Russia wants Butler explanation on Iraq pullout

UNITED NATIONS:  November 11 (South News) - Russia demanded Chief U.N. arms inspector Richard Butler explain why he ordered all his staff out of Iraq Wednesday  amid reports that Washington was preparing to launch a military strike against Iraq.

The Security Council scheduled consultations at the request of Russia, which wants Butler to explain the UNSCOM pullout with UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan cutting short a North Africa trip to return to New York to deal with the crisis, which diplomats predicted could explode into military action as early as next week.

The United States ordered 129 warplanes and more than 3,000 troops to the Gulf Wednesday and President Clinton said he was prepared to use force if needed. The order to send the additional forces, which will include 18 big B-52 and B-1 bombers along with 12 little radar-avoiding F-117A ``stealth'' jets, was signed by Defense Secretary William Cohen.

The buildup in a crisis that started when President Clinton signed into law HR 4655, the "Iraq Liberation Act of 1998." on Oct 31 will bring U.S. forces poised near Iraq to more than 300 aircraft and 20 ships, including the aircraft carrier Eisenhower. The carrier Enterprise is also speeding toward the Gulf.

But chief U.N. arms inspector Richard Butler gave one of the clearest signals of U.S. intentions, saying he had pulled all his foreign staff -- about 100 people -- out of Iraq at the ''strong recommendation'' of Washington.

The Security Council, which had originally not planned to meet today, scheduled consultations on Iraq at 3:30 p.m. at the request of the Russian Federation. Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said in Moscow only a political solution was possible. ``Any use of force would not only render the situation in the Gulf more difficult but there would be far-reaching consequences across the whole of the Middle East.''

Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tareq Aziz said the withdrawal of Butler's U.N. Special Commission (UNSCOM) staff only served to back Baghdad's contention that the U.N. inspectors were biased against it.

In the letter, written on 11 November 1998, he says that "facts on the ground" proved Unscom's actions were directed by the US not the UN.``In light of the American threats to launch a military aggression... the decision of UNSCOM fully proves once again that UNSCOM acts in accordance with the orders of the government of the United States,'' Aziz said.

"The Government of Iraq has not asked Unscom or the IAEA to leave Iraq. Moreover, the decision of the Iraqi Government issued on 31 October allows the IAEA to continue its work in the field of monitoring.

The U.N. envoy in Baghdad, Prakash Shah, quoted Aziz as having told him Iraq had no intention of yielding to U.S. pressure. ``They would not be able to desist from their decision unless the Security Council takes some action regarding sanctions,'' Shah quoted Aziz as saying.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was quoted as saying not a single Arab state supported the use of force against Baghdad, Saudi Arabia called for a diplomatic solution, and a newspaper that reflects official thinking in the United Arab Emirates spoke of a resounding Arab ``no'' to a Western attack.

Mubarak, a key U.S. ally in the 1991 Gulf War, was quoted as saying: ``As far as I know, there is not one single Arab country that supports the use of force against Iraq.''

In Doha, Qatar, where foreign ministers of Syria, Egypt and the six Arab members of the Gulf Cooperation Council were due to discuss the Iraq crisis, Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal told reporters: ``We are for a diplomatic and political solution and we are against making any problems in the Arab world because we are not in need of such problems.''

Many Arabs accuse the United States of a double standard in dealing with Iraq compared to Israel, although President Bill Clinton's role in brokering an agreement between Israeli and Palestinian leaders last month eased some such criticism.

``An Arab 'no' to striking Iraq,'' read the headline of Wednesday's editorial in the United Arab Emirates' official al-Ittihad daily. ``Egypt has settled the bet on the Arab stand and strongly said no to hitting Iraq. When Egypt speaks, its statements must be taken very seriously because it speaks on behalf of all Arabs,'' al-Ittihad added.

Meanwhile in Israel, which was hit by Iraqi Scud missiles in the 1991 Gulf War, said it would take ``precautions as necessary.'' Israel radio said there would be no mass hand-out of gas masks but residents could exchange old masks for new ones.