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Iraq: U.S. Using Arms Probe as Excuse to Attack

Sat Mar 9, 7:46 AM ET

By Hassan Hafidh

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraqi Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan said on Saturday the U.S. and Britain wanted arms inspectors back in Iraq to find excuses to launch a fresh attack.
His remarks came two days after U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan (news - web sites) and Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri ended a meeting in New York aimed at allowing inspectors back into Iraq.

Ramadan said the arms inspectors, who spent eight years in the country after the 1991 Gulf War (news - web sites), had finished their mission.

Washington and London wanted them to return to "manufacture a new crisis in order to provide an excuse for fresh American-British attacks on Iraq," he told a conference of Arab politicians and non-governmental organizations.

The New York talks were held amid speculation that Iraq might be the next U.S. target in its war on terrorism.

Tension between Washington and Baghdad has heightened since President Bush (news - web sites) called Iraq part of an "axis of evil" in his State of the Union address in January.

U.S. officials have also said they are considering options for "regime change" in Iraq -- a euphemism for overthrowing Iraqi President Saddam Hussein (news - web sites).

Ramadan said that if Washington attacked Iraq it would gain nothing but "humiliation and failure, thanks to our united domestic front and to the Iraqi people's loyalty to President Saddam Hussein.

"Listing Iraq ... in the American axis of evil is just terrorism and aggression," he said.

U.N. weapons experts, trying to assess whether Iraq has weapons of mass destruction, left Iraq on the eve of a U.S.- British bombing campaign in mid-December 1998.

They have not been allowed to return since and are key to easing U.N. sanctions against Iraq, imposed after Baghdad's troops invaded Kuwait in August 1990.

Sabri and Annan agreed to hold further talks in mid-April, after the Arab League Summit in Beirut on March 27-28.

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