Testing Iraq's Nerve

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BAGHDAD: U.N. weapons inspectors and the U.S. military suspect that Saddam Hussein's arsenal includes 200 tons of VX nerve gas enough, says Defense Secretary William Cohen, to kill "every man, woman and child on the face of the planet." And while that information raises the stakes, Iraq is raising the heat: Its government newspaper al-Jumhouriya said Wednesday, "Iraq will not tolerate any more farces by inspection teams," adding they had become "virtual criminal courts."

Will this war of words wash in Washington? Not according to TIME's Pentagon correspondent Mark Thompson, who describes Iraq's refusal to open up his palaces to the inspectors as "backpedaling" by Saddam. "In the wake of the Gulf War," recalls Thompson, "Iraq agreed to open up everything including Saddam Hussein's knickers, if that's what it takes."

Even if the inspectors were to enter the palatial compounds, however, it wouldn't do that much good. As Thompson says, you can manufacture biological and chemical weapons such as VX in a 10'x10' room. "We're never going to find it all," he adds. The U.N.'s best hope lies in the possibility that Saddam might care more about sanctions than about the ability to wipe out the human race.