Iraq Accuses U.S. of Taking Over Document

AP Special Correspondent

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) – 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.

In the United States, specialists at the CIA and other U.S. agencies began pouring over the 12,000-page declaration, in which Baghdad is supposed to “tell all” about its chemical, biological and nuclear programs. American 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 – 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. If war comes, Saddam told them, “your heads will remain high with honor, God willing.”

The 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.

Secretary of State Colin Powell denounced Saddam’s claims, saying, “He’s a liar.”

“We’ll see now whether he decides that the cost of lying is too great. The cost of lying now might result in his regime being destroyed by the armed forces of the international community,” he said during a Dec. 5 interview with the French television station France 2. The State Department released the transcript Tuesday.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said the U.S. analysis of Iraq’s declaration would be “deliberative” and “careful” in order to “understand what it is that Iraq is purporting to declare, as well as what they have failed to declare.”

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.

The complex declaration describes Iraq’s former chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programs, and details hundreds of so-called dual-use sites in Iraq, whose products or equipment can be alternated between civilian and military uses.

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,” the Iraqi Foreign Ministry said in a statement faxed to news organizations.

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

“This American behavior aims to play with the United Nations’ documents with the aim of finding a cover for aggression against Iraq,” it said.

Later Tuesday, Saddam was shown on national television meeting with top Iraqi defense officials, including Defense Minister Lt. Gen. Sultan Hashim Ahmed.

“Your heads will remain high with honor, God willing,” he told them, “and your enemy will be defeated.”

The U.N. monitoring operation received reinforcements Tuesday when 28 new inspectors flew in, expanding the staff to 70. Chief inspector Hans Blix says he expects to have 100 in place by the end of the year.

The inspectors visited a variety of sites Tuesday, including chemical and explosives facilities, and veterinary medicine institutes, whose vaccine-making processes were applied in the past to biological weapons-making.

The uranium mining operations at al-Qaim, also known as Akashat, in the desert near the Syrian border, were scrutinized by U.N. nuclear inspectors in the 1990s. Its phosphate deposits were exploited in the 1980s for their uranium content as well as for fertilizer, producing some 100 tons of uranium over six years.

A U.N. statement said the unannounced inspection was to verify “the status of destroyed equipment (and) to determine that no uranium extraction activities have been resumed.”

Inspections in the 1990s led to the destruction of tons of chemical and biological weapons, and to the dismantlement of Iraq’s nuclear weapons program. The inspections were halted in 1998 amid U.N.-Iraqi disputes, and the inspectors have returned under a tougher U.N. Security Council resolution.