US-British warplanes hit Iraqi air defences


Warplanes of the US-British coalition have launched a new strike against an Iraqi air defense facility as the United States gave its clearest indication to date it might consent to Saddam Hussein staying in power if the Iraqi leader agreed to disarm.

As the planes rained precision-guided munitions on a mobile radar near the southern Iraqi city of Al Amarah, US Defense Secretary Mr Donald Rumsfeld made clear that Iraq's verifiable disarmament without Saddam Hussein leaving office could represent a solution to the current standoff.

He added the Iraqi president might see the seriousness of the UN Security Council Resolution 1441 requiring Baghdad to account for its weapons of mass destruction as a sign that it was time for him to leave the country and go into exile with his family and friends.

So far, the administration of President George W Bush has been insisting that regime change remains the official policy of the United States vis-a-vis Iraq.

Under the UN resolution, Iraq has until December 8 to present a full report about its weapons of mass destruction, an account that will be verified by UN weapons inspectors who will resume their work on Wednesday.

But Mr Rumsfeld said he believed the inspectors' success would largely depend on Baghdad's willingness to cooperate with them. The defense secretary said the United States was certain Iraq has weapons of mass destruction but stopped short of disclosing what the president would do if Baghdad continued to deny this to the United Nations.

Mr Rumsfeld also expressed confidence that if it came to war with Iraq, "a large number" of NATO countries would be participating in it one way or another.