- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 2, 2003

BAGHDAD, Iraq, Jan. 2 (UPI) — International weapons inspectors in Iraq Thursday headed for the first time to Takrit, hometown of President Saddam Hussein, and also paid a surprise visit to a Baghdad printing house.

Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tareq Aziz said the inspectors will fail to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq however long they look.

"The inspectors will not find any kind of weapons (of mass destruction) no matter how long their inspection operations in Iraq will be," Aziz told a delegation of some 140 Spanish activists, the fifth such team to visit Baghdad in six months.

He added that he trusted U.N. inspections chief Hans Blix would submit an objective report to the U.N. Security Council on Jan. 27, saying, "We hope that they (inspectors) will say that they did not find any banned weapons and that Iraq cooperated with them in a complete and honest way."

A team of experts from the U.N. Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission, or UNMOVIC, traveled 125 miles north of Baghdad to Takrit. It was the first such visit since inspectors resumed their searching operations on Nov. 27 after a four-year hiatus.

Five other teams from UNMOVIC and the International Atomic Energy Agency descended on a printing house for bank notes that is affiliated with Al Fatah company, one of the Iraqi Ministry Manufacturing installations.

Observers and journalists were surprised by the visit to the printing house, located in western Baghdad, because it had no known link to weapons banned under the 1991 deal to end the Gulf War.

A joint UNMOVIC and IAEA team also inspected the Ibn Farnas installation, an Iraqi air force warehouse in Al Taji camp north of Baghdad, and a lead-melting factory.

To the visiting activists Aziz strongly criticized the Spanish government for supporting a possible U.S. attack on Iraq, saying such a stand was "morally and politically wrong and does not serve Spain's interests." He said he hoped Spain would change its position as soon as possible.

Aziz explained that Iraq's acceptance of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1441 was meant to refute U.S. allegations about Baghdad's possession of weapons of mass destruction. The United States, in turn, aims to control Iraq's oil and partition the Middle East countries so that Israel becomes the only empire in the region, he said.

But Iraq has an "experienced army and armed forces as well as trained people. We fought before and we have confidence in our ability to resist the aggression," he said. "Iraq is not Afghanistan, which is known to be an underdeveloped country with no real government and has no regular army."

In his weekly briefing for reporters, Brig. Gen. Hussam Mohammed Amin, head of the Iraqi National Monitoring Department in charge of coordinating with the international inspectors, accused the teams of unacceptable behavior during recent searches. They provoked workers at some sites by taking samples from products and by checking the workers' trade activities and documents, he said, adding he hoped inspectors would act with high professionalism and focus on their weapons search only.

Amin's comments came after Mohammed Hussein, director of the al-Sumud missile factory, described the inspectors' behavior as "gangster actions."

Amin also said chief inspector Blix was expected to visit Iraq during the third week of January for discussions with Iraqi officials, including how to best implement resolution 1441 — the U.N. Security Council decree passed unanimously on Nov. 8 that authorized the return of inspectors and promised "serious consequences" if Iraq did not cooperate.

A sticking point will almost certainly be the inspectors' right to question scientists involved in Iraq's weapons programs. Scientists Sabah Abdel Nour and Kazem Mujbel, for example, have refused to be interrogated by the UNMOVIC and IAEA experts without the presence of a third party, a condition so far granted. But Amin denied specific proposals to demand questioning the scientists outside the country and said Iraq does not see any need for such a move.

Amin reiterated that Iraq is free of weapons of mass destruction, saying "we know well that we do not possess any banned weapons since 1991."

The number of international inspectors in Iraq reached 188, who so far have visited 230 positions, including 37 under constant international control, according to Iraqi figures. Amin also noted UNMOVIC and IAEA committees opened a regional headquarters in the city of Mosul, 280 miles north of Baghdad, which will be ready to operate on Saturday.

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