COUNTDOWN TO CONFLICT: I NEED MONTHS; Blix Demands More Time for Disarmament OWorld in Outrage at March 17 War Deadline Britain and US Warn Iraq: It's the Last Chance We Are Not Watching the Breaking of Toothpicks ..Lethal Weapons Are Being Destroyed - HANS BLIX ON IRAQ'S DESTRUCTION OF ITS AL SAMOUD MISSILES

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Byline: RICHARD WALLACE, US Editor in New York

THE rug was well and truly pulled from under Tony Blair's war plans yesterday. UN weapons inspectors reported that Iraq is finally disarming.

Seriously. Peacefully. Without the need for a single British soldier to lose his life.

The process is far from complete. And Saddam Hussein is still playing games. But a real beginning has been made.

In the memorable phrase of Dr Hans Blix, they are not just breaking toothpicks. And they have discovered that the alleged nuclear weapons programme is a fake.

More time for the weapons inspectors will achieve more results. Why halt the disarmament process just as it is bearing fruit?

A war now would not be morally correct or lawful or justified. That does not mean it will not happen. President George Bush has probably gone too far to pull back.

But we have not - and even at this late hour Blair should listen to the people and withdraw from America's murderous strategy.

Downing Street was plainly stunned by the message Dr Blix took to the Security Council. He had few words of comfort for the Premier.

YET No 10 spokesmen seized on the inspector's admission that co-operation was not "immediate or full". Only the most naive observer of the Middle East could believe Saddam would behave any other way.

But grudging co-operation in the disarmament of your own country at the behest of American pressure is not a just cause for war.

The disarmament process is well under way and Dr Blix should be given as long as he needs to complete his mission.

Tony Blair is still demanding a second Security Council resolution, allowing the war to begin. Why? Why does he not co-operate "immediately and fully" with the wishes of the British people, who want peace?

He talks pompously about the authority of the UN. The surest way to destroy that fragile concept would be to reduce the UN to the status of servant boy to the Pentagon.

Jack Straw signalled a deadline of one week from now before the cruise missiles go in. In that short period we, the people, have a duty to make our views heard loud and clear: THIS WAR IS NOT IN OUR NAME.WORLD outrage erupted yesterday as Britain and the US pressed ahead with plans to hit Iraq though UN weapons inspector Hans Blix said he needed months more time.

A US-UK resolution, backed by Spain, will give Saddam Hussein until March 16-17 to disarm or face military attacks.

But "Big Five' Security Council members France, Russia and China, backed by Germany, all backed Dr Blix.

In his most upbeat report to the UN Security Council in New York, Dr Blix said Iraq could be seen as "active, or even proactive" in attempts to comply with calls to disarm and there was still no sign of any smoking gun.

Referring to the scrapping of forbidden al-Samoud 2 missiles - so far, 34 have been dismantled - he said: "The destruction undertaken constitutes a substantial measure of disarmament. We are not watching the destruction of toothpicks. Lethal weapons are being destroyed."

Urging more time for inspections, he added: "While co-operation can be immediate disarmament cannot be instant.

"It will still take time to verify sites and items, analyse documents, interview persons and draw conclusions. It will not take years nor weeks, but months."

But US Secretary of State Colin Powell dismissed the report as "a catalogue of noncompliance". He said the clock "continues to tick" and warned Saddam Hussein the consequences of continuing to refuse to disarm would be "very real".

Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said he would table a resolution, proposed jointly with the US and Spain, giving Iraq a "further period" to comply. …