Iraq believes the United States could launch an attack at any moment, despite moves by Baghdad officials to expand their cooperation with the UN weapons inspectors.
“It is possible any minute, any second, that while the inspectors are still here the aggression will take place, because the US administration doesn’t care,” Iraqi vice president Taha Yassin Ramadan said today.
Washington, which does not believe Iraq’s claim it has no more biological, chemical or nuclear weapons, has threatened President Saddam Hussein with war if he fails to disarm voluntarily.
US officials stressed again today that the White House feels it does not need UN approval to launch an attack.
“How much more time do we need to see he is not disarming?” President George Bush said of Saddam.
He was responding to suggestions from countries including France and Germany that they would try to stop the UN Security Council passing a war resolution against Iraq.
They have said the UN arms inspectors need more time – possibly months more - to finish their work.
Turkey, another US ally, today said it will host key Mideast foreign ministers on Thursday in talks to find ways to ease the US-Iraq stand-off.
But Bush said time was running out – Saddam poses a “serious threat” to America and its friends, he said.
“It appears to be a rerun of a bad movie. He is delaying. He is deceiving. He is asking for time. He is playing hide and seek with inspectors. One thing for sure is, he is not disarming.”
“So the United States of America, in the name of peace, will insist that he does disarm and we will keep pressure” on Iraq.”
And in a flash of impatience, Bush said of his reluctant allies: “Surely our friends have learned lessons from the past.”
The Pentagon has said it is sending a further 37,000 troops and two more aircraft carriers to the Gulf.
In Iraq, UN arms inspectors made a surprise visit today to a chemical plant south of Baghdad flagged by British intelligence as a “facility of concern”.
It was their eighth visit to the Qa Qa Company since early December, but they have reported no sign of chemical weapons manufacture there.
In two days of talks with the two top UN inspectors that ended in Baghdad yesterday, Iraq agreed to practical moves to step up their cooperation with the international disarmament effort.
The talks led by chief UN arms inspector Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the UN nuclear agency, came ahead of a report the pair must make to the UN Security Council in New York on Monday.
They will be updating council members on Iraq’s compliance with UN efforts to ensure it has no more banned weapons programmes.
If the council believes Iraq’s cooperation has been poor, that could set the stage for finding the Baghdad government in “material breach” of UN resolutions, and for a move towards military action.
The US and Britain are expected to line up against council members France, China and Germany in any diplomatic disputes over Iraq.
The three have been firm in opposing military action and demanding the inspectors be given the time they need. Russia supports the same position.
US Secretary of State Colin Powell challenged council members not to be “shocked into impotence” and shrink from their responsibilities when the inspectors deliver their report.
And he dismissed a 10-point Iraqi agreement reached with inspectors yesterday, saying: “It is just more of the same... Only under pressure does Iraq respond.”
Vice President Ramadan accused Washington of wanting to “create the idea that Iraq is not cooperating,” in order to accuse it of a material breach.
“We hope to increase this cooperation (with the inspectors) and overcome any obstacles, so we do not give the US administration any pretext.”
But US President George Bush will order an attack anyway, even with more than 100 international inspectors at work in Iraq each day, he said.
Thousands of women rallied in Baghdad today in an anti-American and pro-Saddam demonstration sponsored by a national women’s organisation.
As American flags burned, groups of angry women chanted: “Kill Bush and we’ll dig his grave!”