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Iraq Lists Conditions for U.N. Inspections

September 15, 2002|From Reuters

BAGHDAD — Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tarik Aziz said Saturday that Baghdad would let U.N. weapons inspectors return only under a comprehensive deal that would prevent a U.S. attack and lift crippling 12-year-old sanctions.

Aziz held a news conference to respond to President Bush's speech to the United Nations General Assembly on Thursday. Bush said action against Iraq would be inevitable unless the world body forced Baghdad to eliminate weapons of mass destruction.

"If there is a solution which maintains Iraq's sovereignty, dignity and legitimate rights and prevents aggression, we are ready," Aziz said. But he said Iraq would prevent inspectors returning if "there is no honest, balanced and credible formula that will take us to the truth."

He accused Washington and London of blocking efforts to resolve the inspections issue.

Aziz said he feared that if inspectors are readmitted, a crisis over their activities could soon arise that the U.S. would exploit as a pretext to attack.

He cited the U.S.-British bombing campaign in December 1998 as an example. The two Western allies attacked Iraq for four days during that month for Iraq's alleged failure to cooperate with U.N. weapons monitors. The inspectors left Iraq on the eve of that attack and have not been allowed back.

"We are facing the same situation as we faced in 1998. Continuous accusations are being made in Washington and London," Aziz said.

He said U.N. inspectors, responsible for accounting for any weapons of mass destruction that Iraq might have, were in Iraq for 7 1/2 years but had found no prohibited weapons. "They made thousands of inspections ... but they did not find anything."

Aziz renewed an invitation to U.S. lawmakers to visit sites suspected of producing weapons of mass destruction. "You can bring all the experts ... and you can bring all the equipment you need to search for the truth," he said.

He also rejected Bush's charges that Baghdad is developing weapons of mass destruction, harboring terrorist groups and posing a threat to its neighbors. "Those accusations are a pretext to justify unjustifiable aggression and invasion of Iraq," he said.

Aziz also denied any link with Al Qaeda but said there is a group of Islamic extremists in the northern area of Sulaymaniyah--outside the control of his government.

"We don't know if they belong to Al Qaeda or not," he said. Northern Iraq has been outside the Baghdad's control since soon after the 1991 Persian Gulf War. Kurdish factions rule the region.

Aziz said Washington wanted to attack his nation to control "the riches of Iraq," a reference to oil.

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