Wednesday 18 September 2002

President Bush wants war, not justice - and he'll soon find another excuse for it

Saddam Hussein's own cynicism - for he could have given UN inspectors free rein years ago - will be matched by Mr Bush's

by Robert Fisk

You've got to hand it to Saddam. In one brisk, neat letter to Kofi Annan, he pulled the rug from right under George Bush's feet. There was the American president last week, playing the role of multilateralist, warning the world that Iraq had one last chance – through the UN – to avoid Armageddon. "If the Iraqi regime wishes peace," he told us all in the General Assembly, "it will immediately and unconditionally forswear, disclose and remove or destroy all weapons of mass destruction, long-range missiles and all related material." And that, of course, is the point. Saddam would do everything he could to avoid war. President Bush was doing everything he could to avoid peace. And now the Iraqi regime has put the Americans into a corner. The arms inspectors are welcome back in Iraq. No conditions. Just as the Americans asked.

No wonder the United States was whingeing on about "false hopes" yesterday. No wonder the Americans were searching desperately for another casus belli – be sure that they will find one – in an attempt to make sure that their next war keeps to its timetable. Be sure, too, that Saddam, that master of the post-agreement conditional clause, will have a few surprises for the UN inspectors when they do turn up in Baghdad. Will the UN boys be allowed to visit the Beast of Baghdad's palaces? Will they be waved through all checkpoints when they want to visit Tuwaitha or any of the other horror factories in which the Iraqis once cooked up their biological weapons?

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