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U.S.: Analysts Call Response To Iraq Report A First Step Toward War

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell has condemned Iraq's weapons declaration as being in violation of United Nations Resolution 1441 on disarmament. While Powell stressed the U.S. still wants to avoid war, analysts say the countdown to a military showdown with Saddam Hussein may have now begun.

Washington, 20 December 2002 (RFE/RL) -- The United States has signaled that war with Iraq may be closer after concluding that Baghdad missed what was billed as its last chance to demonstrate that it is fully cooperating with the international community to disarm.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell told reporters in Washington yesterday that Iraq's declaration violates United Nations Security Council Resolution 1441, which demands an accurate and complete inventory of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.

Powell, speaking shortly after chief UN weapons inspector Hans Blix told the Security Council that Iraq's arms declaration is inadequate, said the 12,000-page report constitutes a "material breach" of the resolution -- a legal term that could be used to trigger war against Baghdad. "Iraq can no longer be allowed to threaten its people and its region with weapons of mass destruction. It is still up to Iraq to determine how its disarmament will happen. Unfortunately, this declaration fails totally to move us in the direction of a peaceful solution."

Powell sought to qualify his remarks, saying U.S. rejection of Iraq's declaration was not an immediate trigger for war and that Washington will consult with the UN and its allies in the days ahead about how to proceed. Still, Powell added, "The world will not wait forever."

Nor, more to the point, will Washington.

U.S. officials say America has entered a new phase in the crisis. The next key date -- when war or peace may be decided -- will be 27 January, the deadline for UN inspectors to give their first report on Iraq's arms programs and cooperation to the Security Council.

Foreign Secretary Jack Straw of Britain, America's main ally on Iraq, said yesterday that despite Iraq failing what the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush calls its "last chance," war is still not inevitable.

But most analysts say the countdown to war appears to have already begun. Raymond Tanter is a member of former U.S. President Ronald Reagan's National Security Council and a professor at the University of Michigan. He made this observation: "The American negative assessment [of the declaration] suggests that President Bush is ramping up towards war. Indeed, Secretary of State Powell uses the metaphor of an exit ramp on a highway. He suggested that in effect 27 January would be equivalent to the last exit ramp before the war might occur, sometime in February or March."

Kenneth Allard, a retired military intelligence official, is an analyst at Washington's Center for Strategic and International Studies and a professor at Georgetown University. Like Tanter, Allard has little doubt about where the U.S. is heading. "What is happening here is the fact that there is a diplomatic charade that has been playing out for roughly the last six weeks. It has about another six weeks to go. But it will then be replaced by the war, which will certainly result in the downfall of [Iraqi President] Saddam Hussein. I think he knows that and that is clearly the way things are heading."

At the State Department yesterday, Powell said the U.S. will continue to study Iraq's declaration in the weeks ahead and called for intensified work by UN inspectors, including efforts to interview Iraqi scientists outside of Iraq.

Tanter called the part of Resolution 1441 that allows for such interrogations a purpose-built "mousetrap" designed to catch Saddam violating UN demands. "Because Saddam is unlikely to consent to scientists going outside of the country, that would constitute another material breach. And it is the pattern of breaches that is necessary to justify going to war."

Under Resolution 1441, the Security Council can declare Iraq to be in "material breach" -- grounds for the "serious consequences" mentioned in the text -- if Baghdad includes both false statements and omissions in its declarations or fails to comply with the UN inspectors on the ground. Chief UN inspector Blix said yesterday that, so far, Iraq is complying.

But Powell said Iraq's declaration had failed to account for suspected biological weapons, such as anthrax, and chemical agents such as sarin and VX nerve gas. He said there is also no information about alleged Iraqi attempts to acquire aluminum tubes for use in nuclear-bomb making.

Powell also said the U.S. truly wants to avoid war, but will seek to do it right if compelled to use force to disarm Iraq. "We are doing everything we can to avoid war. The president's made that clear. But if war comes, the only thing I would say about the nature of that conflict is that it would be done in a way that would minimize the loss of life, and it would be done to be accomplished in as swift a manner as possible, and for the purpose of getting rid of weapons of mass destruction and liberating the Iraqi people."

Powell's assessment may be bolstered today by Bush, who is expected to deliver a speech condemning the faulty Iraqi arms declaration.

In another sign that Washington is readying for war against Iraq, news reports said U.S. officials have told 50,000 troops to be set to move to the region early next year in case Bush gives the orders. They would join 60,000 U.S. military personnel already in the Persian Gulf, where Washington has steadily built up its presence in recent months.