- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 26, 2002

Iraq has agreed to discuss the return of U.N. weapons inspectors in a meeting next week between its foreign minister and U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

"The secretary-general expects to have a focused discussion on the implementation of relevant Security Council resolutions, including the return of weapons inspectors to Iraq," said U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric.

The return of inspectors is a key demand of President Bush, who labeled Iraq part of the "axis of evil" and later said of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein: "He'll find out" the consequences of not letting in weapons inspectors.

Mr. Annan is to meet Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri on March 7 in New York.

U.S. officials said yesterday they were unenthusiastic about the meeting.

"If the secretary-general wants to meet with the Iraqis, that's his prerogative," said one official, who asked not to be named. "But it's up to him to remind them they have an obligation to let the weapons inspectors back in."

The U.S. official said the meeting shouldn't last very long "because they don't have that much to talk about."

The United Nations pulled the remaining inspectors from Iraq on the eve of U.S.-led bombing in December 1998. Baghdad has refused to allow the inspectors to return.

Iraq has consistently refused to allow the weapons inspectors to return, accusing them of spying for the United States and Israel.

Officials at the Iraqi Mission to the United Nations confirmed the March 7 meeting but could not say who would be in the Iraqi delegation nor what they would say.

The meeting was arranged by Arab League chief Amr Moussa, who said the Iraqis have "no preconditions."

A major human rights study recently commissioned by the U.S. government charges Iraq with torturing dissidents while the world looks the other way.

"The lack of any political or international resolve to exert genuine pressure on the Iraqi government has led to a situation of ongoing repression and extreme violence affecting the entire population of the country," said a report prepared by the International Federation for Human Rights.

Citing new trends, the report said Iraq began cleaning out its prisons in 1997 by executing inmates who were accused of opposing Saddam.

Iraqi defectors said in the report that the "prison clean-out" campaigns were likely to be efforts to reduce the "excessive cost of so many prisoners."

The report also says as many as 2,000 women were beheaded between June 2000 and April 2001, most after being charged with prostitution.

The report says Iraq also tortured prisoners, both men and women, with rape and mutilation.

"They tied our hands behind our backs and then took us to an empty room with one bed. I'll never forget the cries when the ear was cut off with a scalpel. There was no anaesthetic, no interrogation. They cut off the ear, applied a piece of cotton and then moved on to the next one," said one victim quoted in the report.


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