Iraqi offical fears a war is inevitable

Published: Sunday, January 26, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 26, 2003 at 12:18 a.m.
BAGHDAD, Iraq - Saddam Hussein's top science adviser said Saturday that he feared a U.S. attack might now be inevitable, regardless of what U.N. inspectors conclude about the last two months of renewed searches for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
"One tends to think it is coming, no matter what we do," the adviser, Gen. Amir al-Saadi, said in an interview with foreign reporters.
With tensions rising sharply - two days before U.N. inspectors deliver a report the Bush administration sees as a crucial measure of Iraqi cooperation - Secretary of State Colin L. Powell warned reluctant allies not to shrink from any strike on Iraq just because "the going is getting tough."
"The burden is upon Iraq," Powell said Saturday after he arrived in Davos, Switzerland, where he consulted with potential allies in any war on Iraq and prepared to deliver a speech at the World Economic Forum on Sunday addressing the prospects for war and the diplomatic confrontation with North Korea over its nuclear program. "Iraq must comply, or it will be made to comply with military force."
No decision on using force would be made before President Bush - who is expected to lay out his position on Iraq in the State of the Union address on Tuesday - meets Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain on Friday, Powell said.
Meantime in Iraq, at least three more Iraqi weapons specialists refused to be interviewed in private by U.N. inspectors.
Earlier last week, six other scientists, experts in biological weapons, said they would not speak to inspectors outside the presence of Iraqi government officials - further evidence, the Bush administration says, that Saddam is trying to undermine the inspections process.
On Monday, the Iraqi government agreed to measures for greater cooperation with the United Nations in which Iraqi officials said they would "encourage" the scientists to grant such interviews. Saturday, the United Nations decided to interview one of the scientists, a nuclear expert, near the city of Mosul in the presence of a government witness.
The U.S. deputy defense secretary, Paul D. Wolfowitz, said Thursday that Washington had evidence that Iraq had threatened to kill scientists and their families if they cooperated with the U.N. inspectors. Iraqi officials insist they have fulfilled their pledge to the United Nations, but could not force the scientists to speak.
"Our role is just to make that person available, to inform him that he is required for a private interview," Saadi said. "We do that."
Saying he still held out hope that war could be averted, Saadi strongly defended Iraq's overall cooperation with inspectors and noted that they had been free to visit any site they wanted and that they had still turned up nothing. The U.N. inspectors have said they have not found any "smoking gun."
Saadi squarely challenged the Bush administration's measure of cooperation: that it is up to Iraq, not the inspectors, to prove it does not have weapons.
"The onus is on us to prove we don't have any," he said. "Is that credible? Is that just? How can you prove a negative?"
He said he believed that the United States had reasons other than weapons for launching an attack. He said Iraq was still being punished for invading Kuwait in 1990, which spurred a war that enjoyed far more international support than Bush is receiving now. The general also contended that Iraq was being used as an example to other countries not to oppose the United States.
"They have an agenda which takes priority over anything else - hegemony," he said.
On Saturday, the United Nations mission in Iraq confronted two unusual incidents. In the first, about 8 a.m., an Iraqi man with a metal rod and three knives tried to push through security at the U.N. offices here. He was subdued and no one was hurt.
Half an hour later, a second young Iraqi clutching a notebook and yelling, "Save me!" climbed into the car of inspectors who were about to leave to inspect a site. A video of the incident by Associated Press Television News showed an Iraqi officer trying to remove the man from the car, as he yelled in Arabic, "I have been treated unjustly!"
Yasuhiro Ueki, a spokesman for the inspectors, said inspectors called United Nations security out of concern about the inspectors' safety, because the incident occurred so soon after the other man had tried to enter with knives. U.N. security guards coaxed the Iraqi out of the car and then handed him over to the Iraqi police. As for the contents of the notebook, Ueki said, "My understanding is that it was empty." There is, in all, a palpable sense here that the next few days may tell whether Iraq is the target of another U.S. attack. In Switzerland, Powell planned a round of meetings with representatives of several key allies.
En route to Switzerland, he told reporters that he was convinced that other countries would be willing to assist a U.S. military campaign. "We will not be alone, that's for sure," he said. "I can rattle off at least a dozen from memory."
In Davos, he met with Prime Minister Abdullah Gul of Turkey, a country from whom the United States is seeking the use of military bases for a possible attack on Iraq despite public opposition. Powell said the Turks "understand our needs and I have a complete understanding of their political situation." He also met with Foreign Minister Alexander Downer of Australia and dismissed a proposal by the Swiss foreign minister, Micheline Calmy-Rey, to set up a meeting with the Iraqis as an effort to avert war.
In 1991, just before the Persian Gulf war, Secretary of State James A. Baker III met with senior Iraqi officials in Switzerland in an unsuccessful attempt to persuade Iraq to withdraw its forces from Kuwait.
"We have lots of venues in which one could hold talks," Powell said. "She made a gracious passing reference to the fact that talks had been held here previously and that was the extent of her comment."
On Monday, the two top U.N. arms inspectors, Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei, will report to the U.N. Security Council in New York on the inspections process so far.
Inspectors have generally praised Iraq for allowing visits to any site they have requested, but have issued several criticisms, including Iraqi cooperation on the question of interviewing Iraqi scientists in private.
The inspectors, like the Bush administration, also say Iraq's 12,000-page report in December did not provide conclusive proof of destruction of all weapons and programs.
In general, the inspectors, as well as France, Germany and Russia, have been urging at least several more weeks of inspections before launching any attack. On Friday, 120 Democrats in Congress delivered Bush a letter also asking him to grant the inspectors more time.
At the Davos gathering, where Powell arrived Saturday, the Arab League secretary-general, Amr Moussa, warned that the United States' war plans were stoking anti-American sentiment in the Muslim world, and that a war thus presented a danger to the United States.
"My point is that the whole Middle East will or could be inflamed, which means that there is a big risk," Moussa said in an interview with Reuters news agency. "So why take that risk?"
"It will add to the frustration and the agitation of the people in the Middle East," he said, and complained about the "double standard" of America: the United States' threat of pursuing a war against Iraq while not solving the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.
In the interview Saturday, in Baghdad, Saadi said he was buoyed by the level of opposition against any U.S. attack, and held out some hope that war could be avoided. "We insulate ourselves that war is never coming," he said. "We must do everything within our power not to give them the excuse."
Developments in the Iraq crisis Saturday:
  • A senior Iraqi official said three Iraqi scientists had rejected a request by U.N. weapons inspectors to summit to private interviews to aid the U.N. search for signs of forbidden arms programs.
  • A man carrying three knives and another holding a notebook and shouting "Save me!" separately tried to enter the U.N. inspectors' Baghdad compound. They were turned over to Iraqi authorities, and there was no explanation of who they were.
  • At an international forum in Switzerland, Secretary of State Colin Powell warned other countries they cannot shrink from their responsibility to disarm Iraq, by force if necessary, just because "the going is getting tough."
  • Speaking during a trip to India, Saadoun Hammadi, speaker of Iraq's parliament, said Iraqis will use "every method to inflict heavy damages on the enemy" if war breaks out.
  • U.S. warplanes attacked an Iraqi military target inside the no-fly zone in southern Iraq. Bombs were dropped on anti-aircraft artillery near Tallil, 170 miles southeast of Baghdad, the U.S. Central Command said.
  • People opposed to a war in Iraq staged several demonstrations across Germany, including one that blocked the road to a NATO base. Protesters also rallied in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, to express solidarity with Iraqis.
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