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FAIR CHANCE

It remains to be seen if Iraq’s latest offer to admit United Nations weapon inspectors, without conditions, will alter the Bush administration’s plans. American plans included the real possibility of a military attack against Iraq, which had caused considerable disquiet within the international community. Although Washington has expressed scepticism at the Iraqi decision, many American allies, particularly in the Arab world, have welcomed Baghdad’s offer. While there are few who support the policies of the Iraqi president, Mr Saddam Hussein, there was a growing feeling that a war on Iraq may prove counter-productive. The Republican administration has, for some months now, sought to focus international attention on Iraq. In January, the American president, Mr George W. Bush, had mentioned Iraq as part of an axis of evil that was threatening the peace of the world. He had then promised to take concrete steps to disarm Iraq along with Iran and North Korea. Since the speech, plans for an American war have gained considerable momentum. The need for war, it is argued, is felt because Mr Hussein has acquired weapons of mass destruction or is very close to acquiring them. And given his past record, the Iraqi regime will have no qualms in using these weapons in a future conflict. Recall that Mr Hussein’s regime used chemical weapons against its own Kurdish population. There is considerable merit in these arguments. Even those who otherwise have deep reservations about American foreign policy will concede that Mr Hussein is a ruthless dictator who has been determined to acquire weapons of mass destruction. Iraq was clearly on the road to acquiring nuclear weapons had it not been for the Kuwait war of 1991. Although UN inspectors had destroyed the facilities, it has been three years since the last inspection was permitted by the Iraqi government.

But it is by no means clear how the use of force will help remove Mr Hussein. Earlier, the Iraqi people suffered, but the regime in power does not seem to have been affected. Besides, the Iraqi government has recently shown a willingness to cooperate with UN inspectors. While this may be disingenuous, it is important that all avenues be explored before force is used. Finally, the Bush administration does not seem to have bothered to build a consensus on the issue, either at home or internationally. Hence the US action will obviously lack legitimacy and may even create an anti-American backlash, especially in the Arab world. The Iraqi offer to allow weapon inspectors must, therefore, be given a fair chance, and any decision, thereafter, must have the backing of the UN security council.

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