Saddam's response

September 18, 2002

THE IRAQI CRISIS is not over, despite Saddam Hussein's invitation to United Nations weapons inspectors to return to Baghdad, no strings attached. President Bush is determined to push for a strong U.N. resolution that delineates what's expected of the Iraqi dictator and the consequences of inaction. And well he should.

Such a statement from the U.N. Security Council would signal to Mr. Hussein that the international body is serious about Iraq's decade of defiance of U.N. resolutions and won't tolerate stalling or duplicity.

The United States has never considered a return of U.N. weapons inspections to be an end to the standoff between Iraq and the international community: There are human-rights issues and the whereabouts of Iraqi prisoners of war outstanding. But the inspectors can be a means to determining if Iraq possesses weapons of mass destruction and its capability of delivering them.

The Iraqis have unequivocally denied the Bush administration's charges about stockpiles of biological and chemical weapons, and supposedly they have agreed to the return of inspectors to prove it. Mr. Hussein's regime has claimed as much in the past -- only to have its deceit revealed by defectors and others.

After four years away, the inspectors will have their work cut out for them. They should be privy to any and all intelligence information necessary to ferret out the truth. Even with Iraq's cooperation, it may take several months for the inspectors to complete their mission. The Bush administration, meanwhile, is pushing ahead with its plans, preparing, it seems, for the inevitability of military action against Iraq.

It has sought permission to park several B-2 bombers at Great Britain's Indian Ocean airbase, which is within striking distance of Baghdad. And the Pentagon has instructed its pilots patrolling the no-fly zones in Iraq to take out Iraqi missile control sites, the source of repeated anti-aircraft fire against U.S. and allied planes.

Security Council members, particularly those sympathetic to Iraq, need to be ready for the inspectors' findings. Iraq will push for an end to sanctions if the inspectors come up empty-handed. The other scenario: Iraq frustrates inspectors' efforts to get at the truth, and the United States remains unbowed in its pursuit of "regime change."

That's another reason for the United Nations to keep up the pressure. A strong resolution would telegraph its intentions to Baghdad that the U.N. is not irrelevant because the Iraqi crisis is not yet over.

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