CAIRO – In an exclusive interview to Asia Times Online, Moshsen Khalil, the Iraqi ambassador to the Arab League, admitted that war is practically inevitable: “The prospects are very high, I would say 99.99 percent. But the remaining 0.01 percent still has a chance.”

Khalil will be a key player at the extraordinary Arab League summit of foreign ministers this Sunday in Cairo. He is not only one of Iraq’s top diplomats but also a journalist, writing a weekly column for Babel, the newspaper controlled by Saddam Hussein’s son Uday. The Iraqi embassy in Cairo is in a splendid colonial house bought during the 1930s near the banks of the Nile. Right across, also in a splendid colonial house, is the Saudi Arabian embassy.

As far as the summit is concerned, where 21 beleaguered members of the Arab League (Iraq is the 22nd) will try to find some unity and hammer out a common position for a last chance to peace, the Iraqi position, says Khalil, is clear: “We will listen to the opinions of all other Arab countries, but they should stick to what has been decided in the Beirut summit [in March 2002] and the ministerial meeting last November. The most important thing is the obligation of all Arab countries to reject aggression against Iraq, which would be considered an aggression against all Arab countries. The US is clearly bent on aggression.”

Concerning the proposed Franco-German initiatives at the UN asking for more inspectors and tougher inspections, with no time limit, Khalil repeats that “Iraq’s position is to prevent an aggression. I’m waiting for my government’s judgment before expressing my opinion on what France and Germany propose. Any effort which leads to prevent aggression is welcome.” Concerning an Egyptian-Saudi proposal which would recommend that Iraq to get rid of any weapons of mass destruction, and offer amnesty to Iraqi military officers who would reveal the whereabouts of such weapons, Khalil’s answer is simple: “These weapons do not exist.”

Khalil is sure that “the only thing that would convince the US not to go to war is that the international community makes a stand against aggression. Iraq has dealt freely with the inspectors. The inspectors have said that Iraq is complying and fully cooperating. The inspectors have no information on the existence of prohibited weapons. The inspectors are the ones who should judge. The US insists on war for political reasons which have no relation to the inspections. If the US administration is left to force its will, it will be forcing it over the whole international community. Iraq is cooperating with the UN to demonstrate it is free from these weapons.”

Khalil confirms that the leadership in Baghdad seems to be aware that the US is not bluffing. “The Iraqi leadership is behaving as if the war is about to happen any time. They have a very clear picture. They see the pretexts used by the US and they know the real objective is not based on facts. America’s policy is to control oil, occupy and reframe the region, and find a solution for the Palestinian crisis based on the Israeli point of view.”

The widely-rumored possibility of exile for Saddam Hussein is dismissed by a diplomat who knows the Iraqi leader very well: “These are imaginative thoughts, and illegal. Interference in domestic policy of other states is forbidden by Article 2 of the UN charter. The Iraqi people have a history of struggling against foreign occupation and will never accept a foreigner force imposing their will over the country. People will be part of the resistance.” But how? “Ask the American administration. When the Americans come to our country, we will fight back and resist. We are taking everything into consideration in case of war. We have good experience in this field. We have been facing aerial combat for the past 12 years.”

The Anglo-American bombing, reaffirms Khalil, never stopped: “US aircraft are bombing cities and civilians. There are thousands of dead and injured in cities in all governorates, including Baghdad. Since December 1998, there have been 9,400 military strikes, an average of 20 to 40 strikes a day. But the international media keeps quiet about this.” As a comparison, according to UN data, from 1991 to 1999 there were more than 6,000 Anglo-American strikes, dropping 1,800 bombs and hitting more than 450 targets. Khalil also says “1,730,000 people have died due to the sanctions, the embargo, or effects of bombing by depleted uranium.” UN agencies and a plethora of Western humanitarian organizations estimate the number of victims from 500,000 to up to 1 million. Khalil maintains that “every day these [Iraqi] figures are announced on newspapers and TV.”

Khalil denies any relationship between Iraq and al-Qaeda. “There is a fundamental difference between our modern and reasonable regime, which has no link with fundamentalism and extremism, and al-Qaeda. They will never prove anything in this respect. Iraq has no relation to al-Qaeda and has never cooperated or encouraged terrorist organizations.” Osama bin Laden himself confirmed it in so many words in his latest audio broadcast by Al Jazeera – which has been spun in all possible directions. According to bin Laden, under the current circumstances, “There will be no harm if the interests of Muslims converge with the interests of the socialists in the fight against the crusaders, despite our belief in the infidelity of socialists. The jurisdiction of the socialists and those rulers has fallen a long time ago. Socialists are infidels wherever they are, whether they are in Baghdad or Aden.”

Khalil believes there’s only one way to prevent war: “If there is a change in the beliefs of the American administration. If they become convinced they are not sure to achieve their objectives. And if the US public opinion is against them.”

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