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Iraq skeptical U.S. has intelligence about weapons

Monday, December 23, 2002

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- American and British officials are rushing to judgment about Iraq's weapons report and should wait for U.N. arms inspectors to do their jobs, Saddam Hussein's chief scientific adviser said Sunday.

Amir al-Saadi complained that Secretary of State Colin Powell and British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw based their criticisms on "old, rehashed reports" from the previous "discredited" arms inspection program in the 1990s.

Al-Saadi said Iraq had answered many of the leftover questions in its report or in personal interviews with arms inspection teams that returned last month.

He listed two examples concerning nuclear weapons and production of nerve gas, saying Iraq proved it had answered questions being raised anew by the United States or Britain.

In one case, he said, tests were performed in the United States that showed spent Iraqi missiles contained traces of the gas but that later independent tests by French and Swiss labs found no such results.

He accused Powell and Straw of ignoring Iraq's replies and making judgments before the U.N. Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission could fully examine the Iraqi report.

Interfering in 'rude fashion'

"Why don't they let the specialized organs of the United Nations get on with their task?" he asked at a televised news conference. "Why interfere in this rude fashion?"

The Iraqi president on Sunday also accused the international community of doing too little to stop America's continued aggression toward Iraq, the country's official news agency reported.

"We have told the world we are not producing these kind of weapons, but it seems that the world is drugged, absent or in a weak position," Saddam said during talks Sunday with visiting Belarus envoy Nikolai Ivanchenko.

Iraq's state-run newspapers expressed skepticism Sunday that America and Britain have information that could lead U.N. experts to caches of illegal arms.

"Everybody knows that if they had concrete information, they would have put it on television all around the world before giving it to the inspection teams," Babil, the newspaper run by Saddam's son Odai, said in a front-page editorial.

Iraq maintains it has no banned nuclear, chemical or biological weapons. The United States and Britain say Iraq is lying and have threatened war to force it to comply with U.N. arms control resolutions.

Babil accused America and Britain of making "criminal plans against Iraq" aimed at "dividing and destroying Iraq and seizing its oil."

In Washington, a senior Bush administration official said on condition of anonymity Sunday that the United States is in "watch and wait" mode this week.

"Iraq's actions to date suggest they have not made the strategic choice to disarm," the official said. "While we have not given up on disarming Iraq through the United Nations, we are now entering a final phase in how we compel Saddam Hussein to disarm."

Chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix told the British Broadcasting Corp. the United States and Britain briefed inspectors on what they think the Iraqis have, but what inspectors really want is information leading to stores of weapons-related material.

Blix said inspectors need intelligence because an Iraqi weapons declaration earlier this month leaves so many unanswered questions that it is impossible to confirm the accuracy of Iraq's claim to have no weapons of mass destruction.

President Bush, pointing to what U.S. officials call fabrications and omissions in the declaration, already has declared Iraq in "material breach" of U.N. demands but has decided to hold off any military response for at least a month as the Americans seek to build U.N. support for attacking Saddam.

U.N. experts have made almost daily inspections since resuming work in Iraq last month, working there for the first time since teams left in 1998 ahead of U.S. and British airstrikes launched to punish Baghdad for alleged failure to cooperate.

The U.N. Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission under Blix is searching for evidence of chemical or biological weapons and the means to deliver them. Mohamed ElBaradei's International Atomic Energy Agency is searching for banned nuclear weapons.

Inspectors set out Sunday morning for searches at five sites, Iraqi officials said. One site was identified as a space research center. Another, al-Kindi Co., was identified in the final report of U.N. weapons inspectors who worked in Iraq in the 1990s as having had a role in Iraq's biological weapons programs.

U.N. officials had no immediate comment on Sunday's searches.

Inspectors on Saturday paid a fourth visit to the huge al-Qa'qaa complex, which was under U.N. scrutiny in the 1990s. It was involved in the final design of a nuclear bomb before U.N. teams destroyed Iraq's nuclear program after the 1991 Gulf War.


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