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[casi] No Weapons in Iraq? It doesn't Matter, War Anyway

Iraq still in firing line if weapons not found
By Tom Allard and Robin Wright in Washington
January 17 2003

The Australian Government agrees with the United States that finding no
evidence of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction may still provide the grounds
for military action because the onus is on Saddam Hussein to show he has
destroyed his banned stockpile.

Bush Administration officials say the US is mapping out a back-up strategy
that would justify possible military intervention in Iraq if intelligence
tips, United Nations inspections and Iraqi scientists all fail to produce
solid evidence of a forbidden arsenal.

"The chances that the UN will find something are slim," said a senior
Administration official who requested anonymity. "The chances that the Iraqis
will tell us anything are slim. So it's quite possible after three or four
months of no real progress in inspections that President Bush will simply
say, 'That's it. We're not satisfied, and the UN shouldn't be satisfied

This stance was echoed yesterday by the Minister for Defence, Robert Hill,
who said of Saddam: "He has chemical and biological weapons that we know
existed [that] he says he's destroyed but won't say where or when or who did
it or provide access to those who are supposed to have destroyed them.

"On that basis, unfortunately, the inspectors won't be able to say that in
fact Saddam Hussein is complying with the obligation of the international
community ... the Security Council might say, you know, he's never going to

That debate, he said, could be triggered by the report to the UN by its chief
weapons inspector, Hans Blix, on January 27.

Senator Hill said he was confident that the Security Council would back
President Bush and insisted he did not expect the US to launch a unilateral
strike without UN approval.

Also, the Federal Government was determined to follow the UN route on Iraq.
One scenario where the Government may opt out was if one of the UN's
permanent members vetoed action, as happened with Kosovo.

Senator Hill's position is similar to that outlined by Labor's leader, Simon
Crean, on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, the Bush Administration is increasing efforts to derail Dr Blix's
plans to issue another report to the Security Council in late March, fearing
it could delay an early confrontation with Iraq.

Diplomats forecast a potentially divisive battle in the Security Council
today when the US will press to suspend plans for the March report.

Dr Blix told the council this week that the March meeting was required under
a 1999 resolution that created his inspection agency. But Washington wants a
decision on whether to go to war soon after January 27.

Mr Bush is expected to make a strong case for action against Iraq in his
State of the Union address on January 28. And he has scheduled a January 31
meeting at Camp David with the British Prime Minister, Tony Blair.

The issue is pitting the US and Britain against Russia, France and Syria, who
maintain there are no grounds for rewriting the terms of the 1999 resolution.

The US formally asked its NATO allies this week for indirect military
assistance in case of a war with Iraq, including missiles to protect Turkey.

NATO officials said consultations were at an early stage and no decision had
been made.

In other plans anticipating a war, the US has sent Patriot antimissile
systems and 600 troops to Israel to strengthen its defence against missile

As well, Iraqi exiles have begun assembling at a US military base before
being flown to Hungary for training to help in any invasion of Iraq and its
aftermath, Iraqi opposition sources said.

Dr Blix, who is scheduled to pay a final visit to Baghdad on Sunday before
presenting his report, said he would urge the Iraqi leadership to "provide
more evidence" of its efforts to develop banned chemical, biological and
nuclear weapons.

Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, The New York Times, agencies

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