Although UN teams continued unimpeded weapons inspections, turning up no signs that Iraq is producing or stockpiling weapons of mass destruction, President Bush claimed these results were “not encouraging” and cast doubt on the entire inspection process. Bush belittled the inspections Dec. 4 in Shreveport, La., referring to them disparagingly as “hide and seek.”

Calling the administration’s approach “provocative,” Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.) told the World, “They are looking for a pretext to invade Iraq.” McDermott, who visited Iraq this fall with two other congressmen, said he believes the Iraqis are “playing it pretty safe” and complying with UN terms. What the administration really wants, McDermott charged, is a regime change in Iraq, which would put the U.S. in effective control of the country.

Contradicting Bush, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said Dec. 3 that Iraq’s cooperation with inspectors had been good so far, and chief UN weapons inspector Hans Blix also said Iraq had not obstructed his teams. “I think we have started in the manner we expected and we have not had any impediments in the visits of plants,” Blix said.

Nevertheless, the Bush administration is waging a public relations campaign to justify a unilateral war on Iraq. William Hartung, director of the World Policy Institute’s Arms Trade Resource Center, noted the Bush administration’s attempt to use the “no fly zones” as an excuse for war, even though these zones, a U.S.-British creation, are not part of any UN resolutions.

Ever eager to follow Bush, Britain’s Blair government on Dec. 1 issued a dossier on Saddam Hussein’s human rights violations, implying that this could justify an attack on Iraq. But this sparked accusations of political opportunism from human rights groups who accused the government of failing to speak out about abuses in numerous countries allied to the West, and Labor members of Parliament charged the government was “softening up” the public for war.

Hartung said the Bush administration is enamored of the idea of being able to reshape the globe as they see fit, and Iraq is a test case. But war is not a “done deal,” he told the World, saying if inspectors can continue their work without interference from the U.S., this can delay a war. Iraq is expected to submit a required declaration on its weapons programs to the UN a day before the Dec. 8 deadline. A lot will depend on public reaction to Bush’s response, Hartung said. “Our best hope to prevent war is a major turnout at peace demonstrations in the coming days and pressure on Congress.”

Before leaving Iraq in 1998, UN inspectors tagged equipment they felt could have military use so it could be tracked. On Dec. 2, it was reported that inspectors found some equipment missing in a search of a plant that made guidance and control systems for missiles used in the 1991 Gulf War. But Iraq’s Foreign Ministry said Dec. 4 some of the equipment was destroyed when the U.S. bombed the site in 1998, and the rest had been moved to offices of a government agency that acts as a liaison to the inspectors. The ministry said it had informed the UN of this in October.

UN officials said they did not believe the missing equipment is cause for immediate concern, noting that at a veterinary medicine plant visited last week, inspectors were able to trace a fermentation unit at first thought to be missing. Chief weapons inspector Blix told reporters, “There was a fermenter which had been moved, and they showed where it was.”

Global Policy Forum executive director James Paul told the World, “Thousands and thousands of things were tagged by the inspectors; it is inevitable that there may be some things not there.” He commented, “Only warhawks would think, if some small thing is missing we have to go to war.”

Paul, whose organization has consultative status at the UN, told the World most UN ambassadors and non-governmental organizations are “extremely dubious” about the U.S. role regarding Iraq. The Security Council is expecting the U.S. to respond to Iraq’s declaration by claiming its own intelligence proves Iraq is violating UN resolutions, Paul said. But he expects the Security Council will insist on sending inspectors to check on any U.S. claims. The U.S. is still to some extent constrained by international public opinion, he said, and other governments are “trying to hold the giant down.”

Paul noted that France, China and Russia have strong material interests in not having a war with Iraq. All three have oil fields there that they want to keep, he said, noting that China, with its expanding economy, expects to be importing a huge amount of oil in 10 to 15 years.

In a joint statement in Beijing, Dec. 2, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Jiang Zemin called for a peaceful settlement of the Iraq crisis. Chinese and Russian officials stressed their commitment to a “multipolar” world and declared their faith in the United Nations Security Council and their opposition to “unilateral action” by any country.

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Susan Webb
Susan Webb

Susan Webb is a retired co-editor of People's World. She has written on a range of topics both international - the Iraq war, World Social Forums in Brazil and India, the Israel-Palestinian conflict and controversy over the U.S. role in Okinawa - and domestic - including the meaning of socialism for Americans, attacks on Planned Parenthood, the U.S. as top weapons merchant, and more. Previously she taught English as a second language and did a variety of other jobs to pay the bills. She has lived in six states, and is all about motherhood, art, nature and apple pie.