| An eight-month-old Iraqi baby suffering from leukaemia holds his mother’s hand in the Saddam Hospital, Baghdad, on Monday. Iraq says UN sanctions, imposed after the 1991 Gulf war, have killed 1.7 million people, mostly children. (Reuters)
Baghdad/Vienna, Jan. 13 (Reuters): UN arms experts said today they wanted up to a year to complete their inspections in Iraq, as Washington massed a force in the Gulf that will be ready to wage war within weeks.
The UN inspectors’ comments were likely to further fuel an anti-war camp that includes much of the public in Europe and West Asia, many of their governments and the Pope.
Top UN inspectors Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei go to Baghdad next weekend to demand Iraq account for missing stocks of such items as chemical bombs, nerve gas and missile engines. But they appeared anxious today to slow the timetable of the attack the US threatens to launch if Iraq’s answers fail to satisfy.
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) spokesman Mark Gwozdecky said UN resolutions provided timelines of “somewhere between six and 12 months” for inspections.
“We think we’ll get the time we need since no one has explicitly said that they disagreed with our assessment of the time it would take,” he said in Vienna.
ElBaradei himself told reporters in Paris: “We need to take a few months... How long depends on the cooperation of Iraq.”
Asked if the timeframe of a year quoted by the IAEA spokesman was conservatively lengthy, ElBaradei replied: “Yes”.
Tens of thousands of US troops have already been massed in the Gulf and analysts say military chiefs want any attack on Iraq to be launched within the next two or three winter months, before temperatures in the desert region rise.
“It is a far better option to wait a little bit longer than to have to resort to war,” Gwozdecky told CNN separately.
He stressed that January 27, when inspectors are scheduled to report to the U. Security Council on Iraq’s compliance with disarmament demands, was not a final deadline.
“There’s a little bit of misunderstanding about this January 27 reporting date. The Security Council is asking us to report but not to have all the answers at that point,” Gwozdecky said.
Inspectors briefed the Security Council last week on the Iraq inspections. “We heard unanimous support from the council members that they were four-square behind us, and we believe that they’re willing to give us the time that we need,” he said.
The newspaper USA Today said today the US force in the Gulf would not be ready for full-scale war until late February or early March because of logistical complications.
It said the delayed timetable had contributed to the willingness of President George W. Bush’s administration to accept extending arms inspections beyond the January 27 report.
Blix and ElBaradei told the UN Security Council last week that while searches in Iraq so far had not uncovered “smoking guns”, Baghdad had left a “great many questions” unanswered.
Washington has signalled that if Iraq does not provide satisfactory answers, this could be deemed non-cooperation under UN resolutions and, therefore, a trigger for war.
The US announced new troop deployments over the weekend amid signs most governments in Europe and West Asia are nervous about war and want all other options explored.
A German official was quoted as saying France and Germany must vote together on any new Council resolution on Iraq if they are to realise their goal of a common European foreign policy.
Saudi Arabia is mounting a diplomatic drive to ask fellow Arab states to unanimously oppose an attack on one of their own.
Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair are chief prosecutors of the case against Iraq, and say they have intelligence it has weapons of mass destruction.
But even in Britain, a poll showed only 13 per cent of people would support a war waged without UN approval.