Published January 13, 2003
BAGHDAD, Iraq – The International Atomic Energy Agency said weapons inspections in Iraq could take up to another year, according to a Reuters report released early Monday morning.
IAEA spokesman Mark Gwozdecky said that the agency had unanimous support from the U.N. Security Council for "the time that we need," the report said.
The revelation of what may be a lengthier search than previously thought may come as a relief to the thousands of American troops already deployed to the Persian Gulf, though a White House official recently said that military force may be used even if inspectors fail to find weapons of mass destruction.
U.N. arms inspectors still busy at work in Iraq spent Sunday poking around an Iraqi missile plant, air force storage facilities and other sites for information about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction programs.
An adviser to President Saddam Hussein belittled demands for more proactive Iraqi cooperation with U.N. arms inspectors.
Also on Sunday, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak estimated the chances of a war in Iraq at 50-50, while an Iraqi newspaper condemned the U.S. position that actual mass destruction weapons need not be found to warrant military action.
Presidential adviser Amir al-Saadi said the United States, Britain, France and top U.N. inspectors have taken up a new tune "to demand Iraq to comply to with something new, as if Iraq was not cooperative enough."
"This new tune ... claims it is not enough for Iraq to allow the inspectors immediate access to the sites, but that Iraq should be more active in its cooperation and to present all documents and hidden materials — on the assumption that there is undeclared information," al-Saadi said while TV reporters filmed the start of his meeting with a visiting French delegation.
Now, he said, U.N. weapons inspectors visit any site they choose, meet the people in charge, question them and take documents.
"Couldn't this be called active cooperation?" he said.
Although Iraq has allowed inspectors to search sites, chief U.N. inspector Hans Blix said last week that unless Iraq provides evidence giving "a high degree of assurance" that its weapons programs have been destroyed, inspectors will not be able to report to the council that it no longer has weapons of mass destruction.
In Egypt, President Hosni Mubarak estimated Sunday there's a 50 percent chance war will break out and criticized Saddam's way of dealing with others, referring to last month's apology to Kuwaitis for his army's 1990 invasion. The apology was rejected by Kuwait and several of its Gulf neighbors.
"The chance of war is 50-50, but when President Saddam Hussein sent an apology letter to Kuwait, he heaped curses on the whole world," Mubarak told reporters while visiting a water project in southern Egypt. "He says the weapons inspectors talk to us improperly. ...Sir, tolerate it to avoid war," Mubarak advised.
Inspectors on Sunday revisited Al Mutasim missile plant 55 miles west of Baghdad, where final assembly of Ababil and Al Fath missiles is carried out. Iraq is permitted missiles with ranges limited to 90 miles.
They also headed to two Baghdad University faculties — Medicine and Pharmacology — and to a facility 270 miles north of Baghdad belonging to the state Military Industry Corp., the Iraqi Information Ministry said in a statement.
Weapons inspections resumed Nov. 27, after a nearly four-year break, under a toughened U.N. resolution. The United States and Britain don't believe Iraq's denials it has any more chemical, nuclear and biological weapons and have threatened to disarm Iraq by force.
Both countries have been beefing up their military presence in the Gulf, with the flagship of a British naval task force setting sail Saturday to the region. Polls published Sunday opposition to war against Iraq remains strong in Britain and that Labor politicians are looking for a stronger case to be made for the use of force.
U.S. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, meanwhile, signed deployment orders that will send about 62,000 more U.S. troops to the Gulf — doubling the current troop strength there. By the first weeks of February, the United States should have sufficient force in place to wage war against Iraq, though the White House says President Bush hasn't yet decided whether to attack.
The Babil newspaper, owned by President Saddam Hussein's eldest son, lashed out Sunday at U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell for recent remarks that military force could be used even if inspectors fail to find mass destruction weapons. Babil labeled such views "old, weak and lacking credibility."
Also on Sunday, Turkish Prime Minister Abdullah Gul began talks with Iranian officials in Tehran about how to avoid war in Iraq. Gul has been touring Mideast capitals on the subject, and late Saturday in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, he urged Iraq on Saturday to further develop its relationship with the inspectors.
Although Iran is no friend of Iraq — the two fought a war from 1980-88 that left millions dead — the Iranian government has said it will not participate in any military operation to topple Saddam.
Iran and other neighbors of Iraq fear a U.S. attack could lead to Iraq's disintegration and to the creation of an independent Iraqi Kurdish state that would encourage breakaway aspirations among Kurds in Syria, Iran and Turkey.
The Associate Press contributed to this report.