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U.N. Chief Says Immediate Attack on Iraq Unjustified

U.N. chief Kofi Annan told reporters he believed there was no argument yet for military action in the region. The inspectors are set to report their findings by Jan. 28.

“I really do not see any basis for an action until then, particularly as [the inspectors] are able to carry out their work in an unimpeded manner,” Annan said in an interview with Israel’s Army Radio.

On the ground in Iraq, U.N. authorities visited six sites Tuesday, focusing on several factories and chemical facilities. The head of an inspected engineering and designing firm described the visit as annoying and provocative.

“They looked at personal documents and searched everything, including briefcases of the employees and drawers in an annoying way, and even notebooks of some of the ladies were looked into thoroughly,” Riyadh Khalil al-Hashimi told Reuters.

Iraqi officials have allowed U.N. authorities to travel to any site they wish and only a handful of inspections have been delayed by bureaucratic errors. To reiterate its willingness to cooperate with U.N. officials, Iraq delivered a letter to chief weapons inspector Hans Blix Tuesday inviting him to Baghdad to discuss the inspections in early January.

According to Iraq’s official news agency, Baghdad officials invited Blix to “review the aspects of cooperation between us during the past period and the prospective to enhance such cooperation in the coming months.”

Despite continued diplomatic efforts, the U.S. reportedly authorized the deployment of some 50,000 more troops to the area and a senior Iraqi cabinet member warned any attack would face fierce opposition.

Secretary of State Colin Powell said Sunday that President Bush had made no decision on the use of military force to disarm Iraq, but stressed American troops would be in place to implement any decision.

“The president has not made a decision yet with respect to the use of military force or with respect to going back to the United Nations,” Powell said. “And of course, we are positioning ourselves and positioning our military forces for whatever might be required.”

Iraqi Trade Minister Mohammed Mehdi Saleh was quoted in Iraqi media as saying that any military action against Iraq would face much tougher resistance than the 1991 Gulf War.

“Whether we give our land or not, whether we give our future or not, whether we give our houses or not — this is what we are fighting for,” he said. “We will inflict the heaviest losses on them and they will be repelled from our country if they dare to attack us.”

Even as Iraq forewarned of intense fighting, the Bush administration lowered its projection of how much a war with Iraq may cost. In an interview with the New York Times, White House Budget Director Mitch Daniels said such a conflict would cost $50 to $60 billion. Earlier estimates compiled by Lawrence B. Lindsey, Mr. Bush’s former chief economic adviser, had put the figure at between $100 and $200 billion.

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