| A US F-15C pilot checks his aircraft inside a hangar at Incirlik airbase, near the southern Turkish city of Adana. US and Allied warplanes continue to fly out from Incirlik airbase to patrol a no-fly zone over northern Iraq. (Reuters)
Baghdad, Dec. 20 (Reuters): Arms inspectors today criticised the US, alone in saying Baghdad is in “material breach” of a UN disarmament resolution, and its ally Britain for not sharing vital information on Iraq.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair told his troops to prepare for possible war with Iraq but said it was still unclear whether weapons inspectors would find Iraq in breach of the resolution.
US secretary of state Colin Powell yesterday made it clear that time was running out for a peaceful solution and President George W. Bush was due to offer his first substantive comment on Iraq’s weapons declaration later today.
Iraq said Washington had over-reacted by saying Baghdad’s weapons declaration was a “material breach”.
A day after Hans Blix told the UN that the 12,000-page Iraqi arms declaration mainly repeated old reports and revealed little new data, the chief weapons inspector turned on two of Iraq’s fiercest critics for not sharing intelligence. “If the UK and the US are convinced and they say they have evidence, well then one would expect that they would be able to tell us where is this stuff,” said Blix, in charge of chemical, biological and ballistic weapons inspection teams in Iraq.
Asked if he was getting all the cooperation he wanted from Western intelligence, he told BBC radio: “Not yet. We get some but we don’t get all we need.
“The most important thing that governments like the UK or the US could give us would be to tell us of sites where they are convinced that they keep some weapons of mass destruction.”
A spokesman for the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Mark Gwozdecky, said the UN nuclear watchdog had also received little help despite being “led to believe that we will be getting some of this information”.
Blix told the Security Council in his initial report on the Iraqi dossier that it had failed to include data on some chemical and biological agents, such as anthrax, in what he called a “missed opportunity”.
Washington stood alone today in saying Iraq had committed a “material breach” by lying about its weapons programmes.
Even its closest ally, Britain, stopped short of using the term that could trigger war. “At the moment, we don’t know whether Iraq will be found in breach of the United Nations resolution,” Blair said. “The key thing at the moment is to make all the preparations necessary, and to make sure that we are building up the capacity in the region — both the Americans and ourselves — and that we are able to undertake this mission if it falls to us to do so,” he said on British Forces Broadcasting Service.
The three other permanent members of the Security Council — China, France and Russia — have also refrained from saying Iraq was in “material breach” of the UN resolution.
Bush administration officials have indicated the next milestone date would be January 27 when the UN weapons inspectors are scheduled to make their first substantial assessment to the Security Council. They said Bush could make a decision around that time to attack Iraq.
Fuelling speculation of a US-led attack early next year, a German government source said Washington had asked Berlin to provide 2,000 troops to guard US bases in the country at the end of January.
The pronouncements of a “material breach” by the US marked a turning point in tough warnings from Washington to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. “If that is going to be the way they continue through the weeks ahead, then we’re not going to find a peaceful solution to the problem,” Powell said.
Responding to Washington’s accusations, the chief Iraqi official liaising with UN inspectors, General Hussam Mohammed Amin, said: “This is an exaggerated response. It was political. Even before they were able to read and analyse the declaration they said it had many gaps.”