U.S makes its case

Elizabeth Dunbar

After presenting its case to the U.N. Security Council last week, the United States continues to face opposition at home and abroad in its desire to forcefully disarm Iraq.

But even as inspectors return, the likelihood of war becomes more apparent. An anxious world wonders how long the United States will wait before launching a strike. It also remains to be seen what role the United Nations will play in a second Gulf War.

Powell’s points

The U.S. case against Iraq now includes several specific allegations that Iraq is failing to disarm under the demands of U.N. resolution 1441, unanimously adopted by the Security Council in November.

U.S. officials have highlighted chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix’s surprisingly stern report on Iraq’s unwillingness to cooperate.

Bolstered by the Blix report, Secretary of State Colin Powell cited U.S. intelligence accusing Iraq of concealing weapons programs, misrepresenting its weapons capabilities and aiding terrorists.

Though the United States has already accused Iraq of having ties to the al-Qaida terrorist network, Powell said Abu Musab Zarqawi – an al-Qaida operative linked to the murder of a U.S. diplomat in Jordan – is hiding in northern Iraq.

The area is controlled by a Kurdish extremist group, Powell said, but Zarqawi sought medical treatment in Baghdad and established a base there with other extremists.

“Ambition and hatred are enough to bring Iraq and al-Qaida together,” Powell said, addressing critics who say Saddam Hussein’s secular ideology make him an unlikely ally of Islamic terrorism.

Iraq denies any link. And the administration admits there is no “smoking gun” tying Iraq to terrorism.

Powell also presented satellite photos showing cargo and decontamination trucks at weapons facilities, allegedly moving illegal weapons to evade inspectors.

Another way Iraq has concealed the development of chemical and biological weapons agents, Powell said, is by hiding research labs in large cargo trucks.

“These are sophisticated facilities,” Powell said, explaining the mobile biological research labs can produce anthrax and botulinum toxin.

In addition, Powell said Iraq has acquired aluminum tubes that could be used to make nuclear weapons.

Powell disclosed taped conversations including an Iraqi official instructing another Iraqi official to “make sure there is nothing” at one of the facilities before the inspectors came.

“This effort to hide things from the inspectors is not one or two isolated events,” Powell said. “This is part and parcel of a policy of evasion and deception.”

International skepticism

Even after Blix’s report and Powell’s presentation, several members of the Security Council said inspectors need more time and resources to do their work.

While Powell and President George W. Bush said Iraq will continue to deceive inspectors, the foreign ministers of France, Russia and China – three of the five veto-bearing Security Council members – said diplomacy should continue.

“As long as there is still the slightest hope for political settlement, we should exert our utmost effort to achieve that,” China’s foreign minister Tang Jiaxuan said. The United States has said it would also consider plans allowing Hussein to leave Iraq.

Saturday, tens of thousands of antiwar protesters greeted Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in Munich where he warned officials at a security conference that further U.N. delays would only make war more likely.

Though the leaders of eight European countries recently expressed agreement with the United States on disarming Iraq in a signed op-ed article in the Wall Street Journal, Germany, France and Russia continue to see military action against Iraq as illegitimate.

In response to Powell’s remarks, Iraqi officials accused U.S. officials of fabricating information.

“The clear goal Ö behind the presentation Ö is to sell the idea of war and aggression against my country, Iraq, without any legal, moral or political justification,” said Mohammed Aldouri, Iraq’s U.N. representative.

What’s ahead

While inspectors begin more work in Iraq, the United States continues to prepare for war. The Turkish parliament will vote Feb. 18 on whether to allow 38,000 U.S. troops to base themselves in Turkey in the case of war.

The United States already has more than 100,000 troops in the Middle East, but most experts have said the U.S. will need until mid-March to build up a sufficient force.

Blix and U.N. nuclear inspector Mohamed El Baradei will brief the Security Council again Friday.

Bush said in a televised statement Thursday the United States would accept a new U.N. resolution to forcefully disarm Iraq, but he added “resolutions mean little without resolve.”

U.S. officials continue to say time is running out for Iraq to comply. Ultimately, the United States’ course “does not depend on the decisions of others,” Bush said in his State of the Union address.

University political science professor Ronald Krebs said the United States’ reluctance to go alone in the situation with Iraq underlines the possible costs of taking itself out of the U.N. process.

“The United States is not compelled to continue, but once they’re involved in the process, disengagement would be costly in and of itself,” Krebs said.

The Bush administration didn’t want to go to the United Nations in the first place, Krebs said, and might not wait much longer.

“When it believes the risks of inaction are extraordinarily high and when consensus seems impossible to achieve, the United States will move without the United Nations,” Krebs said.

– The Associated Press contributed to this report

Elizabeth Dunbar covers international affairs and welcomes

comments at [email protected]