Saddam Says He Welcomes U.N. Inspections
Saddam said, according to news reports, ”Some might claim that we didn’t give them a proper chance to resist, with tangible evidence, the American allegations.”
“We shall provide them with such a chance.”
The statement comes a day after both the Iraqi and U.S. governments pressured the United Nations inspection team charged with finding any evidence of weapons of mass destruction.
“The Iraq side would have liked us to be very light and the U.S. side … would like us to be extremely severe,” one of the team’s leaders, Demetrius Perricos, said, according to the Washington Post. “I think what we’re doing is proper, proper work. We’re still doing a good job.”
President Bush and other American officials continue to claim that Iraq is hiding weapons and has not been fully cooperative with inspectors. They have also urged inspectors to be more aggressive.
“The president of the United States and the secretary of defense would not assert as plainly and bluntly as they have that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction if it was not true, and if they did not have a solid basis for saying it,” White House spokesman Ari Fleischer told reporters on Thursday.
Perricos told reporters on Wednesday that the U.S. had not shared any intelligence with the inspection team.
“I hope you will understand that we are not getting all the intelligence that President Bush is getting,” Perricos said.
On Wednesday Iraqi Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan accused the inspection team of gathering intelligence for Israel and the United States.
“Their work is to spy to serve the CIA and Mossad,” Ramadan said.
Ramadan’s criticism is similar to charges Iraq leveled during the U.N.-mandated weapons inspections following the 1991 Persian Gulf War. Those inspections ended after Iraq refused to readmit the U.N. team in 1998.
A spokeswoman for the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which has fielded some of the inspectors, rejected the spying charge, the BBC reports.
Meanwhile leaders of the U.N. team have sought to keep inspectors above the political fray by asserting the independent nature of the mission.
“The people who sent us here are the international community, the United Nations,” said Perricos. “We are not serving the United States, we are not serving the United Kingdom.”
Iraq is expected to meet a U.N.-imposed Dec. 8 deadline to submit a “currently accurate, full and complete declaration” of any weapons of mass destruction.
Iraqi officials are expected to submit a voluminous document to inspectors on Saturday. Officials said the report may run as long as 2,000 pages, the Associated Press reported.
U.S. leaders have voiced skepticism over Iraq’s intention to provide an honest assessment of its weapons programs.
“The burden of proof lies with Saddam Hussein,” Fleischer told reporters Thursday. “He can begin to shed that burden with what he reveals when he releases his declaration this weekend.”
American officials would not say whether they would be willing to provide inspectors with intelligence information that could contradict any claim by the Iraqi government that it does not possess weapons of mass destruction.
The U.N. team began a two-day break in inspections Thursday to honor the Muslim holiday Eid al-Fitr. Perricos said that during an inspection at a desert installation Wednesday, the U.N. found artillery shells filled with mustard gas that had been discovered and labeled by an earlier inspection team. It was the first report of such previously-tagged armaments being found during the week-long round of inspections, the AP reported.