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Iraq-US Tensions: Signals Began Early in 2002 - 2002-12-25


With the possibility of a U.S.-led military invasion of Iraq looming, VOA's Greg LaMotte takes a look at the significant events of 2002 that have brought the two countries to the brink of possible armed conflict.

2002 began with Iraq being put on notice. On January 30, President Bush told the world that Iraq, along with Iran and North Korea, formed an axis of evil developing weapons of mass destruction. All three countries denied the allegation.

But it wouldn't be until later in the year that the issue of Iraq began to dominate the headlines.

On September 9, the International Institute of Strategic Studies issued a report saying that while Iraq lacked the ability to make its own nuclear material it was capable of building a nuclear bomb within a matter of months if it obtained fissile material from abroad.

One week later, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan announced he had received a letter from Iraqi authorities inviting weapons inspectors to return to Iraq without conditions. But the Bush administration wanted a tougher U.N. Security Council resolution that would make clear the use of military action if Iraq failed to adhere to any provision of the resolution.

Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein put up a fight, and Egyptian political sociologist Said Sadek says he thinks that was the most significant political development in 2002.

"There was a lot of Iraqi effort to influence Russia, France and there was a lot of struggle between the United States and members of the Security Council, and the struggle was the result of Iraqi diplomatic pressures," said Mr. Sadek. "The Iraqis were promising a lot of economic agreements with Russia and France. The United States was trying to talk also and court those two countries and promising them that, after the end of the Iraqi regime, their interests in the Iraqi country would not be affected by any means. Debt will be paid. Oil will be supplied and that a change of regime in Iraq does not mean that France and Russia will lose."

While the political struggle was being played out internationally, at home Saddam Hussein won 100 percent of the vote in an October 15 referendum on a new seven year term in office. It was a vote in which the Iraqi leader was the only candidate and citizens were asked to vote yes or no.

Most political analysts in the region said it was not a referendum. Instead, they said, it only showed that Iraqi citizens were too afraid to vote no.

About three weeks later, on November 8, the U.N. Security Council unanimously approved Resolution 1441 giving Iraq one last chance to eliminate its weapons of mass destruction or face serious consequences.

According to Uraib el-Rantawi, the director of the al-Quds Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Jordan, this was a critical turning point in 2002.

"I think Resolution 1441 is the most important event in the Iraqi crisis and it has very serious consequences in the coming weeks," he said. "I think if the Iraqis do not succeed to fulfill, totally, this resolution I think Iraq will face a very, very serious problem."

On November 13, Iraq accepted the resolution unconditionally and said it possesses no weapons of mass destruction.

Sayed Nassar, a freelance journalist specializing in Iraq who has been one of the few journalists to interviewed Saddam Hussein, believes Iraq's handling of the crisis was 2002's most significant development.

Mr. Nassar said Iraq had a new way of dealing with the crisis that was smarter and more effective than the way it dealt with the Gulf crisis in 1990 and 91. He added that Saddam Hussein has handled this situation better because of his accumulated experience as the result of mistakes he made in the early 90s. According to Mr. Nassar, Saddam Hussein is smarter because he is willing to accept today what he would have rejected 10 years ago. Mr. Nassar also said there has also been internal change within the Iraqi leadership that is more willing to reconsider its position in the face of possible war.

On November 18, the first team of U.N. weapons inspectors arrived in Baghdad after a four year absence. Nine days later, they completed their first mission in the hunt for weapons of mass destruction. The inspections have continued almost daily since then, and are expected to go well into the new year. The inspectors say they are receiving good cooperation from Iraq, and the Iraqis say the inspectors are acting in a professional and cooperative manner. So far, the inspectors have not reported finding any weapons of mass destruction, or materials to make them.

But deadlines for Iraq were not over. On December 7, Baghdad handed over a 12,000-page Security Council-mandated declaration of its arms programs.

On the same day Saddam Hussein decided to apologize to Kuwait for invading the emirate in 1990. It was an apology that Kuwait immediately rejected as an effort to create division between Kuwaiti citizens and their government.

Even before the Security Council received an official briefing and preliminary analysis of Iraq's arms declaration, Washington and London were saying the document was not complete and insisted Iraq is in possession of banned weapons.

The head of the political science department at Cairo University, Dr. Hassan Nafae, says such proclamations only make people in the region, including himself, question what he calls Washington's real motive regarding Iraq.

"It seems as if the United States has already taken the decision to go for a war regardless of whether the U.N. team finds arms of mass destruction or not. That's why many people, including myself, believe that this American administration has a hidden agenda," he said. "It is not the question of arms of mass destruction, it's something else."

On December 19, chief U.N. weapons inspector, Hans Blix, said Iraq's weapons declaration contained gaps and provided little new information, but he also said Iraq was cooperating with the inspectors. Mr. Blix also called on the United States and Britain to supply any and all intelligence information they have. He said the two countries have provided him with some information on what kinds of weapons they think Iraq may possess, but have provided little information regarding the specific locations of suspected weapons systems. U.S. officials said such information would be provided.

On December 22, a top scientific adviser to Saddam Hussein said Iraq was ready to answer any questions about its weapons systems and would even allow the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency to come to Iraq to identify suspect sites for the weapons inspectors.

In the first month of the new year the weapons inspectors are due to deliver their first report to the Security Council. But for now, 2002 will end much like it started, with Iraq saying it has no weapons of mass destruction and U.S. officials saying it does.