Baghdad, Iraq — Saddam Hussein accused U.N. arms inspectors Monday of conducting "intelligence work" instead of searching for evidence of banned weapons and blamed the United States for pushing the U.N. teams to overstep their legitimate mandate.
The inspectors are collecting names of Iraqi scientists, putting questions to them that mask "hidden agendas" and gathering information about conventional arms not restricted by U.N. resolutions, Saddam said in a taped speech televised on Iraq's Army Day.
"All or most" of these activities "constitute purely intelligence work," Saddam said.
Saddam did not offer any specific evidence of spying, and his accusation was denied by Melissa Fleming, spokeswoman for the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency, the nuclear arm of inspection program.
"We certainly flatly reject any accusation that we work for any government or provide direct information to any single government," Fleming said at the agency's headquarters in Vienna.
Under a Security Council resolution passed in November, U.N. inspectors are in Iraq to establish whether it still has chemical, biological or nuclear weapons or the means to deliver them.
The head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency said Monday that it was too early to say whether Iraq was working on nuclear weapons, despite nearly two months of searches by his inspectors.
"We are not certain of Iraq's (nuclear) capability," Mohamed ElBaradei told reporters, at the end of a top-level meeting of his International Atomic Energy Agency.
In his address celebrating the founding of Iraq's army in 1921, Saddam declared his people and army would prevail if attacked by the United States because truth and justice were on their side.
But he left open the way for a peaceful solution to the crisis, saying "we shall thank the almighty if he guides the enemies to the right path." But he said he would be grateful, too, if God "destroys (the enemies) and brings shame to their arrogance."