U.S., Iraq May Be Nearing Showdown

Despite Iraq's grudging acceptance Wednesday of the U.N. resolution mandating the return of weapons inspectors, the rhetoric between Baghdad and the United States shows no sign of cooling down.

The Iraqi Babil (Babel) newspaper, owned by President Saddam Hussein's eldest son Odai, declared in a front-page editorial Thursday that "our problem and crisis with the United States is not over yet and may have just started."

The newspaper urged Russia, France and China to differentiate between Iraq, "which adopts a policy of peace, and a country [the United States] that adopts a cowboy policy."

Those three veto-holding Security Council member states have differed with the United States and Britain on how best to deal with Iraq, most recently holding up passage of the U.N. resolution until language modifications were made.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair, meanwhile, combined a renewed threat of force with an assurance to the Iraqi people that they would be richer if Saddam Hussein was gone.

Blair, America's staunchest ally, broadcast a message into Iraq saying "The standard of living and prosperity of the Iraqi people would be infinitely greater were Saddam not there."

The prime minister hoped his message would reach Saddam, the Iraqi people "and the wider Arab world," his spokesman said in London. It was broadcast Thursday by the Arabic service of Radio Monte Carlo -- the most popular shortwave station reaching Iraq.

"One of the reasons I wanted to speak to you today is to communicate with people directly, because what happens in a situation like this is that there are myths that grow up," Blair said. "I have just dealt with one myth, that this is about Christians versus Muslims -- it isn't -- or is about the West versus the Arab world, or it's about oil."

Blair said Saddam's regime was "brutal and oppressive," and if he didn't disarm, "the weapons will be disarmed by force."

On the streets of Baghdad, however, ordinary Iraqis expressed concern the Americans were bent on a military showdown regardless of whether their government cooperated with the U.N. inspectors.

At the White House, President Bush on Wednesday renewed his warning that if Iraq "chooses not to disarm, we will have a coalition of the willing with us" to do the job.

"The world expects Saddam Hussein to disarm for the sake of peace," the president said, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan at his side in the Oval Office.

"Let the inspectors go in," Annan said. "I urge the Iraqis to cooperate with them and to perform and I think that is the test we are waiting for."

Iraq informed the United Nations on Wednesday that it has accepted a U.N. resolution governing international inspectors' search for weapons of mass destruction. An advance team of inspectors was expected in Baghdad on Monday, with some inspectors beginning work Nov. 25.

Acceptance of the "unjust resolution shows Iraq's good intentions and reaffirmed that the country is clear of weapons of mass destruction," Babil said.

Earlier in the week, Babil had recommended Iraq accept the U.N. resolution on the condition Arab members were put on the inspection teams.

Iraq long has maintained it is free of such weapons of mass destruction. The United States maintains it has used the inspectors four-year absence to rebuild them.

U.N. inspectors who began work in Iraq after the 1991 Gulf war, left the country ahead of heavy December 1998 U.S. airstrikes on Baghdad. The Iraqi government had barred them from returning since then.

Iraq's newspapers, which are tightly controlled by the state, published only the text of the nine-page letter sent by Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri to the United Nations, declaring Baghdad's acceptance of the U.N. resolution.

In it, Iraq made clear with its anti-American tone that its acceptance was grudging, raising questions about how smoothly future cooperation could be.

"If the whims of the American administration, the Zionist desires, their followers, intelligence services, threats and foul temptation were given the chance to play and tamper with the inspection teams or some of their members ... the resulting commotion will distort the facts and push the situation into dangerous directions," the letter said.

Iraq also warned it would "take into consideration" inspectors' conduct while in Iraq and whether they respect the national dignity of the Iraqi people and their country's security, independence and sovereignty.

Iraq in the past accused inspectors of acting as spies and clashed with the United Nations on providing them access to sensitive sites such as presidential palaces — areas that again could be trouble spots.

Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa, who has welcomed Iraq's acceptance and said there is no longer any point in talking about war, urged support for the inspectors and Iraq's government in determining the state of Iraq's arsenal.

"I also call upon the inspectors to lead their mission with objectivity and professionalism," Moussa told Associated Press Television News on Thursday.

The 22-member Arab League on Sunday urged Iraq and the United Nations to cooperate for a peaceful solution to the standoff and opposed any war on Iraq.

Though war appears at the least delayed, some Iraqis don't expect it has been averted.

"We are happy that the crisis has been defused for the time being, but I think the war is inevitable," said Salah Ali, a 44-year-old Baghdad bookstore owner.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.