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Analysts Differ on Interpretation of Powell's Remarks on Iraq - 2002-12-17


Political analysts in the Arab world say they expected the type of concerns expressed by U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell Monday regarding Iraq's weapons declaration. But they disagree on what the criticism means.

The analysts say there is a prevailing view in the region that the United States is going to attack Iraq regardless of what its weapons declaration says. But some analysts believe the United States is only attempting to force Iraq to reveal the full extent of its weapons systems.

On Monday, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said there are problems with the Iraqi weapons declaration demanded by the U.N. Security Council. He indicated that using military force to disarm Iraq remains an option.

Mr. Powell's assessment surprises no one in the Arab world, according to political analyst Mona Makhram Ebeid. The political science professor at American University in Cairo said most of the Arab world believes the United States is looking for any excuse to attack Iraq.

"The only surprise is that it has taken that long of a time. We expected this to happen just a few days after the Iraqis have given them the file. So we are quite concerned because we knew that any small thing will be taken as an excuse for a breech of the agreement and will justify the war. So this is causing a lot of concern in the Arab world and everybody feels so insecure today because of the implications that can happen should a military attack take place," says Ms. Ebeid.

Political analyst Abdel Moneim Said sees the situation differently. He does not believe the United States is looking for any excuse to wage war against Iraq. Instead, the head of the al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo believes the United States is simply trying to pressure Iraq to fully disclose all of its weapons systems.

"My personal view is that the United States wants to pressure Iraq to reveal more information and it does not miss an opportunity to make that pressure by putting all the information of Iraq under doubt. And also increasing the credibility of the U.S. position by increasing the number of forces in the area so Saddam Hussein and his regime will reveal more of whatever they got," he said.

U.N. Security Council resolution 1441 offered Iraq one last opportunity to fully disclose all of its weapons systems. False statements or omissions would be viewed as a material breach of the resolution, and possibly as justification for military action.

Russian officials Tuesday said it is not appropriate for anyone to make judgments about the declaration until U.N. officials give their preliminary view of the 12,000 page Iraqi document. That is expected on Thursday.

Egyptian lecturer and expert on Arab Affairs Abdullah al-Ashaal agrees. He said if there is concern about the declaration, U.S. officials should direct those concerns to the U.N. weapons inspectors in Iraq.

"We want to see the reality. The reality is, in fact, with the inspectors. You can give them your observations and they can check. If you have any other information, even intelligence information, you can give them and they are the proper and competent authority to see in the field how this could match with information given by the United States," Mr. al-Ashaal said.

U.S. officials say they are sharing their concerns with U.N. authorities, who are still analyzing the weapons declaration and are also inside Iraq conducting inspections.

Iraq has steadfastly denied possessing any weapons of mass destruction, and the U.N. inspectors have so far not found any since resuming their inspections last month.

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