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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Iraq Relents After Russia Brokers Truce


Prodded by his old ally Russia, Saddam Hussein on Thursday agreed to allow U.S. arms inspectors back into the country, ending a three-week crisis that had raised fears of a military confrontation with the United States.

Iraq said it reversed its ban on the Americans following Russia's assurance that it will work for the lifting of UN economic sanctions on the country.

The agreement was worked out by Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov, an old Arab hand, and Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz in Moscow. Primakov conveyed the agreement to his U.S., French and British counterparts Thursday at a hastily arranged, post-midnight meeting in Geneva.

"That's what Russia achieved ... without any use of violence, any use of weapons, without a show of force; it was achieved through diplomatic means," Primakov said afterward, clearly pleased with his role in thrusting Russia into the center of Middle East diplomacy.

Iraq's UN Ambassador Nizar Hamdoon delivered a letter to the United Nations formally inviting the inspectors back to Iraq immediately.

"I think the crisis is over," he said, adding that Iraq received a better "hearing" of its grievances about the inspection program during the crisis.

Saddam tried to portray his decision as a victory for Iraq. He proclaimed Nov. 20 as a "day of the people," in which "Iraqis achieved victory over the enemies and the covetous ones," an Iraqi television commentator said.

Hundreds of Iraqis poured into the streets to demonstrate against the United States. Children and adults wrote "Down with America" on floors of schools, homes, factories and on streets and public squares.

In New York, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Bill Richardson, warned that despite the Russian initiative, Iraq will have to play by the old rules.

He said Washington will veto any move to lift the sanctions unless Baghdad complies fully with UN orders, as required by Security Council resolutions, to dismantle its weapons of mass destruction, including chemical and biological weapons.

The dismantling, being monitored by the UN Special Commission, was halted when Iraq ordered the expulsion of its six American members on Oct. 29. The order was carried out Nov. 13, and the other 68 non-American inspectors were withdrawn in protest.

Richard Butler, the chief weapons inspector, said all the inspectors would return to Baghdad Friday. It was clear the Security Council was not required to make any concessions -- at least publicly -- to ensure that Saddam accepted the inspectors, which made the Russian role even more significant.

Iraq will be banking on Russia to work in the Security Council toward easing the sanctions and reducing the number of Americans in the weapons inspection team.

The Russians "realize that there is lack of balance in the Special Commission and in its performance inside Iraq," Aziz said in Cairo, Egypt, where he flew from Moscow.

Iraq says the team had a disproportionately high number of Americans and that they blocked certification that Iraq had destroyed its weapons program.

Russia, which has signed billions of dollars worth of contracts to rebuild Iraq's oil industry, has long favored an early end to the sanctions because the deals can get off the ground only after they are lifted.

The economic embargo has shattered Iraq's economy by barring it from exporting oil, its economic mainstay, except for a limited quantity to buy food and humanitarian goods under a UN-supervised program.

In Moscow, Kremlin spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembsky said Russia would work to lift UN sanctions imposed against Iraq after the 1991 Gulf War.

"We obtained [in Geneva] a victory that is a victory for reason," he said.

"There will be no confrontation, and now the perspectives of diplomatic activity are opening up.

"Of course Baghdad must follow the Security Council recommendations ... but Iraq must also see the light at the end of the tunnel, and especially a lifting of sanctions."

Apart from highlighting the Iraqi people's misery, the standoff also exposed disunity in UN Security Council over Iraq.

While the United States and Britain appeared willing to use force to make Saddam obey the UN rules, France, Russia and China balked.

The standoff led to a U.S. military buildup in the Gulf after Iraq threatened to shoot down American U-2 spy planes flying over Iraq as part of the UN weapons inspection program. The buildup continued Thursday as Washington said it would send 32 more warplanes to the Gulf, bringing to more than 300 the number of aircraft in the region in addition to warships.

Even Arab nations that had participated in the US-led military coalition against Iraq during the 1991 Gulf War wanted no part in a fresh confrontation.

Among those who opposed was Kuwait, the country that Iraq invaded in 1990 in a misadventure that led to the economic sanctions and the imposition of the UN weapons inspectors.

Baghdad insists that it has already eliminated its weapons programs. But Butler, the chief weapons inspector, has accused the Iraqis of hiding weapons and materials for making them.