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Independent articles

Of the multitude of articles about the weekend crisis in today's papers,
here are two articles from the Independent. The first, if it is accurate,
is interesting because it gives an idea what really went on in terms of
Security Council meetings etc. The second talks about the US focussing on
getting rid of Saddam.

For more articles, see ,   etc.

Gulf crisis - Bombers were homing in on Baghdad when the order came:
'Abort abort'

By David Usborne in New York 

When Nizar Hamdoon, Iraq's ambassador in New York, dropped by the private
residence of Kofi Annan, the United Nations Secretary-General, shortly
after breakfast last Saturday, he may not have entirely understood the
weight of the moment. He was, in one way, just playing postman, delivering
a couple of documents from his leader. But he was also doing something
else: stopping a superpower in its tracks. 

A superpower, moreover, that was fully flexed.  Even as Mr Annan settled
on his sofa beside the ambassador to read through the documents, the order
had been given by President Bill Clinton to launch a massive military
strike against Iraq.

With dusk already settling over Baghdad, six B-52 heavy bombers, laden
with cruise missiles, had already taken off from a base in Louisiana to
join the assault. Royal Air Force Tornadoes were also being prepared for

It was precisely what Washington had not wanted to happen. Its script for
forcing the Iraqi President, Saddam Hussein, to back down unconditionally
from his 31 October decree rupturing relations with UN weapons was
suddenly going mushy again. It was, in fact, being hijacked by New York.
Until the weekend, the Americans thought that they could keep Mr Annan and
the UN on the sidelines. They got that wrong. 

The shift of gravity to New York began with a first, crucial, session of
the Security Council on Friday evening. Ahead of that meeting, the picture
seemed to favour President Clinton and his closest ally, Tony Blair in
London. A rare unity had already been established in the council: 
everyone agreed that President Saddam had this time overplayed his hand.
All the more so, because the Iraqi had lowered the boom on Unscom, the UN
body in charge of weapons inspections, at the very moment that the UN had
agreed to initiate a "comprehensive review" of the crippling sanctions
that have been in place on Iraq since early 1991.

But if the diplomatic stars had been briefly aligned for a military
strike, by Friday evening they were already in motion. Mr Annan was back
in New York after rushing home from a visit to North Africa. Within hours,
he was meeting with France, Russia and China, the three permanent members
of the council traditionally sympathetic to Baghdad. The three understood
very well that military action was imminent.

That Friday session lasted for four hours. When it ended, day was dawning
in Baghdad and some accused Russia's UN envoy of engineering a filibuster,
keeping the ambassadors in the council chamber just long enough to delay
bombing at least for one more day.

Finally, an agreement was reached that at first sight seemed innocuous. Mr
Annan could write the briefest of letters to President Saddam, urging him
once more to change course and reminding him of the council's offer of a
comprehensive review.

That letter from the world's diplomat-in-chief to Baghdad in the night on
Friday changed the course of the crisis. President Saddam trusts Mr Annan
more than any other player in the process.  He responded with a letter of
his own and with that he began his latest climbdown. The letter was
composed during a meeting of President Saddam with his cabinet and party
lieutenants and was actually written by Tariq Aziz, the Iraqi Deputy Prime
Minister. Mr Hamdoon delivered it to the Secretary-General on Saturday
morning, even as the American aircraft were taking off from Louisiana.

Mr Annan's public acceptance of President Saddam's climbdown forced
President Clinton to stand down his forces. Authorisation to attack had
also been given by Mr Blair to 12 RAF Tornado jets stationed in Kuwait; it
was simultaneously withdrawn.

But even as Mr Annan declared his own satisfaction with the Iraqi message,
Washington and London continued to see problems. While the letter from Mr
Aziz offered the immediate return of the UN inspectors to their work in
Iraq, a second document laid down conditions for the opening of the
promised comprehensive review of sanctions. Within hours the White House
had declared the Iraqi offer to be "unacceptable" and riddled with "more
holes than Swiss cheese".

On Saturday evening, the Security Council convened again in an atmosphere
of exceptional tension. The chance to avert violence was right there. But
President Saddam, by including the annex with the letter of capitulation,
had once more gone to the edge if not actually jumped over it.

All day Baghdad was saying that the annexe was nothing more than a wish
list, but it read like a set of conditions. It said, for instance, that
Iraq would expect Mr Annan, or at least a "delegation from the council",
to travel to Baghdad to pledge immediate action on the comprehensive
review.  And it raised the "question of Butler" - an indelicate reminder
that President Saddam distrusts Richard Butler, the chairman of Unscom,
and would like him removed.

The council meeting degenerated at once into a "free-for-all", as one
United States official described it. The session, arguably one of the most
important at the UN in many years, had a bizarre element. Inadvertently,
and with France and Russia playing joint ringmaster, the 15 ambassadors
found themselves redrafting President Saddam's capitulation for him.

The issue was how to de- couple completely the annexe of conditions from
the letter of surrender.  Enter Mr Hamdoon, who along with throngs of
journalists was nervously waiting outside the council chamber. No less
than three times the ambassadors of France and Russia slipped out of the
meeting to "consult" with him. What they were actually doing, according to
US and British witnesses, was dictating to the Iraqi ambassador what he
should write to reassure Washington.

Mr Hamdoon, who was also on his cellular telephone to Mr Aziz in Baghdad,
each time obliged. Thrice the Russian envoy, Sergei Lavrov, returned to
the chamber to tell council members that he expected new word from Baghdad
to clarify its position and - hey presto - three new letters came into the
chamber from Mr Hamdoon. 

