- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 7, 2003

NEW YORK British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said yesterday that war with Iraq was growing less likely, even as Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein heightened tensions by accusing U.N. weapons inspectors of spying.
Similar accusations were used to justify the banning of U.N. weapons inspectors from Iraq for four years, though there was no suggestion from Saddam yesterday that the present inspection teams would be ordered to leave.
Mr. Straw, whose government has been the Bush administration's closest ally in forcing a showdown with Baghdad, declined to say why he thought the likelihood of war had lessened, but clearly was trying to cool speculation about imminent combat.
"There has been so much talk in the newspapers about war, suggestions that the chance of war are 100 percent, that it's important to try and correct that impression," Mr. Straw told BBC Radio yesterday morning. He indicated that the chances were more like 40-60.
"What's important for people to understand is that war is not inevitable, that so far every decision has been made explicit by the United Nations."
In Iraq, however, Saddam excoriated the West for its support of Iraqi opposition groups during a 25-minute speech to commemorate Army Day.
"As we monitor the hiss of snakes and bark of dogs accompanied by continued aggression in the north and south of the country, we act with the confidence of the assured whose actions are not hurried or confused," he said.
Specifically, he said, the U.N. inspectors are seeking the names of Iraqi scientists, gathering information about military facilities and asking questions that indicate "a hidden agenda."
"These things, or most of them, are pure intelligence work," he said in the address, which was carried on Iraq's official Web site.
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the accusations were "baseless and false" and that such remarks were tantamount to not complying with Iraq's Security Council obligations.
"It is not the way to solve this situation," Mr. Boucher said. "His accusations are untrue and may indicate an intention not to comply."
U.N. officials also brushed aside the complaints.
"We are gathering names, but we are allowed to gather names in the [Security Council] resolution," said Ewen Buchanan, spokesman for chief weapons inspector Hans Blix and the U.N. Monitoring, Verification and Observation Commission in New York.
He said anyone found to be "wearing two hats" would be dismissed.
The Iraqi government has long suspected U.N. inspectors of working covertly for Western powers. This was the justification for increasingly obstructing the work of the inspectors in 1998, a situation that led to the inspectors' withdrawal just before the Clinton administration began bombing.
In early December, Iraqi Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan accused the inspectors of working for the United States and Israel, saying, "their work is to spy to serve the CIA and Mossad."
His remarks to a visiting group of Egyptian businessmen were quickly clarified by Iraqi officials as referring to the previous U.N. weapons team, Unscom. But Saddam's remarks yesterday were clearly aimed at the new regime, known as Unmovic.
On Sunday, a workday, hundreds of Iraqi officials and ordinary civilians were delayed by an inspection at a downtown chemical research company, during which no one was allowed to leave an office compound for several hours.
One of those inconvenienced was Iraq's U.N. ambassador, Mohammed Aldouri, who said he was trapped in a government office for six hours by the inspectors' tactics.
Nonetheless, Gen. Hossam Mohammed Amin, Iraq's liaison to the inspectors, refused to file a formal complaint to the United Nations out of concern that the United States would construe it as noncooperation.
U.N. inspectors visited a half-dozen sites yesterday, including several locations inside the sprawling Tuwaitha nuclear research compound.
Hiro Ueki, the inspectors' spokesman in Baghdad, said the teams met with no resistance.

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