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Iraq warns U.S. it is no push-over

Iraq warns U.S. it is no push-over

BEIRUT, Lebanon -- Deposing President Saddam Hussein from power will prove a more difficult proposition than getting rid of the Taliban in Afghanistan, Iraq has warned Washington.

The announcement by Iraq's Vice-President Taha Yassin Ramadan on Friday comes at a time when the U.S. is continuing efforts to muster international support for a military strike against Saddam's regime.

He also said Baghdad was convinced the U.S. will attack whether or not weapons inspectors are allowed back into Iraq.

Ramadan said: "Iraq is very sure that America will strike no matter what the results, whether the inspectors come or not.

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"We didn't say no (to inspectors) on principle. What we are saying (is) we have to discuss this. If there is a role for them, then yes, let's organise this mission. But if it becomes obvious that there is no reason for them, they shouldn't come."

Iraq has charged repeatedly that inspectors have acted in the past as spies for United States.

Ramadan also cautioned against trying to rid Iraq of Saddam through political means. He branded as "insignificant" the exiled Iraqi opposition, which is planning to meet in September to elect a government backed by the United States.

"This talk about the Iraqi opposition is insignificant, something that doesn't merit a reply. It doesn't exist, and has no roots on the ground in Iraq," Ramadan said.

"Iraq is not Afghanistan. I believe that the U.S. administration is convinced of that."

He was speaking during a trip to Syria and Lebanon in which he tried to drum up diplomatic support against an attack by Washington.

The U.S. has not made a decision on whether to attack Iraq, Washington officials insist, but President George W. Bush's regime continues to talk about taking pre-emptive defensive action.

Bush, without directly mentioning Iraq or Saddam, reinforced the message in fund-raising speeches in Arkansas and Oklahoma.

"We owe it to our children, we owe it to our grandchildren to make sure that the world's worst leaders do not develop and deploy the world's worst weapons," Bush said.

Talks continue at the United Nations on trying to secure a new Security Council Resolution in support of a military strike.

Most Security Council diplomats argue that without another resolution, existing measures do not provide a legal basis for a "regime change."

Russia and China oppose military action. France, another veto-bearing council member, has called for a Security Council vote with President Jacques Chirac criticising attempts to legitimise the "unilateral and preemptive use of force."

Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair, the U.S.' closest ally, is coming under increasing pressure to approach the Iraq question through the aegis' of the U.N..

UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said he would consider a report by a parliamentary committee to propose a U.N. deadline to readmit the weapons inspectors.

Airstrikes hit two Iraqi sites

The arms experts left Iraq in December 1998 on the eve of a U.S.-British bombing raid and have not been allowed to return.

The latest airstrikes occurred on Friday when coalition jets hit an Iraqi military site in the southern no-fly zone, the U.S. Central Command said.

Precision-guided weapons were used to target a surface-to-air missile site near An Kut, 150 miles southeast of Baghdad.

Iraq made no immediate comment.

It is the fifth time this week that a site in the no-fly zones patrolled by U.S. and British aircraft have been bombed.




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