stumps for action on Iraq

Iraqi exiles to elect government


Two Iraqis carry a huge poster showing President Saddam Hussein against the background of Jerusalem's Dome of the Rock mosque before installing it in one of the main streets in the center of the Iraqi capital on Thursday.

Syrian Prime Minister Mohammad Moustafa Miro, right, and Iraqi Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan exchanging minutes of the agreements which the two sides have concluded during the three-day meeting in Damascus on Thursday.
Aug. 29 —   For the second time this week, Vice President Dick Cheney Thursday made the administration’s case for urgent action against Iraq, warning of the “mortal threat” posed by President Saddam Hussein. As the drumbeat for an attack continued, a member of Iraq’s opposition outside the country said it was planning a conference in Europe at the end of September to elect a government-in-exile.
      IN A SPEECH to Korean War veterans in San Antonio, Texas, Cheney accused Saddam’s “totalitarian government” of amassing weapons of mass destruction with the purpose of dominating the whole Middle East and its oil supply and threatening the United States and others with “nuclear blackmail.”
       Once again questioning the usefulness of weapons inspection, Cheney noted that Saddam had “made a science of deceiving” past inspectors trying to verify that he had destroyed weapons of mass destruction.
       In arguing for a pre-emptive strike against Baghdad, Cheney said he was confident that President Bush would be “cautious and deliberate” and that he would consult Congress and U.S. allies about possible action. However, he said: “The risks of inaction are greater than the risks of action.”
       The speech repeated many of the comments Cheney made Monday, which have prompted a chorus of opposition from around the world, including close allies in the Middle East, who fear that a strike against Iraq would destabilize the region.
       Iraq has launched a diplomatic offensive of its own, with high-level officials lobbying governments for support.
       Meanwhile, Iraq’s opposition outside the country said Thursday it was planning a conference in Europe at the end of next month to elect a government-in-exile to step into position when Hussein is ousted.
       The conference, which an opposition source said would most likely take place in Amsterdam, was agreed upon during discussions between U.S. officials and the leaders of six anti-Saddam groups that met in Washington earlier this month.
       “It appears that they have got approval from the Dutch government to hold the conference,” an opposition source told Reuters.
       “This is a U.S. test for the Iraqi opposition to come up with a unified leadership; otherwise the Americans will intervene more directly,” the source added.
       Meanwhile, Iraq’s vice president said Wednesday that negotiations can still avert a possible U.S. attack.
       The official Syrian Arab News Agency quoted Taha Yassin Ramadan as saying late Wednesday that talks with the United Nations over the return of arms inspectors to the country were not deadlocked.
       “There’s still room for diplomatic solutions to avert a war with the United States,” Ramadan said during a brief visit to the northern Syrian city of Homs. Iraq, he added, was ready for dialogue, not surrender.
        U.N. inspectors charged with confirming the dismantling of Iraq’s mass-destruction weapons have been barred from Iraq since 1998.
       Three rounds of talks between the United Nations and Iraq this year failed to persuade Baghdad to readmit the inspectors. Baghdad often accuses the inspectors of being spies working for the United States and Israel.
       Iraq said it wants to continue talks on the inspectors’ return — but with conditions U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has rejected.
       U.N. Security Council sanctions imposed on Iraq after its 1990 invasion of Kuwait cannot be lifted until the inspectors certify that Iraq’s nuclear, biological and chemical weapons programs have been dismantled along with the long-range missiles to deliver them.
       Ramadan just completed a three-day visit to Syria as part of what appears to be an Iraqi diplomatic offensive to rally opposition against a possible U.S. attack. Iraq’s neighbors have warned such an attack could destabilize the region. 
        Ramadan left Syria Thursday for Lebanon. Other senior Iraqi officials are visiting China, a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council with veto powers.
       The British Foreign Office issued a statement Thursday saying it would discuss with its allies, including the United States, the possibility of setting a deadline for Saddam to allow in U.N. weapons inspectors. It did not say what should be done if the Iraqi leader ignored such a deadline.
        Britain, the United States’ staunchest ally, has repeatedly said it is too early to decide whether to participate in a possible U.S.-led attack on Iraq. But it also has agreed with Washington that something must be done about Iraq’s alleged development of weapons of mass destruction.
       Washington is getting advice to move cautiously from many of its allies. 
        Ugur Ziyal, undersecretary in the Turkish ministry of foreign affairs, suggested in Washington Wednesday that instead of military force, the United States apply what he called “therapy” to Iraq — such as tightening trade sanctions. Saudi Arabia has suggested relying on the United Nations to persuade Iraq to permit inspections.
       Australian Defense Minister Robert Hill said his government would want to see evidence, such as U.S. satellite photos, that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction or links to terror groups before agreeing to join a U.S. attack on the country.
       Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf also warned that an attack would destabilize the region and said Pakistan would be reluctant to get involved.
       “We have got too much on our hands here in this region to get involved in anything else, especially when one is very conscious that this shall have very negative repercussions in the Islamic world,” he told the British Broadcasting Corp. 
       The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.