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Iraq shows signs of cooperation as U.S., Britain issue warning

WASHINGTON—U.S. and British officials warned Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein on Tuesday that his last chance to avoid war was at hand, but conflicting signals emerged again from Baghdad.

New hints of Iraqi cooperation were reported by U.N. weapons inspectors, including Iraq's disclosure that it found two R-400 aerial bombs, one filled with an unidentified liquid. Such bombs can contain biological or chemical agents.

No progress materialized, however, on what was shaping up as a central issue: the U.N.-ordered destruction of scores of Iraqi short-range missiles, beginning no later than Saturday.

U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix said the al Samoud 2 missiles violated U.N. range limitations and must be destroyed by the deadline. Saddam indicated defiance of that order Monday, though aides said Tuesday that it was still under consideration.

"I suspect he will try to fool the world one more time," President Bush said.

Said British Prime Minister Tony Blair: "This is a game with which he is immensely familiar."

Meanwhile, the Army's top general said postwar Iraq might require a military occupation force of "several hundred thousand soldiers."

Gen. Eric K. Shinseki told the Senate Armed Services Committee that because Iraq is so big and its people riven by ethnic tensions, a force that big may be needed to assure safety and stability.

U.S. forces in the region today number only about 200,000, so Shinseki's estimate raised concerns that war with Iraq could stretch America's military thin. The general acknowledged that Army special forces already are under stress from the multiple missions thrust upon them, including combat service today in Afghanistan, Colombia and the Philippines.

On another front, more complications arose for the Bush administration as Turkey's parliament delayed a final vote on a measure that would allow 62,000 U.S. ground troops to form an invasion force on the Turkish side of Iraq's northern border.

And on the Iraqi side of the border, leaders of the quasi-autonomous Kurdish region warned that a Turkish military incursion into the area—which many suspect is planned in support of a U.S. invasion—would not be tolerated.

Kurdish officials and other Iraqi opposition leaders said a Turkish incursion could ignite a competition for regional influence, prompting Iran to send troops into northern Iraq—profoundly magnifying the complexities facing the Bush administration.

"If Turkey has an interest in intervening in Iraq, then other countries may have an interest in intervening," said Latif Rashid of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, one of the two parties that have built quasi-democratic administrations in northern Iraq.

At the United Nations, both sides in the Iraq debate lobbied for support from the sharply divided Security Council, which is considering a resolution by the United States, Britain and Spain that would open the way to war by declaring that Iraq has failed to disarm.

To counter that effort, France, Russia and Germany circulated proposals that would strengthen and extend inspections at least four months.

Amid all this, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Blair again sent clear messages to Saddam: Disarm completely and quickly or suffer the consequences.

U.S. Gen. Tommy Franks arrived at the Qatar base that would be used as the headquarters of an invasion. Franks, who heads the U.S. Central Command and would oversee that campaign, is in the region for meetings with American and British military leaders.

"The president has made it clear that Iraq needs to be disarmed," Rumsfeld said during a speech in Washington to the Hoover Institution, a conservative research center based at Stanford University in California.

As for alternatives to a war that many now think is inevitable, Rumsfeld said Saddam could leave Iraq. He called that "a nice thought."

In London, Blair told the House of Commons that Saddam has "one further, final chance to disarm voluntarily."

He predicted that, for purposes of public relations, Saddam would destroy the banned missiles even though Iraq insists that they do not violate U.N. prohibitions.

"At the present moment, he is saying he will not, but he will, under pressure, claiming that this proves his cooperation," Blair said.

His comments were received with little opposition, but he faces a raucous debate Wednesday in the House of Commons, when an antiwar motion may be introduced by some members of Parliament. Dozens of members—including many in Blair's own Labor Party—have spoken passionately against a war.

Still, Blair is likely to prevail in any symbolic vote on war. Of 659 seats in the House of Commons, 410 are held by Labor and 163 by the Conservative Party, which supports a war. Liberal Democrats, the party that most opposes Britain's participation in an Iraq war, hold just 53 seats. The rest are held by a variety of smaller political parties.

Back at the United Nations, where Blix is scheduled to submit a crucial written report Friday to the Security Council, the weapons inspection chief said Iraq was showing signs of better cooperation.

"There are some elements which are positive, which need to be explored further," Blix said.

In the past three days, he said, inspectors have received six letters from Iraq with new information about weapons.

One said Iraq had found an R-400 aerial bomb containing an unspecified liquid. Blix said the bomb was found at a site "at which they did dispose of biological weapons before."

But Blix said he hadn't received an official reply from Iraq to his demand that it start destroying the missiles by Saturday. Asked whether the destruction was up for debate, Blix answered, "Not between us and Iraq."

Iraqi U.N. Ambassador Mohammed Aldouri said Iraq hadn't yet made a decision. "We are studying it," he said.

Blix declared that the missiles were prohibited after a panel of experts determined that the weapons—believed to number between 50 and 100—were capable of exceeding the 93-mile limit set by the United Nations.

Several Security Council diplomats said they would watch closely to see whether Iraq complied with Blix's order. Most said they expected Iraq to do so, in some fashion.

But even a refusal might not be enough to sway a majority of the council. Pakistani Ambassador Munir Akram and a few other ambassadors said they would want to hear how much importance Blix attached to the issue before deciding whether to change their position.

Others said that while Iraq's refusal to comply with Blix's order would seem significant, it was impossible to determine whether the council might then start to move away from its preference for continued inspections over early military action.

"If Iraq doesn't destroy the missiles," said one council diplomat who asked not to be identified, "it obviously weakens the position of those who want to favor continuing inspections."


(Knight Ridder correspondents Scott Canon, Jonathan S. Landay and Peter Smolowitz contributed to this report.)


(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.