No smoking gun but US keeps up the pressure: although the UN inspectors have found no evidence of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in Iraq, Washington continues to press for action. The removal of Saddam Hussein from power might be acceptable but how feasible is this option?

Author:Darwish, Adel

As countdown to an American led war in Iraq began, conflicting signals, were coming from every quarter. While the United States kept the pressure on the Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, with almost daily announcements of more troops going to the Gulf, weapons inspectors chief Hans Blix and International Atomic Energy boss Mohammed Elbaradei told the UN on 9 January they had found no smoking guns in Iraq. But before the anti-war campaigners had the chance to rejoice, Blix quickly said the 12,000-page dossier handed by the Iraqis to the inspectors left many questions unanswered. Many materials which the old inspectors team UNSCOM listed before they left Iraq in 1998, remained unaccounted for. Although not letting Saddam of the hook, Blix's and Elbaradei's report left the Bush Administration without a trigger for war compelling enough to overcome global scepticism. Instead the report triggered a worldwide call for giving the inspectors more time, since UN Security Council Resolution 1441 was built on disarming Saddam not toppling him.

"Inspectors should continue and for that reason there are no grounds for military action," said Gunter Pleuger, the UN ambassador of Germany, which will chair the Security Council this month [Feb 03]. Now the inspections are under way "there is no reason to give a time-limit," announced Jean-Marc de la Sabliere, France's ambassador to the UN. The Russian's also called for more time. "This is part of very professional work, which is in its very early stages," Sergei Lavrov, the Russian envoy told reporters. "It should be allowed to continue". Dr Elbaradei promised to demand a fuller list of Iraqi chemical and biological scientists and to begin interviewing them within days. Meanwhile, the inspectors would start using helicopters and high-altitude surveillance planes, according to Mr Blix. US Secretary of State Colin Powell, one of the US Administration doves who supports the UN road and sees war as the last resort, confirmed that Washington has already started passing `significant' intelligence information early last month as part of a long standing demand by Mr Blix. However Secretary Powell cautioned that the details were" carefully selected" and that his nation was holding on to its most sensitive information and incriminating details for the time being until they had seen how the inspectors shape up.

A senior America intelligence source told The Middle East that Iraqi intelligence had thoroughly bugged the...

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