Iraq remains defiant on inspection ban despite US bombing threats


A defiant Iraq said yesterday it would not reconsider its decision to suspend all co-operation with UN arms inspectors until trade sanctions were lifted. The statement led the United States to threaten Baghdad with military retaliation. President Clinton said Iraq's move put it in "clear violation" of its commitments to the United Nations and of UN Security Council resolutions.

He added that all options remained open for dealing with Iraq, and that he was pleased the Security Council had strongly condemned Iraq's action.

The Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister, Mr Tariq Aziz, said Baghdad would only budge on the issue if the stringent eight-year sanctions, imposed after Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, were removed.

In Washington the US Defence Secretary, Mr William Cohen, warned Iraq it could face military attack if it continued to flout UN sanctions and warnings.

"I think everybody is getting weary of dealing with Saddam Hussein," Mr Cohen said at Andrews Air Force Base after cutting short an Asian trip.

He said Washington preferred that any action against Iraq be taken in concert with the United Nations and allies. But he said unilateral US attack "has always been an option that we could pursue".

Mr Aziz said Iraq was not seeking a military confrontation and was refusing co-operation, allegedly to protect itself from US and Israeli spies.

In the absence of any definite deadline for the ending of sanctions, Iraq announced on Saturday for the first time that it would close the weapons inspectors' long-term monitoring programme.

It also demanded the removal of the Australian diplomat, Mr Richard Butler, chairman of the UN Special Commission (Unscom) in charge of dismantling Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, on the grounds that he was serving Washington by deliberately prolonging sanctions. Mr Aziz told CNN that Unscom "is a subsidiary organ of the Mossad and the CIA".

Iraq's decision to cut off the inspections was immediately condemned by world leaders and led the UN Security Council, in an emergency meeting on Saturday, to demand that Baghdad end its non-co-operation "immediately and unconditionally".

Russia, which traditionally has close ties with Iraq, said it was concerned and urged Baghdad to reconsider.

It said the decision threatened to disrupt efforts to resolve the Iraqi problem and violated a deal reached between the UN Secretary-General, Mr Kofi Annan, and Iraq in February.