BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) – Iraq crushed missiles, sliced casting chambers, unearthed bombs and sent scientists to talk with U.N. weapons inspectors yesterday, all in a desperate effort to prove it is disarming before a crucial U.N. report at the end of the week.
France, Russia and China urged Iraq to meet every U.N. demand in hopes of staving off war, but the United States – which might wage war even without U.N. authorization – said the actions were too little, too late.
“Iraq is not cooperating,” White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said yesterday. “Despite whatever limited head-fakes Iraq has engaged in, they continue to fundamentally not disarm.”
U.S. officials said a vote on a new U.N. resolution authorizing force would likely come next week, after chief weapons inspectors Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei address the Security Council on Friday.
The U.S.-led military mobilization entered a critical stage yesterday, with B-52 bombers landing in Britain and soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division setting up camp in Kuwait.
But the Turkish government showed no signs yesterday that it would quickly ask parliament to reverse its refusal to allow in more than 60,000 U.S. troops ahead of an Iraq war. Washington’s hopes for a Turkish-based northern front were dealt a blow when the parliament narrowly rejected a motion to grant the U.S. request.
Defense officials and analysts say American troops could seize Baghdad without a northern front, but at higher risk and with more difficulty.
As U.S. generals commanding about 225,000 troops in the region declare themselves ready to attack Iraq, weapons inspectors are suddenly receiving Iraqi cooperation on a swarm of issues that have dogged them for months.
Iraq met a Saturday deadline to begin destroying its Al Samoud 2 missile system, banned because its range may be slightly greater than allowed. It is slicing up banned casting chambers used to make another missile, the Al Fatah.
Workers have unearthed buried bombs they say are loaded with anthrax, aflatoxin and botulin toxin, and inspectors are analyzing the contents. Iraq is readying a letter to the United Nations that proposes verifying it has gotten rid of anthrax and deadly VX nerve agent.
Even Iraqi scientists who helped make missiles and chemical and biological weapons of mass destruction have begun to give private interviews to inspectors, something all but three had refused to do since December. Another scientist was interviewed yesterday, the fourth in as many days. The United Nations has asked to speak to more than 30 scientists since December.
Clearly Iraq is appealing to members of the U.N. Security Council, who are considering a draft resolution by the United States, Britain and Spain that would declare Iraq to be evading inspections, a step that would likely lead to war.
“The best time to press a point is when you have a meeting of the Security Council coming up,” said Blix’s deputy, Demetrius Perricos.
The United States expects a vote on its resolution “quite soon” after the chief inspectors report to the council on Friday, U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte said yesterday.
“All indications are that the vote would be next week,” a U.S. official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
France, Russia and China – three of the five veto-holding members of the council – all pushed for more inspections instead of war.
“But Iraq must cooperate more, more actively,” French President Jacques Chirac said yesterday in Algeria. “Together and in peace, we must keep strong pressure on it to attain the objective we have set: the elimination of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.”
But the new cooperation appears to be having little influence on the audience that in the end will mean the most – the White House.
After months of stressing disarmament, President Bush now speaks more frequently of “regime change,” saying that for Iraq to avoid war, Saddam Hussein will have to go – something few Iraqis can even imagine.
In a sense, the war has already begun. U.S. warplanes enforcing no fly zones in northern and southern Iraq have become much more aggressive in recent days, and have begun to go beyond their traditional targets of anti-aircraft weapons.
They are now attacking surface-to-surface missile batteries they say are in range of U.S. troops in Kuwait or of positions U.S. troops could take up in Turkey – although the stated purpose of the no fly zones is to protect Shiite Muslims in the south and Kurds in the north.
An Iraqi military spokesman told the official Iraqi News Agency yesterday that a U.S. airstrike Sunday night killed six civilians and wounded 15 in southern Basra province. There was no way to verify the claim.
American warplanes attacked four more military communications facilities and one air defense facility yesterday, the U.S. Central Command said.
Iraq warned Sunday night that it could stop destroying its missiles if the United States decides to go to war without U.N. authorization.
“If it turns out at an early stage during this month that America is not going to a legal way, then why should we continue?” asked Lt. Gen. Amer al-Saadi, Saddam’s scientific adviser.
At the sprawling al-Taji military camp, 20 miles north of Baghdad, workers used bulldozers to crush six Al Samoud 2 missiles, inspectors’ spokesman Hiro Ueki said. U.N. inspectors in blue baseball caps supervised the destruction.
Workers also destroyed two empty warheads made for the Al Samoud 2. Warheads for the crushed missiles – which were already armed – were removed for destruction later at another site because of the potential danger.
The workers destroyed four missiles on Saturday and six more Sunday, meaning that in three days, Iraq has crushed 16 of its 100-odd missiles. The United Nations says it expects Iraq to pick up the pace in the coming days.