It may have seemed like a pantomime. But those other letters from Mr
Hamdoon - coupled with the drone of approaching B-52 bombers and stealth
fighters - had the desired effect. Suddenly yesterday, as President
Clinton took to the microphones in Washington, the Swiss cheese had no
more holes, and the pilots were soon climbing out of their seats.

On the Brink of Conflict 

Friday 13 Nov: 1300: Tony Blair authorises use
of British forces; 2030: UN urges Saddam to
back down. 

Saturday 14 Nov: 0938: Six B-52 bombers take
off as Clinton agrees strikes; 1000: Blair
authorises 12 RAF Tornado bombers to join
attack; 1300: Iraqis announce Saddam ready to
"respond positively"; 1400: US bombers and
British Tornados ordered to stand down; 1515:
letters to Kofi Annan offering resumption of
inspections; 1530: Annan declares letter to be
positive; 2100: Clinton puts off Asia visit; 2205:
US declares Iraqi letter and annex
"unacceptable"; 2330: Hamdoon haggles with UN
for six hours. 

SUNDAY 15 Nov: 1245: Blair says crisis not
resolved. UK ready to strike "without warning" if
promises not kept; 1600: Clinton accepts
Saddam's promise, threat of military action


Gulf crisis - Anger in US at Iraq's narrow escape

By Andrew Marshall in Washington 

The United States shifted its rhetoric from the issue of United Nations
arms inspectors to the removal of Saddam Hussein yesterday, amid mounting
frustration after the Iraqi President dodged another David and Goliath
military confrontation.

The crisis demonstrated "that Saddam Hussein remains an impediment to the
well-being of his people and a threat to the peace of his region and the
security of the world", said the US President, Bill Clinton, yesterday.
"Over the long term, the best way to address that threat is through a
government in Baghdad - a new government that is committed to represent
and respect its people, not repress them, that is committed to peace in
the region."

There will now be intense congressional criticism of Mr Clinton, for
failing to press ahead with military action when he had the chance, and
new demands for efforts to replace President Saddam.  "There must be a
successor regime in Iraq that will treat the world better than that of
Saddam,"  said Senator Richard Lugar, a Republican. "It would appear that
Saddam is going to keep the weapons, and this is going to lead either to
his overthrow by the people of his country or. a military action by the
rest of the world," he said.

Washington was declaring victory last night in its stand-off with Iraq, as
Baghdad allowed UN weapons inspectors to return. But the confrontation was
never about just the weapons inspectors: it was also about a much more
direct attempt by the US to undermine President Saddam by military force;
that has been thwarted. 

The US decided after the last confrontation with Iraq, in February, that
the arms inspection effort had run out of steam. It had always been
essentially dependent on Iraqi consent, and when that consent was not
forthcoming, the only option was to threaten military force. After going
up that hill and coming back down several times, Washington became more
and more aware that it was running out of ways to make the inspection
effort stick.

For the last six months, the US has not been pressing its problems about
the inspectors, letting a head of steam build up for a much more
comprehensive programme of attacks. The air strikes that were planned were
to start last Saturday, with Tomahawk cruise missiles, but to proceed with
a much more in-depth attempt to "degrade" Iraq's military infrastructure
and target key political sites as well. The hope was to build a consensus
for strikes externally while preparing the ground militarily in the Gulf.

The White House had been urged by security advisers to strike last week,
and it is believed that originally, the Pentagon planned a programme of
attacks last Wednesday. But instead, it had held back until more aircraft
were in the region. It is possible that the US Air Force, as well as the
US Navy, wanted to participate: only yesterday did B-52s leave Louisiana.
The strikes were to continue into next week.

President Clinton was to leave for the Apec Asian summit on Saturday, but
had secretly decided not to go, and prepared the Vice-President, Al Gore,
for the trip. Mr Clinton gave the order for air strikes late on Friday
night, and the attacks were to begin at about 10am Washington time (3pm
Greenwich Mean Time). At eight, the White House learnt of the new Iraqi
offer, which threw everything into chaos. With an Iraqi proposal on the
table which was broadly accepted by France, Russia, China and Iraq's Arab
neighbours, that all broke up.

Throughout the crisis, the US has signalled clearly to those around
President Saddam who oppose him that it wanted a change of regime. "We
would look forward to working with somebody else,"  said the US Secretary
of State, Madeleine Albright, on Friday, as the US prepared to strike. 

The US has also been developing a new approach to the Iraqi opposition.
"Over the past year we have deepened our engagement with the forces of
change in Iraq, reconciling the two largest Kurdish opposition groups,
beginning broadcasts of a Radio Free Iraq throughout the country," Mr
Clinton said. "We will intensify that effort. to do what we can to make
the opposition a more effective voice for the aspirations of the Iraq

The problem is that the Iraqi opposition is still too splintered and
incoherent to present a clear threat to the regime. The US has often
preferred to focus on stoking up military dissent against President
Saddam, in the hope of provoking a coup against him, although without
success. It is possible Washington hoped a week's worth of air strikes
might lead to growing opposition within the Iraqi military, and an attempt
to oust him. The end of the current crisis leaves Mr Clinton's security
team with no apparent strategy for countering President Saddam. The
weapons inspection effort can resume, although no one in Washington was
pretending yesterday that they believed it would be an effective method of
containment. After this, it will be very difficult for the US to line up
diplomatic backing for air strikes again.

"There were many people in the administration who wanted - and expected -
that we would significantly weaken Saddam with a heavy, sustained bombing
campaign," an administration official told the New York Times. "But once
again, we've hitched our wagon with Unscom, even though Unscom doesn't
work anymore." 

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