By Jo Dillon
Sunday 17 November 2002
Last Update 17 November 2002 12:00 am
BAGHDAD, 17 November 2002 — Iraq President Saddam Hussein insisted yesterday his country had no weapons of mass destruction, as UN disarmament inspectors prepared to head for Baghdad and their team leader warned attempts to hinder or delay their work would be very serious.
UN inspections chief Hans Blix also conceded that the previous UN mission had been compromised by being “too closely associated with intelligence and with Western states,” but could give no assurance that the new teams would not contain spies.
Saddam Hussein’s statement came in a letter to Parliament in Baghdad explaining that he had accepted the stringent terms of UN Resolution 1441 to avoid giving the United States a pretext to attack, even though the Iraqi National Assembly had urged rejection.
“Your enemy has again tried to push its plans through under the cover of the Security Council,” his message read. “We hope that the method we have chosen will result in the truth coming out, which is that Iraq is free of weapons of mass destruction.”
Under Resolution 1441, adopted unanimously and since accepted by Saddam, Iraq must submit to an enhanced regime of weapons inspections and faces “serious consequences” if it obstructs them.
The Iraqi assembly last Tuesday unanimously recommended rejecting the resolution while leaving the final say to Saddam. Blix was set to lead an advance party to Baghdad tomorrow, four years after the last inspection took place.
Speaking in Paris yesterday, he warned that any attempt by Iraq to hinder or delay UN weapons inspectors in their work would be very serious.
“A denial of access, or delayed access, or an attempt to put something off-bounds — this would be very serious”, Blix said following talks with French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin.
Asked what would constitute an obstruction, Blix said “the simplest is the (question) of access... Immediate access is valuable because the Iraqis could hide documents or smaller things. It’s not important for big weapons or machinery, but nevertheless small things are also important.”
The question of what constitutes a “material breach” of Iraq’s commitments is crucial to the mission’s future, because Washington believes such a violation would be justification for military action.
Blix also conceded that the previous UN mission, UNSCOM, withdrawn in 1998, had been compromised by being “too closely associated with intelligence and with Western states,” and he could give no assurance that the new teams would not contain spies. “To people who ask me are you absolutely sure that you will have no spies, I say no. Neither the KGB nor the CIA can give that absolute assurance. All I can tell you is that if I see someone with two hats, I’ll ask them to walk out,” Blix said. (The Independent)