced

The gloomy view is reinforced by the comments of Richard Perle, the chairman of the US Defence Policy Board (only an advisory panel despite its name), who tends to speak for the Washington hawks.

"Unless the inspectors know exactly where to go, the chances that they'll find anything is practically zero," he said, offering only a small window of hope.

"It seems to me that either Saddam will turn over these weapons at the very last minute or there will be military action."

Exercise in delusion?

This view reflects one given back in September of last year by Charles Duelfer, a former deputy executive chairman of the old UN inspection organisation Unscom.

He wrote that setting off down the inspections path again would be "an exercise in political delusion."

He preferred an approach under which "Iraqis got the opportunity to create a new government in Baghdad" - i.e. a war or coup of some sort.

Mr Bush has still to make up his mind to carry on along the UN path or to conclude that it is a "delusion".

But be prepared for the worst.


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09 Jan 03 | Middle East
09 Jan 03 | Country profiles
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