BAGHDAD, Iraq – Iraq's foreign minister said Baghdad is ready to answer any questions by top U.N. weapons inspectors when they come here next week, but insisted a 12,000-page arms report submitted to the United Nations last month was comprehensive.
Inspectors already in Iraq, meanwhile, headed to an ammunition plant south of Baghdad Tuesday as well as to military depots and a short-range missile factory north of the capital, the Information Ministry said in a statement. They also visited a missile factory west of Baghdad and an explosives plant to the south, it said.
In remarks aired late Monday on Iraqi satellite TV, Foreign Minister Naji Sabri dismissed Washington's assertions it has proof Iraq is hiding banned weapons. Washington "doesn't have real proof, just rumors and fabrications made by its agents here and there. ... Its talk lacks credibility," he said.
Sabri's comments came as chief U.N. inspector Hans Blix told The Associated Press in New York that Iraq risks a war if it does not provide new evidence about how it disposed of elements of its nuclear, chemical and biological programs.
"I think they only need look around their borders and they should realize the seriousness," he said Monday, alluding to the U.S. and British military buildup in the Gulf.
Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, were scheduled to meet with Iraqi officials in Baghdad on Sunday and Monday. Blix said Monday their key message will be that Iraq's weapons declaration made last month did not contain new evidence to verify its claim that weapons of mass destruction have been destroyed.
Sabri denied charges by the United States, Britain and U.N. inspectors that the report contained gaps, saying it was "comprehensive and thorough."
Sabri said on Iraqi TV that the Blix and ElBaradei were welcome to put forward any questions they may have, but that Iraq had already "offered all that we have."
"The declaration answers everything, but ... if they have any questions they would like to present to Iraq or issues that they want clarified from the Iraqi side, we welcome them in the meetings that will be held in Iraq," he said in remarks that appeared to have been made before the Blix interview.
Blix said U.N. weapons inspectors needed months to search for Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, but that they may not get the time if the U.N. Security Council decides to stop inspections -- or the United States decides to act.
Iraq is facing the biggest military buildup since its defeat by a U.S.-led coalition in the 1991 Gulf War. The United States and Britain say Iraq is stockpiling banned weapons, an accusation Baghdad denies and that inspectors are left to sort out.
The United States last week ordered the deployment of about 62,000 more troops to the Gulf, which would double its troop strength in the region by mid-February. Britain's aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal is sailing toward the Gulf at the head of the country's biggest naval deployment in 20 years.
Al-Iraq government newspaper, meanwhile, reported Tuesday the latest in a series of exercises in Iraq by militias of President Saddam Hussein's ruling Baath party, this time in the western Baghdad district of Al-Karkh.
It involved implementation of "emergency plans" for residential areas, it said without providing details or saying when it was held. Saddam is expected to look in part to such militias to defend Baghdad in the event of an American invasion.
Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tareq Aziz, meanwhile, has said Iraq was not afraid of U.S. threats of military action. In remarks made during a weekend visit to Algeria and reported by the official Iraqi News Agency, Aziz also repeated an Iraqi view shared by many Arabs that a U.S. war would be a pretext to control Iraq's vast oil reserves -- second in the world only to Saudi Arabia.
"The objective of an American aggression on Iraq lies in the deterioration of the American economy and attempts by the Bush administration to control Arab oil and oil prices so it can sell it to the world according to its own interests and goals," Aziz was quoted as saying at a lecture in Algeria.
Babil newspaper, owned by Saddam's eldest son Odai, echoed the sentiment, saying in an editorial Tuesday: "The whole issue has no connection to any moral or legal value or to fears American national security may be eroded. ... It is, in its entirety, an illegal endeavor to possess (Iraq's oil)."