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Saddam: Iraq Accepted U.N. Resolution to Avoid War

After the United States and Israel had shown their "claws and teeth" and declared unilateral war on the Iraqi people, Iraq had no choice but to accept a tough, new U.N. weapons inspection resolution, Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein said Saturday.

In an open letter to Iraq's parliament, Saddam said he hoped the weapons inspectors would help the U.N. Security Council "to see the truth as it really is about Iraq being completely free of weapons of mass destruction."

The advance team of inspectors is expected in Baghdad on Monday after a four-year absence. Under a new resolution approved last week, the inspectors are empowered to go anywhere and interview anyone to determine if Iraq still has banned weapons. Failure to cooperate fully will probably bring a U.S.-led attack.

Saddam told Parliament in the letter he accepted the resolution "because your enemy, the alliance between Zionism and the American administration has ... after showing its claws and teeth, decided to wage war unilaterally against our people."

"If the unjust persist in their wrongdoing, then you know that the potentials and obligations that we carry from our revolution to withstand all injustice will ensure their defeat," he added.

The Revolutionary Command Council, the top decision-making body headed by Saddam, decided on Wednesday to accept the resolution. The rubber-stamp parliament had earlier recommended rejecting it but left the final decision to the Iraqi leader.

Addressing the legislators as "esteemed brothers and comrades," Saddam said "your enemy has returned, once again, to camouflaging its schemes under the cover of the Security Council, which has ... infringed upon all that may represent the conscience of international unanimity."

Saddam's comments came shortly before the Iraqi military announced that a U.S.-British airstrike in southern Iraq on Friday killed seven civilians and wounded four.

The unidentified military spokesman told the official Iraqi News Agency that warplanes bombed areas in Najaf province, 93 miles south of Baghdad on Friday.

The report didn't provide further details. The U.S. military did not comment immediately and it was impossible to independently verify the claim.

On Friday, a Pentagon statement said the bombing was in response to Iraq's firing surface-to-air missiles and anti-aircraft guns at American and British warplanes patrolling a no-fly zone.

The U.N. team will begin preliminary inspections of suspected weapons sites on Nov. 27, according to chief inspector Hans Blix. He then has 60 days to report back to the council with his findings.

"We hope and expect to have full Iraqi cooperation," Blix said Saturday in Paris. "A denial of access or a delayed access ... this would be a serious thing."

Under the resolution, Iraq must declare all weapons programs to the United Nations by Dec. 8. The Iraqi declaration will then be compared with previous data gathered by inspectors.

Blix said access to suspected sites would be key to the mission's success, adding that Iraq would be held accountable for blocking inspectors' work.

The United States believes Iraq has been illegally rearming for several years. Inspectors, out of Iraq since December 1998, have not been able to verify that claim.

In Baghdad, a government newspaper on Saturday urged the arms experts to resist U.S. pressure and not create pretexts that could open the way for an attack on Iraq.

"The inspectors should not mix up the cards, creating a crisis and fabricating pretexts that aim to harm the people of Iraq," the daily Al-Jumhuriya said in a front-page editorial.

"They should adopt an honest, objective and professional attitude to their work and not to bend to U.S. pressure," it said.

In Cairo, Amr Moussa, secretary general of the Arab League, also urged the inspectors to carry out their mission in "a neutral ... and honest way which will endorse their credibility." Arab countries have urged Iraq to cooperate with inspections, and warned that a U.S.-Iraq war could create instability throughout the volatile region.

In Syria, Masoud Barzani, leader of one of the two anti-Saddam Kurdish parties in control of northern Iraq, said Saturday that Iraq's acceptance of the U.N. resolution would only delay a U.S. attack.

Meanwhile, a London newspaper reported Saturday that Libya agreed to give Saddam's family and leading members of his regime asylum in Libya if Iraq goes to war with the United States, at a $3.5 billion price tag.

The Times said Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi would not give refuge to Saddam or for his eldest son Odai. But it said Saddam's extended family and 12 senior officials would get sanctuary.

Syria had agreed to provide an overland escape route, allowing the Iraqis to fly on to Libya, the paper said.

Libyan Foreign Ministry spokesman Hassouna al-Shawish denied the report, the official Libyan news agency JANA said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.