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Only when it appeared war was just around the corner, did Saddam Hussein announce he would allow UN weapons inspectors back into Iraq, thus pre-empting an attack by the US. But, make no mistake, war remains just around the corner unless the international community takes concerted action to prevent it.

Iraq has been accused of prevaricating, of stalling for time. Hardly surprising; President Bush has been striding the world stage for weeks, posturing and tub thumping about the need for the US to storm Baghdad and save the world. He is beginning to scare his friends, never mind his enemies. Although the "unconditional" offer presented to the UN was dismissed as "a tactic" by the White House, it served to relieve some of the pressure that had built up in the international community, providing an opportunity to take another look at the situation.

Cracks quickly began to show in the US attempts to build an international coalition. British Prime Minister Tony Blair, predictably, shared the opinion of George Bush that Saddam's move had been purely tactical. France and Russia promptly questioned the need for the UN to pass a resolution setting a deadline for Iraq to comply with existing rules. Other countries too, which had previously been reluctant to back a war against Saddam Hussein, seized the opportunity to claim the crisis was all but over. No such luck. Saddam will scheme, plot and manoeuvre for all he is worth for as long as he is allowed to do so. He is a skilled manipulator of people and situations; a skill which has ensured he remains in power in Baghdad though most of his political adversaries have been sidelined or put out to pasture. George Bush Snr, Margaret Thatcher, John Major all languish in the political wilderness but not Saddam.

Baghdad launched a propaganda offensive intended to widen any splits in the 15-member UN Security Council charged with studying the Iraqi offer. Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz claimed the offer "thwarted" any reason for a military attack on his country but, he added philosophically, the aim of US policies in the Gulf is based on oil. The message as always, that Bush would stop at nothing--even war--to get his hands on Iraq's vast oil reserves.

Given Saddam's history it is highly likely that Bush and Blair are right, that this is just another ploy by the master of deception and trickery. Alas, we have no choice but to play along, at least for the time being. The stakes are too high to do anything else.

An American attack on Iraq at this time would be devastating for the Arab world and the wider Middle East. Programmes of social improvement and economic development hinge on political stability. The region can wave goodbye to its ambitious diversification and privatisation programmes and any other plans to encourage foreign investment if this conflict goes ahead. Millions of dollars drained away from the region's stock markets, banks and businesses as the spectre of war in Iraq increased, and further billions will go the same way if the US launch an attack on Baghdad.

At the moment Arab States present a somewhat ramshackle front. First they say they don't want the US in, then they say they might. What they should be doing is petitioning the UN for alternatives, there is, after all, always more than one way to skin a cat. In Washington multilateralists such as Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney, are seen as contemptuous of the UN and impatient to begin the war, almost regardless of the circumstances. They must not be allowed to persue this end. Long experience has taught us that Saddam is not to be trusted. But, how do we know that George can?
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Title Annotation:UN weapons inspectors in Iraq
Author:Lancaster, Pat
Publication:The Middle East
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:7IRAQ
Date:Oct 1, 2002
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