by Cam McGrath
(IPS) CAIRO --
states have backed a new United Nations Security Council resolution to disarm Iraq, but are seeking assurances that the U.S. will not find it an excuse to attack Baghdad.
Arab foreign ministers of the 22-member Arab League said in a statement in Cairo Sunday following two days of talks that they welcomed the new Security Council resolution that orders Baghdad to disarm or face "serious consequences." The resolution is widely seen as the last chance for Iraq to avert a war.
Their statement indicated that should Iraq accept the return of UN weapons inspectors, the team should "carry out their assignments with professionalism and with complete impartiality and objectivity in order to guarantee the credibility of their work."
They demanded that the team "refrain from any acts of provocation" and include Arab experts to avoid accusations of bias.
Resolution 1441 gives Baghdad until Nov. 15 to accept the return of UN weapons inspectors under a new mandate that enhances their powers to seek out and eliminate any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
Members of the Security Council approved the resolution 15-0 in a vote last Friday, giving Washington a green light to launch a military strike on Iraq if it believes that the Iraqi regime has obstructed the weapons inspectors.
Syria, the only Arab member of the Council, approved the measure after receiving assurances from Washington that the resolution would not be used as "a pretext for war."
The Arab League said it expects Washington to uphold its end of the bargain. It said the Security Council was the "only appropriate body which can evaluate the reports written by inspectors." The Arab League pointed out that the resolution does not stipulate an automatic use of force.
"The main issue for the Arab League is to prevent a war from occurring and it found the resolution a step forward in achieving this," says Hassan Nafaa, head of the political sciences department at Cairo University. "Arab ministers want to make sure that the real issue is the disarmament of Iraq, but also to ensure that the U.S. behaves correctly."
Most Arabs believe the Bush Administration is only looking for an excuse to topple Saddam Hussein. "If this is the real objective, then the U.S. will look for any pretext to launch a strike," says Nafaa.
White House officials have done little to assure Arabs that it will not act unilaterally. U.S. officials say they will adopt a "zero-tolerance" attitude and do not need UN permission to act if Iraq fails to comply with the resolution.
The Washington Post has reported that the Bush Administration has prepared a plan for invasion of Iraq by up to 250,000 American and allied troops. The plan provides for ground forces to capture Baghdad and install a new regime unless Saddam Hussein falls earlier.
The Iraqi parliament early last week rejected the resolution, but the final say is up to Saddam Hussein. Most Arab League officials say Baghdad is likely to comply. UN inspectors pulled out of Iraq in 1998 following a dispute over access to President Saddam Hussein's residences, and amid revelations of spying by the inspectors. Arab foreign ministers are asking for steps to ensure that this will not happen again.
Iraq has few friends in the Middle East, but any attack on its sovereignty would leave Arab regimes wondering if they could be next because concern is growing over U.S. hegemony in the region.
"Arab people would prefer to be ruled by dictators than live under U.S. occupation," said an editorial in the influential newspaper El-Gomhurriya.
Analysts say the Arab League approved the resolution because it could prevent a military strike on Iraq, and because the U.S. was forced to make concessions to other members of the Security Council. "It was about how power would be shared in the decision-making process," says Sharif El-Musa, director of Middle East Studies at the American University in Cairo.
Resolution 1441 makes no explicit mention of a regime change, an omission that analysts say points to the influence of other Security Council members. But the Bush Administration broadly got what it was looking for, says El-Musa, and Arab ministers had little choice but to approve it.
The approval by the Arab League reflects the situation that Arab governments have been in for a long time, says El-Musa.
"After all, where are all the U.S. bases to support an attack on Iraq located?" he says. "It's humiliation, but they must accept it."
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