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Iraq Bars Inspectors, U.N. to Decide

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 15, 1998 – The United States already has "a very robust presence" in the Persian Gulf region and will not send more service members in response to Saddam Hussein's latest provocation, Pentagon officials said Jan. 13.

Iraq precipitated the crisis on Jan. 12 by refusing access to a U.N. team headed by an American. Iraq accused team leader Scott Ritter, a former Marine captain, of spying for the CIA. Ritter denied the charge. He has worked for the United Nations for more than six years.

Defense Secretary William S. Cohen, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, said the United States will urge the U.N. Security Council to demand Hussein give unfettered access to U.N. inspectors. "[Saddam] is not going to be in a position to dictate who composes or comprises these various teams," he said. "You cannot have the parolee dictating who the parole officer is going to be."

Cohen said the United Nations chooses inspectors for their expertise, not their nationalities.

Pentagon spokesman Navy Capt. Michael Doubleday said Iraq is refusing access to the inspectors to divert attention. "[The Iraqis] do not want inspectors going to sites where they believe there is evidence of weapons of mass destruction," he said. "The U.N. inspectors must have unfettered access."

Doubleday said Iraq has not moved forces in a threatening manner. In fact, he said, some forces have moved back into garrison.

The United States currently has two carrier battle groups in the region centered around the USS Nimitz and USS George Washington. There are 350 U.S. aircraft in the region and 28,800 service members.

Navy officials said the rotation of the USS Nimitz out of the area will take place on time. "The Navy does not want the personnel tempo to get out of hand," Doubleday said.

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