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Iraqi Media Charge US Seeks Excuse to Attack - 2003-02-05


Iraqi newspapers are accusing Secretary of State Colin Powell of looking for an excuse to attack Iraq. Mr. Powell addresses the United Nations Security Council later, and is expected to present evidence to back up American charges that Iraq has worked to conceal illegal arms from international inspectors.

While Secretary of State Colin Powell says he has "compelling" evidence that Iraq is hiding weapons of mass destruction, a government-run Iraqi newspaper says Mr. Powell does not have "a single piece of concrete evidence" and says he has no information other than fabricated intelligence reports.

The Iraqi daily Ath-Thawra said Mr. Powell's appearance before the U.N. Security Council is intended to seek a pretext to wage war against Iraq.

Iraqi President Saddam Hussein says Iraq is not in possession of any weapons of mass destruction, and he says Iraq has no ties to al-Qaida, which is one of the allegations Secretary Powell is expected to make when he addresses the Security Council.

In the meantime, chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix told the Arabic language newspaper Al-Hayat, which is based in London, that he and Mohamed ElBaradei, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, will return Saturday to Baghdad with three demands. Mr. Blix says Iraq must pass a law forbidding any citizen to work with weapons of mass destruction. He said U-2 spy planes must be allowed to fly over suspected weapons sites. And, he said, Baghdad must allow Iraqi scientists to be interviewed by weapons inspectors in private.

Security Council resolution 1441 gives inspectors the right to conduct private interviews with anyone they choose. Iraqi officials say they have encouraged scientists to agree to the interviews, but so far all of the scientists have requested that Iraqi officials be present during the questioning.

Political analyst Sami Baroudi, who heads the political science department at Lebanese American University in Beirut, says it is widely believed Iraqi scientists do not want to speak to the weapons inspectors in private because they fear retribution from the Iraqi government. "I do not want to be one of those people," said Mr. Baroudi, "because I know that the minute I start talking to inspectors and no one from the government is there, I will be immediately suspected of revealing secrets, even if I have no secrets to reveal."

Even if Iraqi scientists continue to refuse to be interviewed in private, says Dan Tschirgi head of the political science department at American University in Cairo, who does not believe a case can easily be made that Iraq is not complying with the weapons inspectors.

"I think from a strictly legal standpoint it would be very, very difficult to do that. It would be very difficult," said Mr. Tschirgi. "One would have to somehow provide evidence that these scientists are coerced, in one way or another, and it is almost impossible to really prove because we are not really talking about any overt, direct, threats at this time."

Iraqi officials say they cannot force Iraqi scientists to agree to private interviews.

In Baghdad, weapons inspectors continued searching for banned nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons, visiting, among other places, rocket facilities, a former nuclear site, a laser center at Baghdad state university, and a food research center.

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