WASHINGTON -- Iraq yielded to threats of renewed military force yesterday and agreed to allow United Nations inspectors to search its Agriculture Ministry for materials involved in developing weapons of mass destruction.
The agreement, announced by Rolf Ekeus, chairman of a U.N. commission on weapons destruction, defused the immediate possibility of allied air and missile attacks to make Iraq adhere to cease-fire terms of the Persian Gulf war.
It came just a few hours after Iraqi President Saddam Hussein said the "mother of all battles" he had promised during the gulf war was not over.
President Bush, voicing satisfaction that Iraq had "caved in after a lot of bluster," drove the point home by saying of Mr. Hussein, "I guess there's a certain humiliation factor for him with his own people."
But the deal covered only one of a series of alleged Iraqi abuses that U.S. officials have complained about forcefully in recent days.
Mr. Bush said Iraq "must and will be held to a standard of full compliance" with the U.N.-imposed cease-fire terms, which require the nation to destroy its nuclear and chemical weapons.
Asked whether the recent movement of U.S. forces closer to the region would be halted, he replied that he did not foresee any drastic changes in existing plans.
The current crisis began July 5, when U.N. weapons inspectors began a vigil after being denied access to the government building in Baghdad. As they waited, harassment of the inspectors became increasingly violent, forcing them eventually to withdraw last week.
The obstruction, which recalled similar incidents that ended after threats of allied force, was the most flagrant of what U.S. officials said was a broad pattern of Iraqi defiance.
Mr. Bush described the pattern in a statement read as he returned to the White House yesterday afternoon from Camp David.
It includes, he said, Iraq's refusal to participate in a redrawing of its border with Kuwait, its failure to account for Kuwaitis who may still be held in Iraq, failure to renew a memorandum of understanding allowing workers from the United Nations and other humanitarian agencies to operate throughout the country,
harassment of U.N. personnel, armed attacks against Shiite Muslims in the south and persecution of Kurds in the north, and refusal to accept U.N.-supervised oil sales.
Some U.S. officials and outside specialists said that a failure by the United States and its coalition partners to respond forcefully to the earlier examples of defiance had height- ened the importance of the Agriculture Ministry standoff.
Indeed, Mr. Ekeus noted that the U.N. Security Council's initial response to the ministry vigil was lukewarm. It was at first left up to him, and not clearly stated by the Security Council, to warn Iraq that it could face serious consequences, he said.
Mr. Ekeus, in a televised news conference at the United Nations, said that the allied threat of military force had helped persuade Iraq to back down. But he also noted that it was the U.N. inspection teams, not U.S. bombing during the war, that had succeeded in dismantling Iraq's arsenal to such an extent that the country was no longer "a threat to its neighbors through intimidation and terror."
The final agreement with Iraq was not without compromise on the United Nations' part. The inspection team that will be allowed into the ministry building won't include citizens of countries in the military coalition that defeated Iraq. Two U.S. members of the original team will wait outside.
Mr. Ekeus insisted that the new composition of the team will not affect its capability.
"In our picking the team, we took into account certain . . . sensibilities without compromising in any way the quality of the inspection."
But the agreement allowed Iraq's ambassador to the United Nations, Abdul Amir al-Anbari, to say that Mr. Ekeus had met Iraq's requirement of ensuring its sovereignty.
"We are happy with the composition of the team," he said.
Mr. Bush voiced no objection to the new arrangement and praised Mr. Ekeus.
Since the original inspection team was forced to abandon its vigil, it has become increasingly likely that Iraqis have managed to destroy or move some suspicious documents or other materials.
The ministry was suspected of having both documents and equipment related to weapons of mass destruction hidden inside. The inspectors thus face a possible new challenge of tracking down additional Iraqi hiding places.
Mr. Ekeus will arrive in Baghdad tomorrow when the new inspection team arrives.
Iraq's cave-in marked at least a temporary political gain for Mr. Bush by showing him in calm control of a war of nerves. It also spared him a risky military confrontation, something U.S. officials said might have been necessary, regardless of political consequences.
But the brief crisis brought renewed and unwelcome attention to Mr. Hussein as a threat to his own population and a cause of unease in the region.
The comments of Mr. Bush and other officials yesterday indicated that new vigilance will be required to make sure Iraq obeys the United Nations.
"Just across the board, he seems to be in a policy of stiffing the United Nations," said national security adviser Brent Scowcroft, interviewed on the CBS program "Face the Nation." "And so in a sense, the United Nations and its ability to act in this new world is at stake."