Butler's head on block

United Nations: (South News, 24 Dec) -The restructure of UNSCOM and removing its head, Richard Butler gathered strength asUN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has set up a taskforce to design a monitoring regime for Iraq, it was reported yesterday.

Mr Annan was said to be considering disbanding the UN Special Commission on Iraq, which oversees the elimination of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, and relocating its roles into other UN bodies. This would make Mr Butler's position redundant.

The reports came as Iraq accused "enemy" warplanes of firing missiles on its southern territory and the US offered to enhance a UN humanitarian aid program for Iraq.

An Iraqi military spokesman said warplanes fired two missiles around the Persian Gulf port of Basra, which was pounded during the four-day Operation Desert Fox blitz that ended on Sunday. Britain and the US denied any incidents.

The US offered to expand the food-for-oil program amid mounting calls yesterday to ease sanctions against Iraq. But Washington insisted there would be no review of sanctions unless UNSCOM inspectors were allowed to return to work in Iraq.

"If it doesn't permit UNSCOM to come back, then it has selected sanctions in perpetuity," said the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, Thomas Pickering.

The Washington Post reported yesterday that Mr Annan had set up a taskforce to split UNSCOM into its components and become "UNSCOM Lite". It said nuclear monitoring would remain with the International Atomic Energy Agency, while biological and chemical inspections would be carried out by the Organisation for Prevention of Chemical Warfare in The Hague.

Missile inspections would be supervised by the UN under-secretary general for disarmament, Jayantha Dhanapala. A UN spokesman did not deny that Mr Annan had formed a taskforce, but had no details on how advanced plans were to split up UNSCOM.

The Security Council is divided on UNSCOM's future. Russia, a vocal opponent of the military offensive, and France both called for the council to reassert its authority in the Iraq crisis.

Russia proposed UNSCOM review its work and submit a report on the situation in Iraq.