Saddam apologizes to Kuwait

Sunday, December 8, 2002

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Iraq handed over its long-awaited arms declaration to the United Nations on Saturday, denying it has doomsday weapons, and President Saddam Hussein grudgingly apologized to Kuwait for his 1990 invasion.

It was a dramatic double bid by the Baghdad leadership to end a nightmare decade for the nation.

"We apologize to you," Saddam said in a letter to the Kuwaiti people read on prime-time Iraqi television. At the same time, at a U.N. compound on Baghdad's outskirts, a government delegation was delivering a massive collection of documents detailing Iraq's chemical, biological and nuclear programs, meeting a demand and a deadline set by U.N. resolution 1441.

The declaration will "answer all the questions," said Lt. Gen. Hossam Mohammed Amin, its chief author. If the United States "has the minimum level of fairness and braveness," it will accept it as the truth, he said.

Its thousands of pages, to be flown today to U.N. headquarters in New York and the U.N. nuclear agency in Vienna, will be combed through for months to come by U.N. analysts, intelligence agencies and diplomats, as Middle East peace hangs in the balance.

The United States will analyze Iraq's claim that it has no weapons of mass destruction to determine if that denial is credible and complies with U.N. terms, the White House said Saturday.

"We will continue to work with other countries to achieve the ultimate goal of protecting the peace by ending Saddam Hussein's pursuit and accumulation of weapons of mass destruction," press secretary Ari Fleischer said in a statement.

The statement, released while President Bush spent the weekend at Camp David in Maryland, said Iraq submitted "what it claims is a declaration" of its weapons programs.

The White House and State Department declined comment on the apology to Kuwait.

The dramatic events of a Saturday evening in Baghdad were a watershed moment in a chain of war and sanctions set off by the Iraqi army's invasion and seven-month occupation of Kuwait, which ended only when a huge, U.S.-led force drove it out in February 1991.

If Iraq is eventually found to have cooperated fully with the U.N. effort to deny it chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, the U.N. Security Council would consider lifting the crippling economic sanctions Iraqis have lived under for 12 years.

But new teams of U.N. arms inspectors are now crisscrossing Iraq in search of signs of weapons of mass destruction, and President Bush says it is sure Baghdad still has such weapons. It has threatened war to enforce Iraqi disarmament.

Unexpected letter

The huge Iraqi declaration, summarizing largely civilian industrial activity, was an anticlimax, since the Iraqi denial has been repeated endlessly, including by Gen. Amin on Saturday. "I reiterate here Iraq has no weapons of mass destruction," he told reporters.

But the Saddam letter was unexpected, and obviously timed in tandem with the "tell-all" arms documents. It was the first time he had offered an apology for the bloody attack 12 years ago -- although it was an apology couched in bitterness.

"We apologize to God for any act that has angered the Almighty in the past and that was held against us, and we apologize to you (the Kuwaitis) on the same basis," said Saddam's letter, read by his information minister, Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf.

But the Iraqi president also laid out the justifications for the invasion, from Baghdad's point of view, involving what he considered anti-Iraqi oil policies of the Kuwaiti government.

Distinguishing between Kuwait's people and their leaders, he assailed today's Kuwaiti government, saying it is working "with foreigners" who have aggressive designs on Iraq, and he declared that Kuwait, where thousands of U.S. troops have been based since the 1991 war, is under American occupation.

Post-Gulf War resolutions of the Security Council mandate that Iraq make amends to Kuwait, including accounting for some 600 Kuwaitis still missing as a result of the occupation, and for large amounts of looted materials. Iraqi reparations payments are being made under U.N. auspices.

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