BAGHDAD, Iraq – Iraq hopes for fair treatment from U.N. weapons inspectors because the stability of the entire Persian Gulf region depends on their work, a newspaper owned by Saddam Hussein's son said Sunday.
At the U.N. headquarters in Baghdad a day ahead of the inspectors' expected arrival, workers were seen cleaning the three-story building, while others were working in the garden and fixing the ceiling of the car park.
"We hope and wish that inspection teams and officials will act without bias and objectively as U.N. officials because they bear great and moral responsibility which the fate and future of people depends on as well as the security and stability of a whole region," said Babil, the newspaper owned by Saddam's son, Odai.
A U.S.-led attack is likely if Iraq fails to cooperate fully with the inspectors.
Babil ridiculed calls by Secretary of State Colin Powell and chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix that Iraq prove it does not have weapons of mass destruction.
"Is there anyone who can do this, or prove a denial? Does any person or a U.N. or American official have a method that proves not having what they don't own?" the paper said in a front-page editorial.
Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz said Iraq plans to cooperate fully with inspectors but remains unconvinced that doing so will prevent war with the United States.
Aziz told Britain's Independent Television his country does not possess weapons of mass destruction and will give inspectors full access to prove it, according to a transcript released before ITV's Sunday broadcast.
"To be honest, we don't know if dealing with this resolution and the deception of the inspectors are going to prevent this war," Aziz said from Baghdad. "I have to be objective and honest in saying that we in Iraq do not feel that the possibility of the American aggression on Iraq has been totally removed."
He also said he believes the rest of the Security Council will temper attempts by "the warmongers in Washington and London" to use minor issues as a pretext for war.
A 27-member inspection team led by Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, is scheduled to launch the first U.N. inspection visit in four years to Iraq on Monday.
Blix said Sunday after arriving in Cyprus that war is not inevitable if Iraq cooperates.
"The question of war and peace remains first of all in the hands of Iraq, then the Security Council and the members of the Security Council," he said.
ElBaradei said, "This is an opportunity for peace ... I hope Iraq makes full use of it."
Iraq last week accepted a U.N. resolution allowing inspectors to search anywhere for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and to interview any Iraqi scientist inside or outside the country.
The advance team scheduled to arrive Monday is charged with reopening the office used by the previous inspections regime and setting up secure phone lines and transportation. Preliminary inspections are to begin Nov. 27, with full-scale checks to begin after Baghdad files a declaration of its banned weapons programs by a Dec. 8 deadline.
Blix then has 60 days to report back to the Security Council with his findings.
Saddam said in a letter to Iraq's parliament Saturday that he had no choice but to accept the new U.N. resolution because the United States and Israel had shown their "claws and teeth" and declared unilateral war on the Iraqi people.
Al-Thawra, the mouthpiece of the ruling Baath Party, called for ending "the American aggression conducted on north and south Iraq." The paper was referring to the no-fly zones imposed by U.S.-led allies after the 1991 Persian Gulf War to protect Kurds in the north and Shiite Muslims in the south.
The official Iraqi News Agency quoted an unidentified military spokesman as saying air defense units opened fire late Saturday and Sunday on "hostile warplanes" and forced them to leave Iraqi air space.
Such actions are considered by U.S. officials to be a violation of the new Security Council resolution.
U.S. military officials at European Command in Germany issued a statement Sunday saying coalition planes "responded in self-defense" Sunday to Iraqi anti-aircraft artillery fire from sites outside the northern city of Mosul.
Coalition warplanes struck Iraq's air defense system then left the area, the statement said.
INA reported earlier Sunday that the seven people who died during an American-British air raid in the southern no-fly zone Friday were buried in Najaf, 93 miles south of Baghdad.
"People in the province expressed their anger at the criminal practices committed by the evil American administration and its tail, Britain, against Iraq and its struggling people," the INA report said.
The U.S. Defense Department said Friday's bombing, the first since Saddam accepted the U.N. resolution Wednesday, retaliated against Iraq's firing of surface-to-air missiles and anti-aircraft guns at American and British warplanes patrolling a no-fly zone. The United States says it does not target civilians in the no-fly zones.