| An Iraqi listens to the news in Baghdad on Tuesday. (AFP)
Annan, Sept. 17 (Reuters): Saudi Arabia’s willingness to back UN-sanctioned military action against Iraq forced President Saddam Hussein’s hand into allowing the unconditional return of UN weapons inspectors, analysts said today.
But the move is widely seen as a tactical manoeuvre to delay possible US military attack and stir divisions at the UN Security Council rather than a genuine pledge to disarm.
Saddam, under intense diplomatic pressure backed by the threat of US military force, agreed yesterday to readmit the weapons inspectors without conditions. But the United States and its main ally Britain dismissed the offer as a ruse with London warning against letting Saddam “make a monkey” of the world.
Analysts said the decisive factor in the timing of the Iraqi concession was deliberations at the UN Security Council for a tough resolution on inspections and Saudi agreement to abide by any UN-approved action against Baghdad, hinting that its strategic bases would be available for use in war.
“The fact that the Saudis did a U-turn and reversed their position signalled to Baghdad that they were in a very difficult predicament and that their options were limited,” Daniel Neep, head of the West Asian programme at London’s Royal United Services Institute, said.
Saudi Arabia had led Arab opposition to any unilateral US action against Iraq, saying its territory would not be used to attack northern neighbour Iraq.
The 22-member Arab League and its secretary-general, Amr Moussa, have lobbied Baghdad hard for months to let the inspectors back in.
Analysts said the Saudi shift would have meant that Arab support for Iraq, built after a year-long diplomatic campaign by Baghdad, would have evaporated. Arab countries would have been inclined to follow Saudi Arabia and back UN action against Saddam if he continued to defy the international community.
“Iraq has an interest in buying time after the change in the Saudi position which was decisive. With Saudi approval it means that all Arab countries or most would approve” military action, Iraqi-born analyst Mustafa Alani said.
Most analysts said the Iraqi move appeared to be a delaying tactic that could work in the short-term. “It could be very successful as a delaying tactic and given the limited room for manoeuvre Saddam has at the moment, it was one of the few things he could do to have an impact on the international situation,” Neep said.
Alani said the move was also aimed at heading off the drafting of a tough resolution that would demand Iraq allows inspectors back immediately or face the consequences.
“They want the discussions not to focus on Iraq’s rejection of the return (of inspectors) but how effective they will be,” Alani said. The sudden Iraqi decision already shows signs of dividing the five permanent members of the UN Security Council — the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China.
Russia and China hailed Iraq’s agreement, describing it as a “positive” and “important step” while France welcomed it and said Baghdad must be held for its word.
Saddam’s chief lieutenant, deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz, said today Iraq had robbed the US of any justification for waging war by agreeing to re-admit the inspectors and meeting demands of the international community. “All the reasons for an attack have been eliminated,” Aziz said.
But London-based Alani said Saddam was convinced that the United States would eventually attack Iraq no matter what.
“The Iraqi leadership is certain that with or without this decision (to allow the inspectors back), the United States’ policy of regime change will not be affected,” he said.
He said delaying any attack would give Iraq more time to complete military and diplomatic preparations in the hope that an incident, like a major terror attack, would shift focus away from Iraq. Prof. Lawrence Freedman, from King’s College in London, said that though Iraq’s agreement has a pressing tactical aspect, the move would be a genuine test for Saddam’s willingness to disarm. “It is a breakthrough, but whether it proves decisive, there is a long way to go,” Freedman said.