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Iraq Expels U.S. Inspectors, Skeleton Crew Left Behind

By John M. Goshko
The Washington Post

Iraq dramatically raised the stakes in its confrontation with the United Nations Thursday by expelling six Americans on a U.N. weapons inspection team, leading the world body to instruct the entire team to leave the country.

In response to Iraqi orders, the Americans reportedly were enroute by road to Jordan late Thursday. Seventy-two non-American members of the weapons inspection team are to depart Baghdad by plane on Friday, leaving behind a small, caretaker staff.

The Iraqi move was a defiant response to the Security Council's demand Wednesday that Baghdad stop interfering with the U.N. Special Commission searching for hidden Iraqi weapons programs. At the request of the United States, the 15-nation council began urgent consultations Thursday night about how to deal with the latest Iraqi challenge.

Following the expulsion order, the White House convened two long sessions on Iraq involving President Clintons' senior national security advisers. After participating in the first session, Clinton said, "Iraq's announcement this morning to expel the Americans from the inspection team is clearly unacceptable and a challenge to the international community." He promised "to pursue this matter in a very determined way."

But administration officials say they have few options that might compel Iraq's cooperation with weapons inspectors. Even if international support could be mustered for military action, a massive attack against Iraq might be required to achieve results, a senior administration official said.

Clinton aides said they expected the crisis to unfold on the diplomatic front for at least several more days before any military action might become imminent. Clinton plans to stick to plans for a political trip to Nevada and California this weekend.

White House press secretary Michael McCurry, asked if Clinton sees the 1991 Persian Gulf War as a model for successful confrontation of Iraq, responded: "It's a model of how you respond to an armed invasion of a sovereign nation. We're not talking about that kind of a situation here.

"We're talking about deliberate provocations in defiance of the United Nations, which is a different matter," McCurry said. "But I think patient diplomacy, building a coalition, trying to hold that coalition together is useful and instructive."

McCurry added that the United States is prepared to act unilaterally. He noted that some countries urging the United States to be cautious, including Arab countries and France, may be more directly at risk than the United States from Iraq's development of advanced weapons.

Asked if this was a message to the French government, McCurry responded, "I carefully chose my destination there." France, as well as fellow security council members Russia, China and Egypt, are strongly opposed to the use of force, and there is considerable doubt about whether Washington could get the council's backing for U.S. air and missile strikes against Iraqi targets. The United States would like to maintain the support of the coalition that opposed Iraq in the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

The latest development in the two-week stand-off began Thursday morning when Iraq informed Secretary General Kofi Annan SM '72 that the six Americans had to leave within six hours. Shortly afterward, Richard Butler, the Australian diplomat who is executive director of UNSCOM, announced that he would withdraw the non-American commission employees, leaving behind a skeleton staff of nine to monitor and maintain UNSCOM's equipment and headquarters in Baghdad.

Those inspectors who stay behind will continue monitoring UNSCOM cameras and sensors used to detect various kinds of weapons research and production, Butler said. But he added: "I would be misleading you if I thought that gave us any confidence. The fact is that every day that has passed since the 29th of October announcement by Iraq (ordering the Americans to leave) has harmed our monitoring effort, and certainly the absence of inspections has been a matter of most serious concern. Every day lost makes the situation worse."