US prepares new Iraq strike

BAGHDAD: (South News, Dec 16) The United Nations ordered its staff out of Baghdad Wednesday after a UNSCOM chairman Richard Butler criticised Iraq for breaking its promise to cooperate fully over weapons inspections.

The decision raised the spectre of a new military confrontation just over a month after the United States and Britain made an eleventh hour decision not to launch air strikes. Clinton called off the attack 15 minutes before it was to begin on November 14.

The diplomatic mission for foreign embassies in Baghdad sent representatives to the U.N. headquarters to discuss the situation. Some U.N. cars belonging to the humanitarian staff also arrived at the headquarters carrying luggage.

In London, British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook described Butler's report as ``very serious'' and that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein should expect no warning if Britain and the United States decided to launch air strikes.

"This is a very serious report and we are taking it very seriously," Cook said on BBC radio, reiterating that Britain is prepared for a military strike.

"Last month, Saddam Hussein gave an undertaking that there would be unconditional, unrestricted access for the inspectors and it was on that basis that military action last time was halted. It is quite clear (from Butler's report) that he has not kept to that commitment."

Cook told the BBC: ``We said last time we would not be giving further warnings to Saddam Hussein. I am not now going to give him any warning of what we might do over BBC radio.''

State Department spokesman James Foley said President Clinton would review the report with his senior foreign policy advisers, but no decisions had yet been made on whether to proceed with previously threatened U.S.-British air strikes against Iraq.

Clinton, facing likely impeachment by the U.S. House of Representatives later this week, arrived back in Washington late Tuesday after a three-day visit to the Middle East which had concentrated mainly on the Israeli-Palestinian situation.

Foley left no doubt that Washington would act against Iraq if it deemed necessary.

Blair spoke by telephone to Bill Clinton for 15 minutes late on Tuesday as the U.S. President flew back to Washington from the Middle East.

The spokesman repeated a statement Blair made to parliament last month when he said no warning of an attack would be given if Iraq prevented the inspectors from carrying out their duties.

Blair also called a meeting of the government's Defence and Overseas Policy committee on Tuesday which was attended by Chief of Defence staff Sir Charles Guthrie.

The United States said late Tuesday the U.N. report criticizing Iraq's lack of full compliance with weapons inspections was ``a very serious matter'' and all options, including air strikes, remained open.

He declined to speculate about how Clinton and his advisers would respond to the UNSCOM report but said Washington felt no further endorsement was required from the Security Council for any U.S. military action against Iraq.

An anaylst said the US could bomb Iraq between 2 and 4 am Thursday or Friday morning Iraq time. This would put it on prime time US on Wednesday or Thursday

A dark sky with little or no visible crescent is seen as the best time to launch an attack. Ramadan New Moon occurs on December 18/19 creates a potential window of opportunity for a U.S. strike. There are three or four nights of darkness on either side of the new moon.

The 1991 Persian Gulf War was launched Jan. 17, two days after the new moon arrived Jan. 15, continuing a long military tradition of surprising the enemy in the dead of night.

First strike aircraft come after sundown. Fighter-bomber jets such as F-117s, which have few defense means, fly under cover of darkness.