Published on Tuesday, August 6, 2002 in the Toronto Globe & Mail
Bush Scoffs at Iraq's Overture to Avert War
by Paul Koring
WASHINGTON -- A Baghdad mob burnt President George W. Bush in effigy yesterday, hours after U.S. warplanes bombed Iraqi air-defense sites, as the two sides traded insults and accusations that undermined hopes for a resumption of weapons inspections that might avert war.
The White House poured scorn on a Baghdad invitation to congressmen and U.S. experts to tour suspected biological-, chemical- and nuclear-weapons sites in Iraq. In turn, an Iraqi legislator who appeared at a state-organized demonstration denounced Mr. Bush as "a danger to human civilization because he is the No. 1 terrorist in the world."
Salim Qubiesi, a member of Iraq's powerless parliament, told a chanting crowd of about 10,000 in Baghdad that the world should get rid of the U.S. President, not Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.
Washington was equally blunt. Senior officials dismissed as a "stunt" Baghdad's offer to let U.S. politicians tour suspected weapons sites.
Amid the bluster of rhetorical salvos, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan gave a careful reply to Baghdad's vague offer to hold talks about renewed UN inspections of alleged weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
"We would want to discuss with them the return of the inspectors," Mr. Annan said after lunching with ambassadors of the 15-member Security Council in New York. "If Iraq is open to that idea, there are practical means to send the inspectors back."
However, it is clear that Baghdad's offer of talks about the possibility of renewed inspections isn't sufficient to satisfy Washington. "Nothing's changed," was Mr. Bush's dismissive response to last week's letter to the UN from Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri.
There seems little likelihood of a diplomatic breakthrough. Washington is steadfast that Iraq must allow unobstructed, inspections any time, any where and must comply fully with UN resolutions on destruction of all its weapons of mass destruction.
"There's no discussion required," said State Department spokesman Philip Reeker yesterday. "This is not about obfuscating or trying to change the subject or move the goal posts. It's about disarmament, and that's where we'll continue to keep the focus."
Even if Baghdad were to capitulate and allow full, unfettered weapons inspections, the Bush administration has said it still wants "regime change" in Iraq, despite the misgivings of many and the outright opposition of some of Washington's closest allies.
Mr. Bush is committed to ousting Mr. Hussein. Although the U.S. President insists Washington is not committed to war and will try economic, political and diplomatic leverage, his administration's uncompromising insistence that the Iraqi leader must go leaves little room for peaceful maneuvering.
Meanwhile, U.S. and British warplanes pounded an Iraqi air-defense command bunker yesterday. It was the 25th time this year that allied strike aircraft have bombed or fired missiles at Iraqi targets.
The Pentagon says that on at least 70 occasions this year, Iraq has fired surface-to-air missiles or anti-aircraft artillery at British and U.S. warplanes patrolling the no-fly zones, which cover about two-thirds of Iraq.
Baghdad regards the zones as illegal and arbitrarily imposed by the United States.
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