Baghdad, Dec. 30 (Reuters): Iraq accused the US of double standards today, contrasting the US military buildup in the Gulf with Washington’s decision to use diplomacy to try to settle a nuclear arms crisis in North Korea.
Oil prices hit two-year highs after the US ordered more troops, aircraft and ships to the Gulf for a possible war against Iraq in the new year.
UN weapons inspectors scrutinised more suspect sites in Iraq, including a water treatment facility south of Baghdad and a communications centre near the Iranian border.
The al-Thawra official newspaper, mouthpiece of President Saddam Hussein’s ruling Baath party, said it was unfair that Washington was preparing to go to war with Iraq which was cooperating with UN arms inspectors, but seeking a peaceful solution in North Korea, which had just expelled them.
Pyongyang ordered inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on Friday to leave the country and said it would reopen a reprocessing laboratory which can produce weapons-grade plutonium.
“Look how Washington deals with the two situations. How it threatens to invade Iraq which has no weapons of mass destruction... at the same time the U.S. administration is saying it wants a peaceful end to the crisis with North Korea,” al-Thawra said.
The paper said Baghdad was cooperating fully with the UN arms experts, who had found no evidence of banned weapons.
“So why do America and Britain continue to threaten it' Is it because Iraq is an Arab country' Or because Iraq is an oil country' Or because the Zionist lobby inside the US administration wants to settle old scores'” the paper wrote.
US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld ordered thousands of troops, dozens of strike aircraft and probably two more aircraft carrier battle groups to the Gulf, starting early next month.
The deployment would at least double the 50,000 US military personnel already near Iraq. But US secretary of state Colin Powell said President George W. Bush, facing the distraction of North Korea’s nuclear brinkmanship, had taken no decision on whether to launch an attack on Iraq.
He discouraged talk of crisis or conflict with North Korea, saying Washington was ready to give diplomacy a chance.
Inspectors from the IAEA and the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) visited more sites today, checking a heavily guarded facility which produces metal moulds and tools in a Baghdad suburb, which previous inspectors listed as producing modified Scud missiles.
Iraqi officials said IAEA and UNMOVIC experts also visited a health laboratory in central Baghdad and a site in the Abu Ghreib area, while a communications group headed towards Mundharieh, northeast of Baghdad, near the Iranian border.
Powell said Washington, which has described Iraq, North Korea and Iran as members of an “axis of evil”, was providing intelligence to the inspectors and expected to see results soon.