The UN Security Council has edged closer to a new tough weapons control regime for Iraq, as the United States announced the deployment of stealth bombers within striking range of the Gulf region.
Amid mounting pressure on Iraq, a US Air Force commander said Thursday that Washington will deploy B-2 Stealth bombers closer to the Gulf region to increase the US firepower there.
The Air Force B-2 Bomber Wing has begun practicing for the deployment to the British Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia and an air base at Fairford in England, said Colonel Doug Raaberg, commander of the 509 Bomb Wing.
US President George W. Bush insists his country will act unilaterally against Iraq if the United Nations does not take firm action to disarm Baghdad and President Saddam Hussein.
Iraqi Kurd leader Jalal Talabani said Thursday he was "certain" of a US strike to topple Saddam, "but it will only take place after Ramadan," the Muslim fasting month which runs from around November 6 to December 5.
"We are against an invasion of Iraq by the American forces," Talabani, who heads the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, told journalists in Tehran.
"But the opposition forces are incapable of overthrowing Saddam Hussein's regime without outside help. Foreign countries, the United States and why not Arab or European countries, could help us in getting rid of Saddam Hussein, including with military support," he added.
In Baghdad, Iraq's number two Ezzat Ibrahim stressed that the Iraqi people were ready to fight back against any US attack.
"We do not want war, we want peace. But if the fight is imposed on us by the US administration of evil, we will fight thanks to the force of our faith and determination," Ibrahim said in a statement carried by the press.
Ath-Thawra newspaper, mouthpiece of the ruling Baath party, said that "Bush denigrates and insults the UN and the Security Council."
The US president has been "acting like a new Hitler by adopting the propoganda methods of the Third Reich," it charged.
Meanwhile, on the international scene, US plans to use military force if necessary to disarm Iraq and bring about "regime change" in Baghdad continued to draw popular protests.
In Britain, peace activists promised to give Prime Minister Tony Blair and his ally Bush a Halloween fright on Thursday by staging anti-war events around the country.
The B-2 Stealth deployment came as US Secretary of State Colin Powell said members of the Security Council were "narrowing the differences and I think we are getting much closer" to a compromise on a US draft resolution on disarming Iraq.
The US draft would allow for more intrusive inspections than in the past and threaten Iraq with "serious consequences" if it obstructed them.
China, France and Russia, three of the five permanent council members with veto power, oppose wording which they say contains "hidden triggers" for the automatic use of military force against Iraq.
They want it clear that "serious consequences" -- diplomatic language for military action -- would follow future violations of Iraq's obligations and not punish past breaches.
They also insist that it is for the Security Council, and not for individual states, to determine whether Iraq has failed to cooperate with UN arms inspectors and to decide what course of action to follow.
China said Thursday it had "noted" US and British efforts to modify their resolution
on Iraq, but still refused to specify what action it supported beyond a rapid
return of the inspectors.