C o m m e n t a r y US wants to find in Iraq something even if nothing is there

The United States is continuing its pressure campaign against the world community trying to persuade it that war with Iraq is inevitable. Three high-ranking members of the American administration this week rushed in different directions to recruit new allies and probe those who are undecided. Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz was on Monday to go to London and NATO's Brussels headquarters, and then to Turkey: the Pentagon hardly sees any military campaign in Iraq without Turkish air bases.

Wolfowitz's selection for the role of chief organiser of an anti-Iraqi coalition speaks a lot. In American official circles it is difficult to find a "hawk" who can outhawk the deputy defense secretary. His non-acceptance of compromises is anecdotal. In May 2001, it was Wolfowitz who ordered the burning in furnaces of 600,000 berets worn by American GIs with pleasure only because of the Made in China label. There is little doubt that Wolfowitz's current mission is to burn all bridges for other capitals to withdraw from supporting Washington's Iraqi campaign.

Ankara seems to be at the centre of these efforts. Without Turkey's participation, a second war in the Persian Gulf is seen by American strategists as more protracted, costlier and more dramatic in its toll than the first one. American messengers will be luring Ankara with money compensation and frightening it with rejection of its European Union membership application if it shows obstinacy. Another method of winning Turkey over to its side is to promise it Washington's intolerant attitude to the idea of creating an independent Kurdish state in northern Iraq.

Germany is also a hard nut to crack. Last week its chancellor again confirmed his opposition to a military intervention in Iraq and refused to provide the US with German infantry fighting vehicles protected against chemical and biological weapons. But after being elected for a second term Gerhard Schroeder has visibly softened up. Thus, he agreed to the unlimited use of the German airspace and of American bases in Germany and also promised to supply defence weapons to Israel.

So, preparations for an attack on Iraq are close to the point of no return. A favourable season for military operations is also near at hand. What is lacking is, as anonymous officials in Washington admits with regret, a trivial detail -- justification for an attack.

UN and IAEA inspectors are completing their first week in Iraq, but secret caches of drums with combat-ready bacilli and underground reactors with weapons-grade plutonium still remain a kind of mirage in the desert. Iraqi authorities are quickly opening up facilities, and readily answer inspectors' questions. No traces of weapons of mass destruction. No obstacles to be qualified as "a material breach" by Baghdad of the latest UN Security Council resolution.

What is more, Mohammed El-Baradei, IAEA director-general, told journalists on Sunday that he was convinced: Iraq wants to submit by December 8 a declaration with a list of nuclear, chemical and biological programmes -- both military and peaceful -- as is prescribed by resolution 1441. But the drafting of the "peace-related" part of the document may take longer, El-Baradei warned. According to him, there is nothing frightful about it. The Security Council is "understanding": if Iraq asks for such a delay, the Security Council will meet it half way, the IAEA director-general made the assurance.

Let us assume that for some reason Iraq will present incomplete or even, Allah forbid, deliberately wrong data. This cannot yet be qualified as "material breach". Such a breach -- read paragraph 4 - is "falsified information, omissions and Iraq's refusal to fully meet the conditions of the resolution". The conjunction "and" in this phrase is exceptionally important. It was put there purposely, following a gruelling struggle in the Security Council, and with the sole aim: to underscore the idea that a wrong or incomplete declaration is not in itself a "material breach".

And without the fact of such breach it is not easy even for such hawks like Paul Wolfowitz to decide to go to war.

In this situation, the United States is being increasingly tempted to find something in Iraq, even if there is nothing there. The western press is rolling out a multitude of malignant stories intended to discredit the Iraqi authorities and, into the bargain, the UN inspectors themselves. The range of topics is boundless. Hear, hear! Over the past four years a wily Hussein has hidden his weapons under mosques, cemeteries and in private flats. Patriotic-minded Iraqis sleep on nuclear rods, while steel cylinders with sarin are buried in coffins.

UN commission head Hans Blix is too soft with Baghdad, afraid to anger it. So he has recruited into his team not veteran inspectors, but inexperienced tyros unable to nose out the forbidden tracks. Moreover, the UN has invited for the post of an inspector Harvey McGeorge, an American, the founder and former president of the sado-masochistic club Black Rose, also former chairman of the national coalition for sexual freedoms. For inspectors like McGeorge all weapons of mass destruction boil down to a leather strap ...

It looks as if this campaign is called upon to justify the US intention as soon as possible to enact point 5 of resolution 1441, allowing UN inspectors to take local scientists and military out of Iraq for questioning. The United States has already given it to understand: it will give an Iraqi deserter and his family "green cards", accommodation, and big sums of money -- let him only "expose Saddam Hussein's military secrets".

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