Hussein accuses inspectors of spying
Published: Tuesday, January 7, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 6, 2003 at 9:19 p.m.
BAGHDAD, Iraq - Saddam Hussein accused U.N. arms inspectors Monday of conducting "intelligence work" instead of searching for evidence of banned weapons and blamed the United States for pushing the U.N. teams to overstep their legitimate mandate.
The inspectors are collecting names of Iraqi scientists, putting questions to them that mask "hidden agendas" and gathering information about conventional arms not restricted by U.N. resolutions, Saddam said in a taped speech televised on Iraq's Army Day.
"All or most" of these activities "constitute purely intelligence work," Saddam said.
Saddam did not offer any specific evidence of spying, and his accusation was denied by Melissa Fleming, spokeswoman for the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency, the nuclear arm of the inspection program.
"We certainly flatly reject any accusation that we work for any government or provide direct information to any single government," Fleming said at the agency's headquarters in Vienna.
If the inspectors are gathering intelligence, she said, "it's intelligence for the United Nations."
In Washington, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Saddam's accusations were "baseless and false" and making such charges was tantamount to not complying with U.N. Security Council-imposed obligations concerning disarmament.
"It is not the way to solve this situation," Boucher said. "His accusations are untrue and may indicate an intention not to comply."
Under a Security Council resolution passed in November, U.N. inspectors are in Iraq to establish whether it still has chemical, biological or nuclear weapons or the means to deliver them. Iraq has denied having such weapons, but America and Britain have accused it of hiding banned arms.
President Bush and other U.S. officials have threatened to attack Iraq and topple Saddam's regime if it does not eliminate all weapons of mass destruction as required by U.N. resolutions adopted after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990.
In his speech, Saddam accused America of trying to force U.N. inspectors to exceed their legitimate duties. The United States has been the strongest advocate of having Iraqi scientists questioned outside their country about Baghdad's weapons programs - a step Saddam's regime has resisted.
The Iraqi president tried to appeal to the broader Arab and Muslim world in his speech, saying the U.S. goal was to take over the Middle East's oil resources and ensure the security of "the Zionist entity" - meaning Israel.
A day after Palestinian suicide bombings in Israel that killed 22 bystanders, Saddam also praised the "champions of self-sacrifice who confront the Zionist aggression with their lives."
His comments drew immediate criticism from Washington. "For Saddam Hussein to publicly praise those who take innocent life is horrific," said White House spokesman Ari Fleischer.
Saddam said the U.S. threats of war - which he called a "hysterical hubbub" - were designed to divert attention from "the heinous crimes perpetrated ... against our people in Palestine," as well from internal U.S. problems such the "near collapse" of the economy and security failures that opened the way for the Sept. 11 attacks.
He did not say if his suspicions of spying would lead Iraq to stop cooperating with the inspectors. Other Iraqi officials have complained of the inspectors' lengthy, repeated visits to some facilities, but have pledged not to obstruct their work, an action Washington has warned could bring a military reaction.
In 1998, a previous U.N. monitoring regime collapsed amid disputes between Iraq and the United Nations over alleged U.S. spying from within the U.N. operation and inspectors' access to sensitive sites. The inspectors pulled out just before air strikes on Iraq by British and American forces.
British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said, meanwhile, that war with Iraq had become less likely but wouldn't say why he thought so.
"I've repeated that war is not inevitable and that the preference of the international community is for (the situation) to be resolved peacefully," Straw said in a radio interview with the British Broadcasting Corp.
U.N. experts continued inspections Monday without incident, visiting six sites around Baghdad and near Mosul, 250 miles to the north. The sites visited included a former nuclear facility and a pesticide plant.
In his address celebrating the founding of Iraq's army in 1921, Saddam declared his people and army would prevail if attacked by the United States because truth and justice were on their side.
"We are in our country and whoever is in his own homeland ... and is forced to face an enemy that stands on the side of falsehood and comes as an aggressor from beyond seas and oceans will no doubt emerge triumphant," he said.
Saddam left open the way for a peaceful solution to the crisis, saying "we shall thank the almighty if he guides the enemies to the right path." But he said he would be grateful, too, if God "destroys (the enemies) and brings shame to their arrogance."
He said he knew his military would stand by its oath to protect the nation - perhaps an answer to some military experts who have theorized the Iraqi army could collapse if attacked by far stronger American forces, as it did in the Gulf War in 1991 when a U.S.-led coalition drove Saddam's army from Kuwait.
Saddam, wearing a business suit, was also seen on Iraqi TV later meeting with his military leaders who, the announcer said, swore their loyalty. More than a dozen uniformed generals shook Saddam's hand, kissed him on both shoulders in a gesture of respect, and saluted.
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