Iraqis plan talks to allow arms check

Apparent goal is to blunt reason for U.S. attack


BAGHDAD - Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri is scheduled to begin talks today at the United Nations aimed at reaching an agreement to allow weapons inspectors back into his country - and, from the Iraqis' perspective, make it harder for the United States to attack them.

But Iraqis insist they will not bow to threats and will allow inspectors to return only as part of a comprehensive deal to end more than 11 years of economic sanctions and restore the nation's territorial integrity. The United States and Britain enforce "no-fly" zones over northern and southern Iraq and regularly report airstrikes against military targets.

"Iraq is saying the issue is not inspections teams," said A.K. Hashimi, an adviser to the government of President Saddam Hussein. "It is the issue of sanctions and everything all together."

The issue of weapons inspectors returning to Iraq has been in limbo since 1998, when teams were evacuated ahead of U.S. air strikes designed to force greater Iraqi compliance. Iraq has refused to let them return. But with Washington talking about using its military might to oust Hussein from power as part of the U.S. war on global terrorism, the issue has become increasingly important to both sides.

If Iraq refuses to let the inspectors in, the United States could use the move as a pretext for military strikes. If Iraq lets them in, the United States has one less score to settle.

"I think [the Iraqis] might very well accept the return of inspection teams - but they will demand some kind of time limit," said Wamidh Nadhmi, 60, a lecturer in political science at the University of Baghdad. "I don't think they can refuse."

Iraq was saddled with international economic sanctions after it invaded Kuwait in 1990.

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