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World - Middle East

Cohen: Iraq could be attacked at any time

Iraq graphic December 10, 1998
Web posted at: 2:53 p.m. EST (1953 GMT)

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- U.S. forces could strike Iraq at any time if Iraqi officials again refuse to cooperate with U.N. weapons inspectors, Defense Secretary William Cohen said Thursday.

Cohen's comments came as the United Nations' chief weapons inspector accused Iraq of interfering with his teams several times in recent days. The United States also announced plans to send air defense missile units to Israel as an emergency readiness exercise.

Cohen called Iraq's refusal to allow U.N. inspectors access to a disputed site a "serious matter," and replied with a "yes" when asked if the United States could attack Iraq at any time.

But he added, "We intend to wait until the completion of his inspection and that of his team, before coming to any conclusion about the nature of the lack of cooperation on the part of Saddam Hussein."

Butler notes cases of attempted interference

Butler report says Iraq uncooperative

In October, Iraq tried to halt inspections by the U.N. Special Commission charged with overseeing the destruction of the country's weapons of mass destruction. The Iraqis resumed cooperation with UNSCOM on November 15, under the threat of military action by the United States and Britain.

A status report issued by UNSCOM Chairman Richard Butler on Thursday notes four cases of Iraqi attempts to interfere with U.N. inspectors in recent days.

The incidents range from Iraqi limits on photographs and photocopies to plant managers' refusals to answer questions posed by UNSCOM staff.

The report comes a day after a leader of the Iraqi president's ruling Baath Party declared searches of party offices in Baghdad off-limits.

Latif Nsayyif Jassim, a member of the Baath leadership, said UNSCOM inspectors would be turned away again if they show up a second time at the two-story Baath building in west Baghdad.

"The answer would be the same. This is a party. Political parties are not included" in the inspection regime, he said.

Annan: Butler sometimes 'undiplomatic'

Weapons inspectors did not report major problems Thursday on inspection missions. There was a 45-minute delay in entering a site in Baghdad, but it was resolved. The Iraqi authorities argued with inspectors over access to the site and the number of inspectors to be permitted into the building.

Butler criticized Iraq's refusal to allow inspectors into the Baath party offices.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said in remarks published Thursday that Butler -- who is constantly criticized by Iraqi officials and media -- had sometimes spoken undiplomatically, but said it was probably because of his high-pressure job.

"I admit and regret that sometimes his words are undiplomatic," Annan said. "His diplomacy is seasonal. I have spoken with him on this," Annan told the London-based Ashraq al-Awsat.

Baath Party building
U.N. weapons inspectors were turned away from this building on Wednesday  

"Sometimes if we work under pressure, we act and do things we don't say or do under normal circumstances," he said.

Iraq hoped Butler's report would pave the way to a comprehensive review of its disarmament process and an easing of sanctions imposed for its 1990 invasion of Kuwait. But the United States has said unless Iraq complies fully with the inspectors, sanctions will stay in place.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon says the deployment of Patriot missiles to Israel is designed to test the ability to rapidly deploy them to the region, and is not directly related to the increased tension with Iraq.

The missile batteries will not be operational in time for President Bill Clinton's visit to Israel this weekend.

Military Affairs Correspondent Jamie McIntyre, Senior U.N. Correspondent Richard Roth and Reuters contributed to this report.

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