| Corporal Robert Issott kisses his bride Claire after they were married in Wakefield, England, on Saturday. Issott was granted a break in training for operations in Iraq so that he could get married. (AP/PTI)
Baghdad/Washington, March 8 (Reuters): Threatened with a March 17 deadline to disarm, Iraq scrapped more of its banned missiles today in a process President George W. Bush dismissed as a charade that would not save it from war.
An attack on Baghdad could come even sooner than March 17, the date set down in a draft UN resolution which is the subject of frenetic diplomatic haggling this weekend. If the resolution fails to win the backing of the UN Security Council, Washington and its allies might well go to war earlier
Despite making 11th-hour concessions, Iraq maintained its defiant rhetoric. President Saddam Hussein and top officials issued a statement demanding the Council denounce the US and Britain as “liars” and lift sanctions on Iraq.
More than 200,000 troops are in the region and ready to strike. Gates wide enough to allow a column of tanks to pass are being installed in a fortified fence between Kuwait and Iraq.
Czech and Slovak troops with vehicles which can detect chemical or biological agents began patrolling Kuwait in case of attack from Iraq. The soldiers have equipment to decontaminate up to 1,000 people per hour.
Bush said that as Iraq was crushing some al Samoud missiles, it was covertly making more. “These are not the actions of a regime that is disarming. These are the actions of a regime engaged in a wilful charade,” he said in a radio address.
“As a last resort, we must be willing to use military force.”
British foreign secretary Jack Straw said war could still be avoided and the draft resolution could get through the Security Council, despite bitter opposition from some members who want weapons inspectors to be given more time in Iraq. He called on the 15 states to “face up to our responsibilities”.
US diplomats say the vote could come on Tuesday or later. A crucial motor of the diplomatic pace is the military’s desire to attack before soaring early summer temperatures in the Gulf make fighting in chemical and biological protection suits especially arduous.
France, Russia and China, who hold veto power in the council, maintained their opposition to any new resolution which would implicitly or explicitly authorise military action.
Deputy foreign minister Yuri Fedotov hinted Russia might use its veto. “Russia will do everything not to allow this resolution in the UN Security Council,” he said. Foreign minister Igor Ivanov called it an “unjustified ultimatum”.
The revised draft resolution reads: “Iraq will have failed to take the final opportunity... unless on or before March 17, 2003, the Council concludes that Iraq has demonstrated full, unconditional, immediate and active cooperation with its disarmament obligations.”
Modifying the resolution by extending the deadline for Iraqi compliance was intended to win over undecided nations Chile, Pakistan, Mexico, Angola, Cameroon and Guinea.
Pakistan and Angola expressed immediate scepticism. Chile’s Socialist President Ricardo Lagos said today he had already told Bush the March 17 deadline was too tight and inspectors needed months more.
Analysts say US promises of economic aid to the “undecided” may succeed where argument has so far failed.
Bush has vowed to take military action with or without UN approval. But going to war without UN endorsement would inflame a global anti-war movement and threaten the political future of key allies, such as British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
Lobbying of Council members by Washington is expected to be intense in coming days.
In an effort to prevent the US winning the minimum nine votes needed for adoption of a resolution, France is doing the same. Villepin plans quick trips to Guinea, Cameroon and Angola.
The Security Council heard presentations from chief weapons inspectors Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei yesterday.