Iraq beats deadline, U.S. continues to beat war drums
UNITED NATIONS(FinalCall.com)–Even as Iraq beat its deadline to turn over documents detailing their weapons programs, the country appeared to be on a collision course with the Bush administration, and, therefore, war.
Despite increased action by peace activists and a letter signed Dec. 9 by 100 celebrities, who are included in a new group called “Artists United To Win Without War,” the possibility of military conflict remained.
Iraq delivered a 12,000-page dossier with compact disks Dec. 7 to the United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna, the agency responsible for nuclear arms teams. Melissa Fleming, spokesperson for the UN weapons inspections teams, said at first glance much of the current Iraqi declaration mirrors a disclosure document submitted by Iraq in 1988. Iraq said it had no weapons of mass destruction.
However, she said there were 300 pages in Arabic that seemed to offer new information. In breaking down the report, she told ABC’s “Good Morning America” that 2,000 pages dealt with nuclear programs, while the remaining 10,000 pages deal with biological programs.
But the United States was still unmoved.
“Iraq has lied before, and is lying now, about whether they possess weapons of mass destruction,” said White House spokesman Ari Fleischer, rejecting Iraq’s report sight unseen. Later once the UN agreed Dec. 9 to offer Security Council members, who include the United States, an unedited version of the Iraqi declaration, White House officials said they would review the material and then respond.
President George W. Bush said the answer to the question of whether war could be averted lies with Saddam Hussein, the president of Iraq.
“The question is whether or not he chooses to disarm, and we hope he does,” he said.
But Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz in Baghdad, speaking to a U.S. television network, said, “If the war does not occur, it will be a miracle.”
Kuwait also rebuffed an apology over the 1990 invasion by Iraqi forces. Saddam should apologize first to the Iraqis for “dragging them into wars,” said a Kuwaiti official. Then, Sheikh Ahmed Abdullah bin Zayed told the Kuwaiti News Agency, the Iraqi leader should apologize to Kuwait by releasing 600 prisoners of war and “respecting our sovereignty.”
In a Dec. 7 televised speech, Iraqi Information Minister Mohammad Said al Sahhaf said on behalf of his leader: “We regret all that happened to you as a result of the position you (Kuwaitis) took” in the run-up to the invasion. Iraq invaded Kuwait in August 1990 and occupied it for seven months before being expelled by a U.S.-led coalition in the 1991 Gulf war. Again, Kuwait is now seen as a likely launch pad for the offensive Washington has threatened to launch against Iraq. In the same statement, Iraq’s leader accused the Kuwaitis of collaborating with U.S. plans to occupy Iraq. He said Kuwaiti leaders were “planning hand-in-hand with foreign armies to harm Iraq and facilitate its occupation.”
Referring to the presence of U.S. troops, the message said Kuwait was under “direct foreign military occupation” and hailed “devout youth who carry arms against the occupier”–a reference to Kuwaiti militants who have recently attacked U.S. soldiers in the country.
The Iraqi leader’s remarks, said United Arab Emirates’ Information Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, had dispelled “whatever sympathy the Iraqi leadership might still enjoy and confirmed that the Iraqi political and media discourse lacks credibility at a time when the country needs to do all it can to shield the region from the looming confrontation.”
“This speech does not express good will … and is not in the spirit of the resolutions of the Arab summit in Beirut concerning Iraq’s respect for Kuwait’s sovereignty,” the Gulf Co-operation Council secretary-general told Al Rai Al Aam daily.
Meanwhile, U.S. military exercises continued in Qatar and Kuwait.
Former president urges respect for UN process
The threat of unilateral U.S. strikes was so palpable that former U.S. President Jimmy Carter Dec. 9 called for Mr. Bush to abide by UN findings, when it comes to weapons inspections. Mr. Carter lauded the Bush administration for challenging the Iraqi leader over weapons and said the U.S. would use war as an excuse to get cheap oil. Compared to the cost of war, oil is already cheap, said Mr. Carter, who was in Oslo, Norway. The next day Mr. Carter, 78, was to receive the 2002 Nobel Peace Prize.
The United Nations is the best place to resolve international issues and Iraq appeared to be complying with inspections, he said, during a news conference. “If there is compliance, as judged by the UN Security Council, then I see no reason for armed conflict,” said Mr. Carter.
