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UN Inspectors Break for Muslim Holiday - 2002-12-05

U.N. weapons inspectors in Iraq suspended their work for a Muslim holiday, but the White House has stepped up pressure on President Saddam Hussein to come clean on weapons of mass destruction. Saddam Hussein tells Iraqis the searches are an opportunity to show the world Iraq has no such weapons and it will back it up with a report he plans to submit to the U.N. Saturday.

Weapons inspectors are taking a two-day break as Iraq observes the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Saturday then will likely be the next key day. That's when Iraq says it will hand over to the United Nations what is expected to be a huge report listing items which it says have both civilian and military use, while denying having any nuclear chemical or biological weapons.

At this point, U.S. officials are not even sure how the information will be transferred or how long it will take to analyze. White House spokesman Ari Fleischer does not anticipate any immediate judgment about whether Iraq is now in compliance with U.N. disarmament demands.

"If he sends in one piece of paper with one paragraph on it, then it's rather easy to study it and it won't take much time," he said. "If he sends in tens of thousands of pages worth of documents, it will require some time to take a look at."

Still, the White House said Thursday that it has a solid basis for asserting that Iraq has continued to build weapons of mass destruction in defiance of U.N. demands.

Iraqi President Saddam Hussein told his nation Thursday the weapons inspections are necessary to disprove those allegations. But his comments appeared to contradict what his deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz told American television just hours earlier. The inspection process, he said, is simply a pretext for United States to wage war against Iraq.

Next week, the Pentagon plans to begin military exercises in the Gulf nation of Qatar. U.S. officials describe them as involving the kind of command and control procedures that would be used in a war against Iraq if President Saddam fails to fully account for his banned weapons programs in the documents he is now preparing to submit to the United Nations.