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U.N. inspectors' fifth visit to factory shows Iraqi frustration
BAGHDAD, Iraq -- As U.N. arms inspectors made their fifth visit to an Iraqi missile factory, the facility's manager was clearly upset. The U.N. experts did their job with no trouble, but the experience Monday shows how repeat U.N. inspections can chafe at the so-far cordial relations between inspectors and Iraqi officials.
Hussein Mohammed, manager of the al-Samood factory, said inspectors stormed into his plant "like gangs." While his angry words to reporters were but a blip in an otherwise routine day, keeping the inspections from turning sour is important because America has threatened military action at any suggestion the U.N. program is being obstructed.
Iraq also raised new objections Monday to U.S. demands for Iraqi weapons scientists to be interviewed outside the country. Gen. Hossam Mohammed Amin, Iraq's liaison to the inspectors, urged any interviews be held in Iraq and said past U.N. talks with scientists showed assertions Iraq would pressure scientists to lie were "cheap American claims."
"They met thousands of scientists for thousands of hours, with the presence of the Iraqi side, without intervention from the Iraqi side," he told the Arab satellite TV channel Al-Jazeera.
U.N. teams visited at least six sites Monday, including three facilities they had checked earlier.
Among these were the Central Public Health Laboratory in Baghdad, a water treatment plant and facilities that deal with pesticides and resins.
At the al-Samood missile factory about 25 miles west of Baghdad, manager Mohammed told reporters the U.N. inspectors -- on their fifth visit to the factory in the past month -- had "stormed in" and unnecessarily disrupted workers.
"As soon as they entered the site, they spread everywhere, acting like gangs. They went to all workshops and buildings inside the site. They prevented anyone from in entering or exiting. They behaved in a provocative manner."
The factory, part of the Al Karama State Co., manufactures components for al-Samood missiles, which have a range of more than 30 miles. U.N. resolutions ban Iraq from having missiles with a range greater than 90 miles. U.S. and British intelligence reports contend Iraq is extending the al-Samood's range beyond permitted limits.
U.N. spokesman Hiro Ueki, asked about the comments, said a team of experts had counted missile engines at the site, giving no indication they faced troubles.
But he added that "as this was a return visit, the team did not see any need for the whole team to hold discussions with the site personnel" -- opening up the possibility the factory manager's anger was a result of cultural differences.
Indeed, Iraqi chief liaison Amin faulted the inspectors for failing to observe the niceties of consulting with the plant's employees, though the U.N. resolution that brought the inspectors here requires no such action.
In his interview with Al-Jazeera, Amin said the missile team members "left their cars immediately and started running inside workshops and in the factory as if something is going to escape them and they want to chase it."
"You know the sensitivity of Arab feelings. ... Such behavior hurt the feelings of the employees and the manager of the site," he said.
Also Monday, 13 U.S. religious leaders and experts on a humanitarian mission to Iraq began a four-day visit to Iraq that is to include tours of schools and hospitals and meetings with Iraqi Christians. The delegation is headed by Bob Edgar, general secretary of the National Council of Churches.
Iraq has seen the arrival of such groups from around the world as a sign its point of view is getting across to the world. On Monday, President Saddam Hussein's chief science adviser Amir al-Saadi spoke to a visiting group of Spanish peace activists and repeated Iraq's assertion that it has no nuclear, biological or chemical weapons or the missiles to deliver them.
If Iraq can convince U.N. inspectors of that, it could avoid a threatened U.S. military strike and eventually see the lifting of economic sanctions imposed after Iraq invaded neighboring Kuwait in 1990.
Al-Saadi accused the United States of playing politics and ignoring Iraqi efforts to cooperate with the weapons inspectors who arrived in November under U.N. Security Council resolution 1441.
Iraq has maintained it is scrupulously following the latest U.N. resolution, but leaders of the inspection program have said Iraq's required Dec. 7 declaration on its weapons programs is incomplete. The United States was severely critical of the declaration and has repeatedly threatened to attack Iraq.
Al-Saadi said Iraq did not fear war as long as the United States abides by the Security Council resolution. "If America chose a different path, that is its business, but the whole world will see this action," he said.