ONCE again the United Nations Security Council and Iraq are engaged in a serious game of brinkmanship.
Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, who calls the UN an "advertising agency" for United States policies, is testing the Security Council's determination to require full compliance with cease-fire terms accepted by Baghdad 16 months ago.
In response the Security Council is weighing all its options, including military actions such as a possible air strike. The UN Ambassadors from Britain, France, and the United States each stress the seriousness of Iraq's defiance and say that wider consultations with world leaders will determine what steps the UN takes next.
The most dramatic current example of Iraq's defiance is its refusal, despite a recent special visit to Baghdad by a high UN official, to allow UN weapons inspectors to check out an Agriculture Ministry building for suspected ballistic-missile documents and materiel.
The inspectors, acting on an intelligence tip and rotating their shifts, have been waiting in jeeps in front of the ministry since July 5 in temperatures as high as 122 degrees F. Iraq says that nothing in the building would interest the UN and that the inspection effort is provocative, would set a bad precedent, and would violate Iraq's sovereignty.
Rolf Ekeus, the Swede who heads the Council's UN Special Commission to oversee elimination of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, reported to the Council July 20 that he told Iraqi officials that continued noncompliance could lead to "serious, even tragic, consequences." He later told reporters that Iraqi leaders "may underestimate the situation, but they certainly heard what I said."
Mr. Ekeus described the Council as "very strongly united" behind the Commission. On July 6 the Council termed the standoff between inspectors and the Iraqis an "unacceptable" breach of the cease-fire.
THE Agriculture Ministry standoff is only one of several recent Iraqi efforts to challenge UN jurisdiction. Baghdad refuses, for instance, to renew an expired UN agreement that allows 600 humanitarian workers, protected by 500 UN guards, to distribute aid to needy Iraqis.
Baghdad is also boycotting meetings of a UN Kuwait-Iraq boundary commission and, for the second time, has broken off UN-sponsored talks aimed at getting Iraq to sell some of its oil to finance food and medical imports as well as some UN operations and Kuwaiti war reparations.
Weapons inspectors are being taunted by demonstrators who have burned US flags and effigies of US President Bush. But there have been more-serious incidents. Though Iraq insists it is not responsible for the safety of UN personnel in the Kurdish north and UN officials point no fingers, four UN guards have been injured and one killed in the north in three separate incidents this month.
Clearly Iraq wants the UN out. Baghdad, well aware of how busy the Council is and perhaps as-suming that the Bush administra-tion is preoccupied with the fall election, is testing just how far the Council is willing to go.
Samuel Lewis, president of the US Institute of Peace and a former US Ambassador to Israel, says some kind of UN military action is possible but unlikely unless the US is willing to take the initiative.
"On this kind of issue only the US can give enough credibility to Security Council toughness to have any real effect," Mr. Lewis says. "Ultimately when you start talking about military issues in the UN, you're saying, `Will the US take the lead in mobilizing people to do something?' and I don't see ... that the administration is of a mind to do so."
Hurst Hannum, a specialist on international organizations with the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, says it is difficult to see how the UN could "turn the screws any tighter" on Iraq.
The Council could do worse than stick with the status quo, Mr. Hannum says. Iraq would continue to resist UN efforts, he says, and sanctions would remain in place.
"Nobody would be happy," Hannum says, "but everybody would be able to put up with it."
In time, he says, the UN is going to have to face up to the question of how many more weapons of mass destruction in Iraq are left to discover.
"At some stage the UN is just going to have to declare a victory and leave," he says.