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Archive for Wednesday, December 11, 2002

Iraq: U.S. may alter weapons document

December 11, 2002

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— The Iraqi government accused Washington on Tuesday of taking control of a U.N. master copy of Baghdad's arms declaration in order to tamper with it and create a pretext for war.

The White House dismissed Iraq's accusation that it altered the documents. Specialists at the CIA and other U.S. agencies began poring over the 12,000-page declaration, in which Baghdad is supposed to "tell all" about its chemical, biological and nuclear programs. U.S. officials said much of the material appeared to be recycled versions of earlier documents.

U.N. inspectors have said Iraq's earlier declarations were incomplete. The United Nations was beginning its own analysis of the mammoth declaration, a process officials say could take weeks.

Inspectors stepped up their search Tuesday, fanning across Iraq on surprise missions to 13 sites :quot; the largest number of inspections since the U.N. operation resumed two weeks ago. One team moved in on a uranium mining site 250 miles west of Baghdad.

President Saddam Hussein, meanwhile, spoke of war and sacrifice in a meeting with top lieutenants, men U.S. strategists hope will abandon the Iraqi strongman in the event of war. "Your heads will remain high with honor, God willing, and your enemy will be defeated," he was shown on state television telling defense officials, including Defense Minister Lt. Gen. Sultan Hashim Ahmed.

U.S.-Iraqi tensions flared again in the southern "no-fly zone" Tuesday, when the U.S. command said its warplanes bombed an Iraqi anti-aircraft missile site 165 miles southeast of Baghdad. Just across Iraq's southeastern border in Kuwait, U.S. Army units were conducting desert exercises.

Iraq insists it no longer has weapons of mass destruction or programs to make them. The Bush administration says it's sure Baghdad does and has threatened war if, in the U.S. view, Saddam's government doesn't comply with U.N. disarmament demands.

Two copies of the Iraqi documents were delivered to U.N. headquarters in New York late Sunday, one to the Security Council and the other to the U.N. Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission.

Around midnight Sunday, the council's lone copy left the building in U.S. hands, supposedly because only the U.S. government could photocopy thousands of pages in secure surroundings. The transfer, which occurred before any other governments could examine the Iraqi reports, had the approval of the council's current president, Ambassador Alfonso Valdivieso of Colombia.

The master copy was in U.S. hands for most of Monday, before copies were distributed to other council members.

Official Iraqi reaction was swift. "This is unprecedented extortion in the history of the United Nations, when it (the United States) forced the president of the Security Council to give it the original copy of Iraq's declaration," Iraq's Foreign Ministry said.

It accused Washington of "possibly forging what it wants to forge."

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