NEW YORK: Time may be on Saddam's side. Iraq continued its game of bluff-the-superpower on Monday, threatening to strike Turkish and other Arab bases from which U.S. warplanes defend the northern no-fly zone and forcing Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to reiterate that in the event of such an attack, "our response would be swift and sure." Meanwhile, the U.N. is struggling to reassemble some kind of arms-inspection regime, convening three separate panels this week to formulate a way back into Baghdad. TIME U.N. reporter Stewart Stogel says that many diplomats fear that when and if inspectors return, they'll be starting from scratch.
"Even the main arms-inspection panel, which has half of its 20 members from UNSCOM, won't report to the Security Council until April 15," he says. "That's a break in inspections of more than five months, which could essentially destroy the disarmament work that's been done up to this point." Stogel says U.S. diplomats have evidence of arms smuggling by Iraq, and are worried that while the U.N. fiddles, Saddam is stockpiling. Next week is the Kuwaiti independence day, and the Iraqis' ratcheted-up threats and targeting of late may not be coincidental. For the U.S., that sounds ominously familiar.