Parties debate Iraq’s stance on inspectors

Boston Globe

”They [Iraqi officials] said they would allow us to go look anywhere we wanted,” Representative James McDermott, Democrat of Washington, said on ABC’s ”This Week.” ”And until they don’t do that, there is no need to do this coercive stuff where you bring in helicopters and armed people and storm buildings.”

Republicans dismissed the reports. Saddam Hussein is ”not going to allow them back in, because he has these weapons and materials and laboratories and he isn’t about to give them up,” Senator John S. McCain, Republican of Arizona, said on CNN’s ”Late Edition.”

The remarks represent a prelude to what is expected to be an impassioned debate this week on a congressional resolution allowing President Bush to use force against Iraq.

McDermott was accompanied to Iraq by Representatives David Bonior of Michigan and Michael Thompson of California. He suggested Bush was trying to provoke a war with Iraq, and said the president might ”mislead” the American people on the extent of the threat from Iraq to get his way.

Those remarks drew a speedy and angry rebuke from Republican Senator Don Nickles of Oklahoma, who accused McDermott and Bonior of being ”spokespeople for the Iraqi government.”

In Washington, 2,500 antiwar demonstrators marched up Embassy Row to Vice President Dick Cheney’s residence to protest the buildup toward a war.

”Demand a Regime Change in Washington,” said one protester’s sign; others asked, ”Why Now?”

”I’m scared to death what’s going on today – let’s kill this one, let’s kill that one,” said Esta Nette, 82, who traveled from Spotswood, N.J., for the march. ”I’ve lived through so many periods of turmoil, and I don’t think I was ever as scared as I am now.”

McDermott, Bonior, and Thompson met with Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri and Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz. The US lawmakers said the international community should first exhaust diplomatic efforts before using military force, a view held by some Democrats on Capitol Hill.

”Military options will only take us away from the real task at hand, which is to pursue Al Qaeda. And it will divide our coalition,” Bonior said. ”It will create a more fragile and delicate problem around the world, not only in Iraq and Afghanistan, but potentially in Indonesia and other places around the world.

`’We don’t need another war in the Middle East,” he said. ”We need to pursue, as hard as we can, all avenues to solve this diplomatically.”

McDermott would not say whether he would advocate force if the Iraqis did not comply with weapons inspections.

”But you don’t start out by putting the gun to their head and saying, `We’re going to shoot you if you blink.’ And that’s really … what we’re doing here,” McDermott said.

The United States and Great Britain have been drafting a UN resolution that would require Iraq to admit weapons inspectors within seven days of passage and to disclose weapons and weapons programs within the following 23 days. The resolution would also empower the inspectors to visit Hussein’s presidential palaces, not mentioned in previous resolutions, and to declare ”no-drive” zones in addition to existing ”no-fly” zones.

If these conditions are not met, the resolution warns of military action. The Iraqi government heatedly rejected the idea on Saturday, and Aziz warned of a ”fierce war” if Iraq is attacked.

Iraq agreed not to develop weapons of mass destruction as part of the cease-fire pact after the 1991 Gulf War. Weapons inspectors were pulled out in December 1998 after complaints that the Iraqis were not cooperating.

Many Democratic and Republican lawmakers agree with the Bush administration that Hussein is not likely to begin cooperating now. But some Democrats say it is better to make weapons inspections the priority, turning to force only as a last resort. This approach, its advocates say, will help win the support of US allies that so far have been skittish about a preemptive attack on Iraq.

The Bush administration recently claimed a link between Iraq and Al Qaeda, a charge greeted with skepticism by Democrats and Republicans who have been briefed by intelligence and defense officials.

Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California and a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said she is still not convinced of an imminent threat from Iraq, and is ”not entirely sure” of a link to Al Qaeda.

”You have to ask the question, `what if you’re wrong?”’ countered Senator James Inhofe, Republican of Oklahoma, as the two colleagues faced off on CNN’s ”Late Edition.”

McDermott went further, saying: ”It would not surprise me if they came up with some information that is not provable, and they’ve shifted. First they said it was Al Qaeda, then they said it was weapons of mass destruction. Now they’re going back and saying it’s Al Qaeda again.

”I think the president would mislead the American people,” McDermott said.

This story ran on page A1 of the Boston Globe on 9/30/2002.

© Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.

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