BAGHDAD – Iraq reserves the right to end cooperation with U.N. weapons inspections if it deems Washington is manipulating them, the Iraqi inspections chief said, clouding prospects of the high-stakes U.N. missions before they even resume.
The Iraqi warning by inspections chief Gen. Hussan Mohammed Amin -- made in the face of threatened U.S. military action -- raises the possibility that old problems would haunt any new U.N. inspections to ensure Iraq can no longer produce weapons of mass destruction.
In a letter Saturday, Iraq promised to behave "professionally" if U.N. weapons inspectors return to the country and gain access to Saddam Hussein's palaces and other suspect sites.
In the letter, sent to the Vienna headquarters of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Saddam adviser Gen. Amir al-Sadi said Baghdad sees no obstacles to a resumption of the hunt for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, IAEA spokesman Mark Gwozdecky told The Associated Press in Vienna,
That letter came a day after another letter from al-Sadi, this time to U.N. weapons inspectors, appeared to ignore details of agreements hammered out with the inspectors on their eventual return.
In Washington, the State Department expressed skepticism at the latest letter. "Iraq continues to want to play word games, not comply. They will continue to make contradictory promises, and then choose the version of most tactical benefit at any given moment," spokeswoman Jo-Anne Prokopowicz said Saturday.
Meanwhile, Iraq's parliament met in an emergency session Saturday, but said nothing about a resolution by the U.S. Congress giving President Bush authority to use force against Iraq. Instead, Iraq lawmakers condemned a resolution by Congress that recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
Charges of Iraqi deception, and U.S. double-dealing, have dogged the inspections -- inaugurated in 1991 with volleys of Iraqi bullets over the heads of newly arrived inspectors, and ended in 1998 with punishing U.S.-British airstrikes the night thwarted inspectors finally withdrew.
Trying to stave off a new U.S. attack over what Washington says are covert weapon programs, Iraq has dropped objections to inspectors' return, and says it hopes to see an advance team back as soon as Oct. 19.
Asked if Iraq reserves the right to again revoke cooperation with inspectors, Baghad's inspections chief Amin told The Associated Press: "Of course."
"We gave commitments to cooperate, if they said they will follow scientific and logical measures for inspections, and will not misuse them for spying, collecting information," Amin said, speaking inside a walled industrial complex where Washington asserts nuclear weapons work could be under way.
If they will follow scientific measures, and they will take measures from the United Nations and not the United States, they should come on the date," he said.
The Bush Administration said that Iraq has never complied with inspectors.
"The world is done playing the Iraqi game of denial, deception and obfuscation. The Security Council needs to act to pass an effective new resolution that leads to Iraqi disarmament," an administration official said on condition of anonymity.
Iraqi Islamic leaders appealed to the Muslim world Saturday to come to their aid if the U.S. attacks.
"Take the word of Iraq, which already has lost so much flesh and blood to this country: If no one stops it, it will destroy the whole world!" Iraq's Popular Islamic Conference said in a fatwa, or religious edict, signed by 500 clerics of Iraq's Shiite Muslim majority and Sunni minority.
In the United Nations, Iraq's ambassador said in an interview that Saddam has changed since he lost the Gulf War 11 years ago and his country is now doing everything it can now to avert another conflict.
"War must be behind us, not before us," Mohammed al-Douri said. He spoke as the Bush administration pressed the U.N. Security Council to act to match the resolution passed by the U.S. Congress.
Al-Douri said the Iraqi leadership had changed its policies and tactics since it fought Iran in the 1980s, used chemical weapons against its Kurdish minority, invaded neighboring Kuwait in 1990 and lobbed Scud missiles at Israel and Saudi Arabia during the ensuing Gulf War.
"Ten or even 12 years is enough to judge the behavior of governments and the kind of relationship we now have with our neighbors. We think of how we can improve relationships, even with the United States," al-Douri said.
For the second time in three days, Iraqis threw open another U.S.-targeted site to Western and Iraqi camera crews and reporters. Iraqi generals called it proof of their eagerness to show the world Iraq is innocent of U.S. accusations.
Anti-aircraft guns, trenches and sandbags surrounded the Al-Furat site -- newly fortified against what Iraq fears will be imminent U.S. airstrikes, plant director Gen. Sa'adi Abbas Khudeir said.
Inside, bristling clusters of microphones and camera lenses recorded Iraqis working at computers.
Khudeir told journalists the workers were civilian and military researchers, laboring on peaceful electronics research and on weapons systems allowed by the United Nations.
"Believe me, no nukes, no physicists, no program -- just programs that serve the army, maintenance and development, that's all," he said, pointing to equipment.
For reporters with little technical knowledge, it was impossible to judge.
The Al Furat site, south of Baghdad, was one of the four sites that the United States suggested were being developed to produce nuclear weapons, although it admits conclusive evidence is lacking.
Al Furat has been the most closely scrutinized of the four. Washington alleges Iraqis have been caught trying to smuggle aluminum tubes into the complex -- parts the United States says could be used in a centrifuge to enrich uranium to weapons grade quality.
Iraq denies ever having a nuclear weapons program. U.N. authorities say they caught Iraq in the early 1990s with a nuclear arms program.
Iraq has remained under U.N. sanctions since the 1991 Gulf War. The United Nations says the sanctions cannot be lifted until inspectors verify that Iraq has no chemical, biological and nuclear weapons and the missiles to deliver them.
In 1991, Iraqi soldiers fired into the air when one of the newly arriving inspection teams gave chase to a speeding convoy. Inspectors said they believed the trucks were carrying parts for uranium-enrichment devices.
Two months later, the IAEA charged that Iraqis had tried to hide radioactive material contained in nuclear fuel rods by driving it around in trucks when inspection teams visited.
Fitful squabbles and dustups followed in the ensuing years. Throughout, the United States and Britain and others complained that Iraq spoke of full cooperation while blocking access on the ground. Iraq contends the United States upheld the sanctions as a vendetta against Saddam.
In 1998, work broke down for good. Iraq declared all cooperation over. U.N. teams withdrew. That same evening, the United States and Britain led four nights of the most intense bombardment on Baghdad and other points in Iraq since the Gulf War.
In an interview with a German magazine Saturday, Iraqi Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan held out the prospect renewed inspections for the first time could include Saddam's dozen-plus palaces.
Asked about the palaces by Der Spiegel magazine, Ramadan said, "Our position is that the inspectors can seek and inspect however and where ever they would like to."