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Iraq Asks Blix to Baghdad on Deadline Day

As the U.S. presses its case for war, Hussein invites U.N. inspector to visit March 17, when the regime is being told it may face attack.

March 10, 2003|Sonni Efron, Richard Boudreaux and John Daniszewski | Times Staff Writers

WASHINGTON — The Bush administration mounted a last-ditch effort Sunday to win public and diplomatic support for military action against Iraq, while Iraqi President Saddam Hussein countered by inviting the chief U.N. weapons inspector to Baghdad on March 17 -- America's proposed deadline for Iraq to disarm or face war.

Gen. Hussam Mohammed Amin, Iraq's chief liaison to the inspectors, did not give a reason for the invitation. He said only that Baghdad hopes it can still persuade Hans Blix and his monitors to certify that the country is not harboring weapons of mass destruction and thereby remove any "pretext" for war.

There was no word from Blix in New York on Sunday evening as to whether he would accept the invitation. But U.N. spokesman Hiro Ueki in Baghdad said, "We are not aware of any Blix visit."

In a brighter spot for the Bush administration, Turkish politician Recep Tayyip Erdogan won a seat in parliament Sunday and was expected to become prime minister, perhaps as early as this week, improving chances that Turkey might allow U.S. troops to use military bases there as a staging area for an assault on Iraq from the north.

Erdogan, Turkey's de facto leader, had advocated the deployment of 62,000 U.S. troops in the country but failed to persuade lawmakers, who bowed to public opinion March 1 and unexpectedly defeated the request . The United States has been pressing Turkey to reconsider and has kept about two dozen ships with military equipment waiting off the coast, in the Mediterranean.

Erdogan has not said whether he would ask parliament to vote again on the issue. And it was unclear how long the Bush administration would wait for a decision from Turkey before starting a war that it says would be more difficult, but by no means impossible, without a northern front.

In Washington, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said the United States is "within striking distance" of garnering nine or 10 U.N. Security Council votes this week for an ultimatum giving Hussein until March 17 to disarm or face military attack. Nine votes are required for passage.

Powell said he would not be surprised if France, a permanent member of the council, were to veto the resolution.

"We'll wait and see what they actually do, but right now I would expect the French to do everything they can to stop it, to include possible use of the veto," Powell told Fox News.

The U.N. vote on the ultimatum, which would be the 18th resolution on Iraq since the 1991 Persian Gulf War, could take place as soon as Tuesday, Powell said.

U.S. and French officials, whose positions were hardening, spent the weekend rounding up allies for their upcoming diplomatic duel.

French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin was heading for Africa to urge three undecided members of the Security Council to support France in rejecting the resolution and giving weapons inspectors more time to disarm Iraq.

Opposition to a war continued Sunday with demonstrations in Asia.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair, the staunchest supporter of the U.S. policy, continued to face opposition within the ranks of his government. A junior minister quit, leading to speculation that others would follow. And International Development Secretary Clare Short said she would resign if there was a war without a U.N. resolution authorizing the use of force.

Powell and national security advisor Condoleezza Rice blanketed the American airwaves Sunday morning, appearing on the five major television talk shows to advance the administration's case.

Both all but ruled out a last-minute compromise with either the French or the Iraqis that could avert war.

Both stressed that the time for inspections, debate and diplomacy would be over next week, when President Bush will call for a U.N. vote -- even one he thinks the United States might lose.

Rice told ABC's "This Week" that even if a vote on the resolution failed, the U.S. "at a time and place of its choosing" would lead a coalition "made up in large part of states that have suffered under tyranny" to disarm Hussein and change the Iraqi regime.

In Baghdad, a senior official boasted of Iraq's preparedness for war. "Iraq's leadership, people and army are ready for the battle of destiny," Deputy Prime Minister Abdel Tawab Mullah Huweish said during a meeting with Hussein, the official Iraqi News Agency reported.

Egypt's foreign minister, Ahmed Maher, said an Arab League delegation would travel to Baghdad in coming days in a last-ditch attempt to avert a war. Although the league is badly divided over the Iraq crisis, the purpose of the trip is to enhance "cooperation between Iraq and the U.N," a league spokesman said in Cairo.

The United Arab Emirates has proposed that Hussein go into exile, and several Arab leaders have said privately that they would like that outcome, so far flatly rejected in Baghdad.

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