Iraq has kicked the ball back into the US court by handing in a massive dossier on its weapons programs to the United Nations before a Sunday midnight deadline.
Iraq denied in the 12,000-page declaration, not yet made public,that it has any banned weapons, an assertion that puts it in confrontation with the United States.
The document is already in the hands of the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) and the five permanent members of the Security Council, namely Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States, for study and evaluation, thus fending off an imminent war from the United States.
At a time when the United Nations has good cooperation from the Iraqi side, Washington hopes to see a prolonged and tougher arms inspection in Iraq for the time being.
Since September this year, the administration of US President George W. Bush has been pushing for a new UN resolution to tighten the inspection regime in Iraq. To secure the adoption of the resolution, the United States accepted persuasion from the international community to deal with the Iraqi issue within the framework of the United Nations.
All the diplomatic efforts were designed to serve the US political interests at home. Washington was seen to use the Iraqi issue to help the ruling Republicans secure a victory in the midterm elections.
The UN Security Council unanimously approved Resolution 1441, jointly drafted by the United States and Britain, on Nov. 8 after Washington accepted recommendations by other council members, suchas China, France and Russia, to recognize the Security Council as the final authority on the Iraqi issue.
Under such circumstances, a prolonged arms inspection plus the pressure of war threat can better serve the political interests ofWashington, observers here say.
Since the resumption of UN arms inspection in Iraq on Nov. 27, everything has been going on smoothly. Inspectors have been granted access to all sites they want to inspect and ensured free movement around the country. They have so far found no evidence that Iraq is still developing weapons of mass destruction.
If the United States risks launching a war against Iraq at thismoment, it will surely lose crucial political and military supportfrom its key allies, most importantly, from Iraq's Arab neighbors.
At present, American generals are waiting for the outcome of the study of the Iraqi declaration by US experts, and they are also waiting for a report from the arms inspection team, due to bepresented to the Security Council on Jan. 27. This will result in missing the best time for the United States to strike Iraq in the cold winter, as believed by many analysts.
Most notably, the United States believes that the resumption ofinspection after a four-year break would significantly slow down, if not completely call off, Baghdad's alleged working plan for biological and chemical weapons development, reports said.
Those weapons would post the most direct danger to US soldiers to be sent for possible active mission in Iraq. With the tightenedUN arms inspection, the Pentagon believes, there would be fewer casualties on the US side and information on targets would be updated for improved strike effectiveness.
On the other hand, it seems impossible for the UN inspectors tofind any hard evidence of Baghdad's possession of prohibited weapons within 60 days, as required by Resolution 1441. Former UN inspectors who withdrew from Iraq in 1998 failed to find such evidence during the past decade to support the US allegation that Iraq was developing banned weapons programs.
Diplomats here predict that the upcoming inspection report willmost likely ask for an extended inspection period, meaning that the UN inspectors will stay longer in Iraq. Any explicit complaints about Iraq's noncompliance will also be unlikely in thereport.
While building up war pressure on Iraq, Washington is seeking to keep an endless inspection in place to serve as a "psycho-bomb"for Iraq.
But the United States has never given up its goal for a "regimechange" In Iraq. US officials have said on many occasions that they have their own evidence of continuing Iraqi nuclear, biological or chemical programs and insist that Washington will take military action if necessary.