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Diplomats Leave Baghdad as US-led War Looms
Published on Monday, February 3, 2003 by Agence France Presse
Diplomats Leave Baghdad as US-led War Looms
 

Foreign diplomats in Iraq are leaving the country as the United States and Britain started a final diplomatic push to rally support for a possible war.

The Polish diplomat who acts as Washington's sole representative in Iraq, Krzysztof Bernacki, will leave Wednesday "for long consultations in his country," the Polish embassy told AFP on Monday.

Other diplomatic sources in Baghdad said the representatives for Yugoslavia and Spain had already gone, citing the same reason.

The departures came as Washington and London exerted pressure on reluctant US allies to support a new UN resolution that would underpin a military assault on Iraq.

Faced with the growing threat, Iraq has said it is prepared to meet the demands of UN weapons inspectors, who have been trying to secure Baghdad's agreement on overflights by US spy planes and private interviews with Iraqi scientists.

Chief UN weapons inspector Hans Blix is due to go to Baghdad at the weekend for talks after Iraq's ambassador to the United Nations, Mohamed Al-Douri, said Iraq now had "no objection" to the use of U2 surveillance aircraft.

Hosam Mohammed Amin, who is in charge of Iraqi liaison with the inspectors, said: "We shall do our best to make his visit successful."

But US President George W. Bush has warned that Iraq had "weeks, not months" to prove to UN inspectors it had no weapons of mass destructions, and insisted that he was ready to order a war and invasion if it did not do so.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair is believed to have underscored that message in a long telephone conversation Monday with President Jacques Chirac of France, a veto-wielding member of the UN Security Council that has thus far opposed Bush's stance.

Blair and Chirac are to meet face-to-face for a summit in Le Touquet, northern France, on Tuesday.

On Wednesday, US Secretary of State Colin Powell is to present the Security Council with US intelligence purported to show Iraqi President Saddam Hussein has links to al-Qaeda and is hiding weapons of mass destruction.

"While there will be no 'smoking gun,' we will provide evidence concerning the weapons programs that Iraq is working so hard to hide," Powell wrote in an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal newspaper.

"The US seeks Iraq's peaceful disarmament. But we will not shrink from war if that is the only way to rid Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction," he wrote.

The United States, Britain and Australia are assembling a massive force in the Gulf south of Iraq. By mid-February, there will be more than 150,000 service personnel, at least four aircraft carriers and hundreds of aircraft in the region.

According to reports quoting US and British officials, war plans call for the United States to blitz Iraq with 3,000 guided bombs and missiles in the first two days in a bid to demoralise Saddam's forces.

An invasion from the north and the south would then put the squeeze on Baghdad, while airborne soldiers grab key installations such as oil wells and airfields.

That two-pronged invasion has put the heat on Turkey, NATO's only Muslim member and one of Iraq's northern neighbours.

Ankara said it would seek parliamentary approval this week to step up its involvement in war plans that could include allowing US forces to deploy from its territory.

Turkey has already sent its soldiers to reinforce the Iraqi border region and has appealed to other NATO members to help protect it in case of a counter-attack by Baghdad.

The governments of Turkey, and other US allies, face a public and political backlash for giving early backing to war without UN approval.

Blair, who is facing rebellion in his party, was to make a special statement to the British parliament later on Monday.

And Australian Prime Minister John Howard is due go to the United States at the weekend to show his loyalty to Bush and to lobby UN Secretary General Kofi Annan.

Last-minute diplomatic efforts to give UN inspectors more time and to possibly avert war suffered setbacks Monday.

Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou, whose country currently presides the European Union, called off planned visits to Egypt and Saudi Arabia after talks in Syria and Jordan.

And Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal cancelled a visit on Monday to Moscow to discuss the crisis. Russia is another permanent UN Security Council member opposed to war.

There were no explanations given for either minister's sudden change of mind.

Copyright 2003 AFP

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