Iraq has challenged the United States to produce evidence that the weapons’ declaration turned over to the United Nations contains lies concerning weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Mr. Bush has said U.S. intelligence reports, not given to UN weapons inspectors, show Iraq has accelerated arms programs in the four years since inspectors left. News commentators said the question for Mr. Bush is when to make that “evidence” available to the UN.
Responding to questions relating to additional evidence, Dr. Hans Blix, chairman of the United Nations Monitoring, Verification & Inspection Commission, said the UN experts in Iraq would welcome “as much information from any member state as to evidence that they may have, on weapons of mass destruction,” and “particular sites.”
“I am not concerned about President Bush’s reaction,” Dr. Blix told reporters, in response to a Final Call question. Standing in the lobby of the UN headquarters in New York, Dr. Blix added, “They (U.S.) will have their reaction. We will have ours.” UNMOVIC is in charge of accounting for Iraq’s chemical, biological and ballistic arms.
The UN weapons inspectors are back in Iraq; they were pulled out prior to a U.S. bombing in 1998. President Hussein’s administration was required under a UN Security Council resolution to disclose all weapons “programs and any weapons” stockpiles by December 8, 2002.
Days before the report was due, National Security Advisor Condeleeza Rice visited with Dr. Blix at the UN, according to UN-insiders, and told him to “light a fire” under the inspectors already on the ground in Iraq.
On Dec. 4, White House spokesperson Ari Fleischer said, “We want to make certain that UN inspectors are aggressive enough to be able to ascertain the facts.”
“Our inspectors are about serious business,” Ms. Fleming said. She said that the inspection team had eight years experience in Iraq and that with the strong backing from the Security Council they were on more “solid” footing this time around.
Washington officials are now calling attention to a section in the resolution that gives Dr. Blix authority to remove Iraqi scientists and their families from Iraq for questioning. The resolution also says that asylum could be offered to the scientists, and Dr. Blix has been criticized by American officials for not utilizing this measure.
“We cannot take people who are not willing to go. The UN cannot offer asylum, a government must do that. We are waiting for clarification from the Security Council,” Ms. Fleming said.
Washington officials have been pressing the UN to step up weapons inspections and to add more inspectors. Twenty-five more inspectors landed in Baghdad on Dec. 9. The UN said there would be 100 inspectors on the ground by the beginning of 2003.
Mr. Bush has also pressed the UN to accept U2 spy planes manned by U.S. pilots as part of the inspection team. U.S. officials have said any lies in the Iraq declaration, or hiding of information, could be a “material breach” of UN resolutions and justification for military action.
“America went to the UN to get a resolution demanding Saddam disarm. It’s now up to the UN to decide if it wants to hold Iraq to its terms,” stated a Dec. 5 New York Post editorial.
Not everyone is dancing to the beat of war drums. Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.), was joined by Rep. Lynn C. Woolsey (D-Calif.), and Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich (D-Ohio) and four other Democrats who expressed concern about the Bush administration’s stance on Iraq at a Dec. 9 press conference. The lawmakers were worried that Mr. Bush is intent on going to war without giving UN inspections a chance.
Peace activists set aside Dec. 8, 9 and 10 to make statements as well as to launch a non-violent, civil disobedience campaign, designed to coincide with the 54th anniversary of the Declaration of Human Rights. Anti-war activity was scheduled for 40 U.S. cities and over 5,000 people nationwide have already taken a pledge to use non-violent protest “to prevent, to halt the death and destruction that U.S. military action will bring to the people of Iraq,” organizers said.
“The one issue absent from all the discussion of this administration’s plans for war is human life; literally, the innocent civilians of Iraq, who will die in the thousands with any U.S. attack and who have already suffered enormously from our genocidal sanctions policy,” said Gordon Clark, national coordinator of the Iraq Pledge of Resistance.
Actor Samuel L. Jackson was among more than 100 celebrities who signed a letter calling for President Bush to avoid war with Iraq, according to Reuters news service. Other signers included Kim Basinger, Matt Damon, Ethan Hawke, Jessica Lange, former U.S. ambassador to Iraq Edward Peck and retired admiral Eugene Carroll Jr., said the news service. The new group, Artists United To Win Without War, was to announce the letter during a press conference scheduled at Final Call presstime. Former “MASH” star Mike Farrell, co-founder of the group, was to lead the press conference, said Reuters.
(InterPress Service contributed to this report.)