Baghdad Urges Against U.S.-Led Ultimatum

Iraq on Monday urged U.N. Security Council members to stand up to Washington's "bloodthirsty whims" and oppose U.S. plans for a resolution giving Saddam Hussein a March 17 ultimatum to rid his nation of banned arms or face war.

The influential daily Babil, owned by Saddam's son Odai, also warned that the Bush administration was pushing the world toward "stupidity with grave consequences."

The Babil editorial urged permanent Security Council members Russia, China and France to veto the U.S. war resolution and said the entire world would be watching "peace-loving nations clinging to international law" when the draft is debated.

"The logic of justice and law should rule the Security Council, not bloodthirsty whims for a group of adventurers in Washington," it said.

The front-page editorial was published a day after a senior Iraqi official said he was convinced the United States planned to attack Iraq regardless of its efforts to rid itself of weapons of mass destruction.

Maj. Gen. Hossam Mohamed Amin, Iraq's chief liaison to U.N. weapons inspectors, said Iraq's cooperation with inspectors would strengthen opposition on the Security Council to U.S. war plans.

"We are working hard to meet our obligations and to overcome any obstacles," he told reporters in Baghdad late Sunday. "Whether that takes a week, 10 days, or a month, we are doing everything we can. We are not interested in dates and times."

A senior Iraqi Information Ministry official, meanwhile, said Iraq on Monday was continuing to destroy banned Al Samoud 2 missiles, crushing six of them. As of Sunday, Iraq had destroyed 46 of the missiles, almost half of its original arsenal.

The United Nations ordered the rockets destroyed under its supervision because some tests indicated they could fly farther than the 93 miles allowed by the Security Council. Iraq began their destruction by the March 1 deadline it was given by the United Nations.

U.N. weapons inspectors also were back on the road Monday, visiting at least four suspect sites in and around the Iraqi capital, according to the official. He said they went to a tannery, a missiles factory, a location where they have been trying to verify Iraq's unilateral destruction in 1991 of aerial bombs filled with biological agents. They also went to a site linked to Iraq's former nuclear program.

But the United States remains skeptical of Iraq's disarmament process and U.S. diplomats, speaking in New York on condition of anonymity, said Washington would announce later Monday that it would seek a council vote for Tuesday or Wednesday.

Bush has said the United States is prepared to forcefully disarm Iraq without Security Council approval. But U.N. support would give the war international legitimacy and guarantee that members of the world body share in the costs of rebuilding Iraq.

Secretary of State Colin Powell sounded an optimistic note Sunday on the fate of the new resolution, saying he hoped a majority of council members would vote in favor of giving Iraq the March 17 ultimatum. But he acknowledged the resolution could still be vetoed by permanent members.

"I'm encouraged we might get the nine or 10 votes needed to get passage of the resolution, and we'll see if somebody wants to veto," he said on NBC's Meet the Press.

The U.S. military, meanwhile, said coalition aircraft enforcing a "no-fly zone" over southern Iraq bombed five underground military communication sites some 60 miles southeast of Baghdad.

It said the bombing late Sunday came after Iraqi forces fired a surface-to-air missile earlier in the day at coalition aircraft overflying the area. There was no word from Iraq on the reported raid.

The "no-fly zone" over southern Iraq is meant to protect the area's Shiite Muslims from Iraq's army. Another one is designed to protect Iraqi Kurds in northern Iraq. Both zones are patrolled by U.S. and British warplanes and were created soon after Iraq's defeat in the 1991 Gulf War. Iraq says the zones are illegal.