Even as UN weapons inspectors deplaned in Baghdad, U.S. officials were charging that Iraq was in “material breech” of UN Res. 1441 requiring it to “reveal and abandon” all weapons of mass destruction.
The charge was leveled on Nov. 18 by the White House after Iraqi defense forces fired on U.S. and British aircraft patrolling the “no fly” zones in Iraq that were established after the 1991 Gulf War.
White House spokesperson Scott McClellan said the U.S. considers that UN Res. 1441 protects these flights and that any interference constitutes a “material breech” of the resolution. He said the U.S. would “review and assess” the situation while reserving the right to bring the question to the UN Security Council. He added that the White House policy on enforcement of the UN resolution was one of “zero tolerance.”
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan was quick to reject the U.S. claim, and indicated that the Council would not see Iraq’s action as a trigger for war. In remarks to reporters in Yugoslavia, Annan said he “didn’t think” Iraq’s return of fire by U.S. and British planes over the weekend of Nov. 16-17 would be seen as “being in contravention of the resolution by the Security Council.”
Annan’s remarks were seconded in a statement from the Russian foreign ministry, saying U.S. claims that Iraq’s actions in the “no fly” zones can be seen as a violation of Res. 1441 “have no legal grounds.”
James Paul, executive director of the Global Policy Forum, accused the Bush administration of trying to rewrite Res. 1441. “During the Security Council debate the U.S. tried to include language protecting these flights but failed. Now they want to do it all over again,” he told the World, adding, “It is the first round of a new U.S. effort to justify war with Iraq.”
The U.S. stands alone among the 15 members of the Security Council in insisting that the action by Iraqi defense forces constituted a serious violation of the resolution. While insisting on anonymity, several members of the Security Council warned that the coalition built during eight weeks of negotiations could disintegrate if Washington continued to misinterpret Res. 1441 and then demanded support for any future action against Iraq.
“It’s one thing to keep up ‘zero tolerance’ to put pressure on Iraq,” one council source told Reuters News Service. “But in practice they know perfectly well that the other 14 council members were voting for disarmament, not the “no-fly” zone, or there would have been no vote.”
The White House propaganda attack came as the first elements of the UN inspection team arrived in Baghdad on Nov. 18 amid charges by the White House that Hans Blix, who heads the team, lacks the stomach to stand up to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
In recent weeks both Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld have said they do not believe the inspectors will succeed in disarming Iraq and their aides have conducted a whispering campaign against Blix, charging that he failed to detect Iraq’s nuclear program when he headed the International Atomic Energy Authority in the 1980s.
Others, like Richard Perle, perhaps Washington’s leading hawk, charge he is predisposed to overlook violations of the UN mandate that inspectors have “free and unfettered” access to possible sites hiding proscribed weapons.
The longstanding tensions between Blix and the Bush administration burst into the open during a stop-over in Cyprus, where he told a British reporter he saw no point of “criticizing inspections that have not taken place,” adding that to do so was “not very meaningful.” When asked if he expected friction with the U.S., Blix insisted that he did not.
However, work of the inspection team is complicated by the fact that inspectors are charged with “inspecting” weapon sites that only the CIA says exist. Blix will also have the challenge of avoiding both the reality and the perception that the UN agency – which has 30 U.S. inspectors in its ranks – is being hijacked by the United States.
Jen Carr, a spokesperson for U.S. Peace Action, said the fact that the U. S. charges coinciding with the arrival of UN weapons inspectors was a continuation of the Bush administration’s drive for war with Iraq. “I think there is the potential for the U.S. to consider almost anything justification for war and to force the UN to go along. It is incumbent for the Security Council to step back and decipher the real issues from the false,” she told the World.
Blix said preliminary inspections, the first in more than four years, could begin by Nov. 27, with full-scale checks starting after Iraq files a declaration of banned weapons, if any, by Dec. 8. His report to the Security Council, which will have great bearing on the question of war or peace, will be delivered early in January.
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