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THE WORLD | SHOWDOWN WITH IRAQ

Iraq Says It Has Done All It Can -- to No Avail

January 26, 2003|Marjorie Miller | Times Staff Writer

BAGHDAD -- President Saddam Hussein's chief advisor on weapons inspections said Saturday that the Iraqi government is cooperating fully with the United Nations and sees nothing more it can do to stave off war with the United States.

In a wide-ranging interview with a group of Western reporters, Gen. Amir Saadi indicated that he believes a war is almost inevitable, but he put the onus on the United States. He said external factors such as a faltering U.S. economy, peace protests in the United States or behind-the-scenes pressure from U.S. allies might halt the march toward war -- not any action on the part of Iraq.

"I don't think it is up to us," Saadi said. "We are doing all things we think can prevent war.... We have been doing everything we've been asked to do, and we got nowhere."

Saadi spoke as three more Iraqi scientists -- two in Baghdad and one in the northern city of Mosul -- refused to be questioned by U.N. officials without government authorities present. The confidential interviews are a key issue for both U.S. and U.N. officials seeking information about Iraq's suspected arsenal of weapons of mass destruction.

U.S. officials have accused the Iraqi government of intimidating its scientists into silence. Last week, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz told the Council on Foreign Relations in New York that Iraq has "ordered that any scientist who cooperates during interviews will be killed, as well as their families."

Saadi rejected all such accusations and insisted that the government had done its best to encourage the nine scientists who had been summoned to talk. But he said officials could not force people to comply with the U.N. request. "It's a legal question," he said.

Iraq's chief liaison with the inspectors, Gen. Hussam Mohammed Amin, added that if the scientists did agree to talk privately, the United States would come up with another demand, because it is continually "moving the goal posts."

On Monday, chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, are scheduled to present the Security Council with a report on Iraq's compliance with the inspection process. The Bush administration had seen the date as a make-or-break deadline for Iraq to cough up banned weapons or produce proof of disarmament, but under pressure from allies and U.N. officials for more time, Washington is expected to give the inspectors one more month.

The International Atomic Energy Agency has said Iraq is likely to get a good "report card" for its compliance with inspectors searching for evidence of nuclear arms development. Blix's assessment from monitors hunting for chemical and biological weapons is likely to be more mixed because of the issues of interviews with scientists and of Iraq's refusal to authorize inspectors to use U.S.-piloted U-2 surveillance aircraft to search for hidden weapons with guarantees of safety.

Saadi said he hoped the report will reflect that Iraq is cooperating with the inspection process, adding: "In the eyes of the world, we are. In the eyes of the hawks, we are not.

"They know they have an agenda which takes precedence over everything else -- hegemony," he added, referring to the prospect of U.S. control over the Persian Gulf region and its oil.

Saadi has been Hussein's scientific advisor since 1993. Before that, he was minister of industry and responsible for the reconstruction of Iraq after the 1991 Persian Gulf War, when Bush's father was president.

Noting the current buildup of 150,000 U.S. and British troops in the Gulf, Saadi said that "when preparation for war goes to this extent, if we go by the First World War and Second World War, simply mobilizing is enough to make the process irreversible. After you mobilize, that's it. It takes a momentum of its own. One tends to think it is coming no matter what we do."

That view may have been reinforced Saturday by U.S. Secretary of State Colin L. Powell's comments that the United States could count on the backing of at least a dozen nations in a war against Iraq.

Heading to Davos, Switzerland, for the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum, Powell said: "We would not be alone, that's for sure. I could rattle off at least a dozen off memory, and I think that there will be more."

Powell pushed the administration to go to the United Nations last fall for a resolution authorizing weapons inspections in Iraq after a four-year hiatus to give Baghdad a chance to disarm or prove the country does not have banned weapons, but he has grown increasingly impatient with what he sees as Iraqi foot-dragging.

Saadi maintained that Iraq does not have weapons of mass destruction and cannot prove a negative. Moreover, he said, the U.S. intelligence provided to the U.N. to find weapons has led inspectors to chicken farms and scientists' homes but to no banned weapons.

"We were expecting something big," he said. "If that's their best, we can't be very worried."

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