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Bush administration dismisses Iraqi overtures

Tuesday, February 11, 2003

WASHINGTON -- The Bush administration dismissed Iraqi overtures to cooperate with U.N. weapons inspections Monday and stepped up its rhetorical campaign against Saddam Hussein with accusations he would use civilians to shield his troops.

Denouncing Saddam as the true enemy of Iraq's people, President Bush said the Iraqi leader regards them as "human shields, entirely expendable when their suffering serves his purpose."

Much as his father had before the first war against Iraq in 1991, Bush portrayed Saddam as evil and a danger to his own people and the world. The president spoke to religious broadcasters in Nashville, Tenn.

Saddam, he said, was positioning his military forces within civilian populations to shield the military and then blame anti-Iraq coalition forces for civilian casualties in the event of war.

"Saddam Hussein has broken every promise to disarm. He has shown complete contempt for the international community," Bush said.

Meanwhile, Bush's attempt to rally the U.N. Security Council to use force to disarm Iraq sustained setbacks. Already wavering members of the council were confronted Monday with Iraq's approval of the use of U.S.-made U-2 surveillance planes by weapons inspectors and a pledge to pass legislation next week to outlaw the use of weapons of mass destruction.

Iraq had blocked the use of the planes, which inspectors said they needed in their search for banned weapons.

Mohamed al-Douri, Iraqi ambassador to the United Nations, delivered the letter to the U.N. Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission, run at U.N. headquarters by Hans Blix, the chief weapons inspector.

Extending inspections

It could reinforce the inclination of a majority of council members to extend inspections rather than go to war to force Iraq to disarm.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher described the Iraqi moves as tactical retreats and said Baghdad still had not indicated whether it would comply quickly and fully with U.N. disarmament demands.

"I haven't seen anything worth getting excited about," Boucher said. In fact, he said, "one has to question whether those ideas would have any relevance."

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