- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 5, 2002

BAGHDAD Iraq protested sharply yesterday over U.N. weapons inspectors' surprise intrusion into one of Saddam Hussein's presidential palaces, accusing the arms specialists of being spies and staging the palace search as a provocation that could lead to war.
The harshest criticism came from Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan, who charged in language reminiscent of clashes with inspectors in the 1990s that the new teams of U.N. monitors were gathering intelligence for Washington and Israel.
"Their work is to spy to serve the CIA and Mossad," Israel's intelligence service, Mr. Ramadan told a visiting delegation of Egyptian professionals.
Responding to Iraqi protests over Tuesday's palace visit, a U.N. official countered that the inspectors were taking the right approach navigating between Iraqi complaints and U.S. pressure for more "severe" inspections. "We are getting results," said inspections team leader Demetrius Perricos.
Among other things, Mr. Perricos reported that on a five-hour inspection of a desert installation his specialists secured a dozen Iraqi artillery shells previously known to be there that were loaded with a powerful chemical weapon, the agent for mustard gas. It was the first report of such armaments traced and controlled in the week-old round of new inspections.
Another team of inspectors paid an unannounced visit to the nerve center of Iraq's old nuclear weapons program, a place that also was bombed, searched and dismantled in the 1990s.
No inspections are scheduled for today or tomorrow because of the Islamic holiday of Eid el-Fitr, which marks the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.
The inspections resumed last week after a four-year suspension, under a new U.N. Security Council resolution requiring Iraq to surrender any remaining weapons of mass destruction and shut down any programs to make them.
A critical deadline approaches this weekend for the Baghdad government. On Saturday, a day ahead of the deadline, Iraq is expected to submit a declaration to the United Nations on any Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, as well as on nuclear, chemical and biological programs the country says are peaceful.
The Bush administration says Baghdad retains some chemical and biological weapons missed during 1990s inspections and has not abandoned plans to develop nuclear weapons. Washington threatens to go to war against Iraq if, in the U.S. view, the country does not cooperate in the disarmament effort.
The Iraqi government maintains that it no longer has such weapons, and will say so in the declaration.
The inspectors' new mandate toughens their powers to search anywhere, anytime in Iraq for signs of prohibited armaments. They took advantage of that authority Tuesday to demand and receive quick entry to the opulent al-Sajoud palace, beside the Tigris River in Baghdad, one of dozens of palaces built by Saddam during his 23-year rule.
The team's 1-hour inspection was a brief but symbolic show of U.N. muscle.
"We consider the entry of the presidential sites as unjustified and really unnecessary," Gen. Hossam Mohammed Amin, chief Iraqi liaison to the inspectors, told reporters yesterday.
A Foreign Ministry statement described it as "bad behavior." Gen. Amin added, however, that Iraq would not try to block U.N. visits to other palaces.

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