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Analysis: Iraq Preparing for Possible U.S. Strike

Morning Edition: July 30, 2002

U.S. & Iraq



RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Bob Edwards is away. I'm Renee Montagne.

Iraq said this week it is preparing for an attack by US forces aimed at overthrowing President Saddam Hussein. The Baghdad government said it is ready and able to defend itself. The Iraqi announcement follows President Bush's statement that Washington will use all tools at its disposal to topple the Iraqi leader, whom the president accuses of developing weapons of mass destruction. From Baghdad, NPR's Kate Seelye reports.

KATE SEELYE reporting:

The offices at the American Embassy in Baghdad, occupied by Polish diplomats representing US interests, have been freshly plastered and painted, 12 years after American diplomats left on the eve of Desert Storm. The significance of the renovation has not gone unnoticed by the Iraqis, who are taking seriously President Bush's stated policy of a regime change in Baghdad. Members of Iraq's parliament met recently to discuss preparations for a US military attack and afterwards held a rally in support of their leader.

SOUNDBITE OF RALLY

SEELYE: `We love Saddam Hussein,' chants the crowd, as some scrawl `Down with America' in chalk on the pavement. Member of parliament Behtnam Abu Suuf(ph) says Iraq wants peace but is being forced to prepare for a war.

Mr. BEHTNAM ABU SUUF: If we are threatened, if we are attacked, we will defend our country.

SEELYE: Western diplomats here say the government has dispatched additional troops and air defense systems to the north closer to neighboring Turkey from where Iraq expects US forces to launch attacks. Local militias are being mobilized and army officers have been given salary hikes and new cars to ensure their loyalty. Some diplomats and analysts believe Iraq might be able to diffuse or at least delay a US strike if it were to re-admit UN weapons inspectors barred from the country since 1998. UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has been holding talks with Baghdad in an effort to secure their return. But recent negotiations ended in failure and a frustrated Annan accused Baghdad of inflexibility. Iraq countered it's not opposed to the return of weapons inspectors, but would like some of its concerns addressed. Dr. Abu Razaq Hashimi(ph) is a former adviser to the president.

Dr. ABU RAZAQ HASHIMI: There is no guarantee, none whatsoever, that when the inspectors are back, the United States will not hit Iraq because they have done it before. They have hit Iraq with the inspectors in Iraq.

SEELYE: Furthermore, says Hashimi, some of the past inspectors were proven to be spies. The fear now, he says, is that if they were allowed to return, their goal would be to locate targets for a US attack. Member of parliament Mohamad el Atami(ph) says inspectors searched the country thoroughly from 1991 to 1998 and completed their work.

Mr. MOHAMAD el ATAMI: We don't have weapons of mass destruction at all in Iraq and they know that very well.

SEELYE: But the UN has yet to certify that Iraq is free of biological and chemical weapons, and that remains a central condition to ending the 12-year-old embargo on the country. Professor of political science at Baghdad University Wamid Nadhmi believes the Iraqis will ultimately agree to re-admit arms inspectors, but he says they will need incentives such as assurances that sanctions would be lifted in the near future. Still, says Nadhmi, regardless of what the Iraqis agree to, he fears the US will go ahead with what he calls a fatal mistake.

Professor WAMID NADHMI (Political Science, Baghdad University): I think it is impossible that the Americans will bring democracy to Iraq. They will bring bloodshed for the Iraqis and for the region and most probably for the Americans themselves.

SEELYE: Despite all the talk of a US attack, most Baghdad residents say they're trying to go about life normally.

SOUNDBITE OF SCREAMING AT AMUSEMENT PARK

SEELYE: At Entertainment City, an amusement park in Baghdad, children and couples scream in excitement on a ride called lovers tunnel. Thanks to an improving economy, more and more Iraqis, who have suffered heavily under sanctions, are able to afford these 7-cent rides, and the last thing they say they want now is another war.

Ms. SAFA ABDUL WAHAUB(ph): (Foreign language spoken)

SEELYE: `We're tired of war,' says 27-year-old Safa Abdul Wahaub, `but it's America's fault. What can we do?' Her sister asks, `How are we a threat to America?'

Few dare to speak openly in Iraq, so it's hard to gauge the support here for American plans to topple Saddam Hussein. Off the record, Iraqis express a desire for change but few say they trust America or the Iraqi opposition to bring about positive change. As one young man said poignantly, `We feel stuck between a rock and a hard place.' Kate Seelye, NPR News, Baghdad.

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