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Iraq Dismisses Blair Weapons Accusations - 2002-09-24


Iraq officials are dismissing British Prime Minister Tony Blair's report that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction, is capable of launching attacks throughout the region, and is just a few years away from developing a nuclear bomb.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair says Iraq's pursuit of weapons of mass destruction is active, detailed, and growing. But Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri said the Prime Minister was only trying to justify an attack against Iraq, which the Iraqi said can not be justified.

Speaking in Cairo after a meeting with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, the Iraqi Foreign Minister said he would invite Mr. Blair to send a team of British weapons inspectors to Iraq.

Mr. Sabri hand delivered a message from Saddam Hussein to President Mubarak. Its contents were not disclosed. The two men discussed efforts to prevent a possible U.S.-led attack against Iraq.

Earlier in Baghdad, Iraqi Culture Minister Hamed Yussef Hammadi dismissed the allegations as "baseless" and called them part of a "campaign of lies."

Mr. Hammadi said all the reports that were prepared by U.N. weapons inspectors before they left Iraq in 1998, indicated that Iraq did not possess weapons of mass destruction. He said such weapons were either destroyed by the inspectors or by Iraq. But the British Prime Minister said Iraq has made significant progress in its weapons building program since the inspectors left.

An Iraqi government official in Cairo told VOA that Mr. Blair's speech before the British House of Commons was part of a plot by the United States to bypass the United Nations and act unilaterally against Iraq.

A high-ranking Lebanese government official told VOA that the prime minister's speech was not enough to change Arab opinion against attacking Iraq. He said Arab governments do not believe Saddam Hussein would use weapons of mass destruction, because, he said, it would trigger massive military retaliation from the United States and possibly even from Arab countries.

But the official added that if the United States decided to act unilaterally against Iraq, the Arab world would be "impotent" to stop it.

Egyptian political analyst Mohammad Kamal agrees that Arab countries have only the power of persuasion.

"Try to persuade the U.S. administration that this is going to be very dangerous. This is going to spell disaster for the region," he said. "It is going to harm American interests in the region in the long term. It is going to affect the stability of pro-U.S. Arab regimes in the region. Try to persuade them of the negative ramifications of a U.S. unilateral military act against Iraq. But other than the power of persuasion I highly doubt that they have other tools of influence or power that can change the U.S. mind."

Professor Kamal says no Arab government is interested in seeing American troops in the area because, he says, in part, they fear it could lead to regime changes in countries other than Iraq.

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