Experts Say Iraq Doing Best to Disarm


By Niko Price

Associated Press
February 27, 2003

South African disarmament experts visiting Iraq said Thursday they are convinced Iraq is doing its best to disarm, and appealed to the U.N. Security Council to give weapons inspections more time to work before authorizing war. "It's clear there is movement on the whole issue of weapons of mass destruction," South Africa's deputy foreign minister, Aziz Pahad, said at a news conference. "Clearly (the inspection regime) is working, and if it's working, why stop it?"

The South African team has been in Baghdad since Sunday night to share its experience in verifiably destroying programs to produce weapons of mass destruction. It was to leave Friday morning. Pahad said the team had "full, frank discussions. We've been given quite considerable documentation. No questions we wanted to ask were not answered."

He declined to discuss the documents provided, and said he didn't know if they were the same documents given to U.N. weapons inspectors. Iraq this week has provided six letters that chief inspector Hans Blix had sought. Pahad said he didn't know why weapons inspectors have been so suspicious of Iraq's efforts to disarm, while inspectors at the time praised South Africa's voluntary destruction of weapons of mass destruction in the 1980s. He said only that there was little trust on either the U.N. or the Iraqi side.

"The Iraqi side has consistently told us that every time they move on an issue, the goal post gets changed," he said. U.N. weapons inspectors, meanwhile, returned to a pit near the town of al-Aziziya, 60 miles southeast of Baghdad, that Iraq opened in an effort to prove that it destroyed R-400 bombs containing biological weapons there in 1991, Iraq said.

The inspectors took samples from metal fragments at the site to check whether they did come from destroyed biological weapons. Another team of inspectors helped Iraqi workers drill holes in 155mm artillery shells filled with mustard gas that Iraq reported to the inspectors, Iraq said. They planned to complete the shells' destruction on Thursday.

The inspectors also visited a medicine factory, an electronics plant and made an unexpected stop at a computer shop, searching files and computers for 90 minutes. A neighbor asked: "Why are they doing this? It's just a computer shop." Wednesday night, Iraq announced that two French Mirage reconnaissance planes flew over the country in support of U.N. weapons inspections for the first time. Three American U-2 spy planes - which fly at higher altitudes than the Mirage - have made similar runs.

In New York, Blix delivered a 17-page report to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who will send it to the Security Council. The report will be influential in a council debate over a U.S.-British-Spanish resolution that would authorize war. The contents of the report were not immediately made public, but Blix indicated that while Iraqi cooperation was improving, it did not represent "full cooperation or a breakthrough."

Nonetheless, he noted that inspections resumed only in November after a four-year break and asked: "Is it the right time to close the door?" The United States and Britain accuse Iraq of failing to comply with U.N. resolutions demanding it give up all weapons of mass destruction. President Bush said Wednesday that Saddam must be disarmed by force if he doesn't disarm himself, though he didn't say what would convince him that Iraq is disarming.

"In Iraq, a dictator is building and hiding weapons that could enable him to dominate the Middle East and intimidate the civilized world, and we will not allow it," Bush said. Bush also said deposing Saddam could begin a new stage for Middle Eastern peace and democracy, including progress toward "the goal of two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security."

Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri, speaking to reporters Thursday on the sidelines of an Arab League foreign minister's meeting in Sharm el-Sheik, Egypt, had a one-line response to Bush's speech: "He is a reckless, obsessed person." Iraq continued preparations for war, with police deploying in a drill around key Baghdad installations on Wednesday armed with machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades. Trucks carrying police cruised the streets. In a downtown street, an anti-aircraft gun was mounted on a Jeep.

Saddam met with the governors of Iraq's 18 provinces with a message for their citizens: "They have to dig trenches in their gardens," the official Iraqi News Agency reported. The governors said they had completed preparations "to confront the invaders," the news agency said, forming "jihad groups of clerics and tribesmen to fight the invaders, and commando units to hunt helicopters."

CBS Television released the full transcript of an interview conducted Monday with Saddam, who said his country did not lose the 1991 Gulf War and would vigorously defend itself if attacked.

"It is our duty, it is our responsibility to defend our country, to defend our children, to defend our people, and we are not going to succumb, neither to the United States nor to any other power," he said. The Iraqi leader said he still hoped war could be avoided, and asked whether he was afraid of being killed or captured, he responded: "Whatever Allah decides."

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