BAGHDAD, Iraq – American and British troops will return home in "plastic bags" should London and Washington invade Iraq, a newspaper owned by President Saddam Hussein's elder son said Sunday.
The United States and Britain say Iraq is hiding weapons of mass destruction and that they will disarm the Arab nation by force if necessary. They are assembling the biggest ground, naval and air force in the Gulf since a U.S.-led coalition defeated Iraq in the 1991 Gulf War.
Iraq says it has no such weapons and that it is cooperating fully with U.N. arms inspectors hunting for evidence of chemical, nuclear and biological arms programs in Iraq since November.
"The British and American troops will have no choice but to flee or meet the same fate that met their predecessors and that's to return home in plastic bags," said the newspaper Babil, owned by Saddam's son Odai. "The number of these bags will be so huge that neither Bush nor his insignificant sidekick Blair would be able to hide or lie about."
Rhetoric on both sides of the Iraq crisis has sharpened in the run-up to a report Monday to the U.N. Security Council by the heads of the U.N. weapons inspection program. Major European and Middle Eastern countries have been urging the United States to give the inspectors more time to determine if Iraq has disarmed.
During remarks Sunday in Davos, Switzerland, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, argued against a lengthy extension of the inspection process, saying more time would be meaningless without full Iraqi cooperation.
"Without Iraq's full and active cooperation, the 100 or so inspectors would have to look under every roof and search the back of every truck in a country the size of California to find the munitions and programs for which Iraq has failed to account," Powell said.
"To those who say, 'Why not give the inspections process more time?', I ask: 'How much more time does Iraq need. ... It is not a matter of time, it is a matter of telling the truth, and Saddam still responds with evasion and lies."
In London, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Washington's staunchest ally on the standoff with Iraq, said it should not take the inspectors months to determine whether Saddam's government is cooperating fully.
"I have always said the inspectors should have the time to do their job," Blair said Sunday. "I don't believe it will take them months to find out whether he is cooperating or not, but they should have whatever time they need."
Inspectors paid surprise visits Sunday to sites across Iraq, including the University of Mosul in the north, a military industry plant, a medical institute and a research center dedicated to livestock diseases, according to the Information Ministry.
At the inspectors' compound on the outskirts of Baghdad, security was considerably tightened Sunday a day after two Iraqi men, one carrying three knives, tried to force their way in. At least 15 Iraqi policemen, some armed, guarded the building Sunday, tripling the normal complement. Concrete blocks have been placed a yard apart across the front of the building. U.N. security officers searched employees at the gate.
Iraq has insisted it is fully cooperating with the inspection program, as required under Security Council Resolution 1441 approved unanimously in November. However, chief U.N. inspector Hans Blix has said Iraq's declaration about its weapons programs failed to answer many questions.
The United States has maintained that those deficiencies prove Iraq has no intention of disarming. Among other things, Washington has cited the inability of the inspectors to secure private interviews with Iraqi weapons scientists.
Three Iraqi scientists on Saturday rejected a U.N. request to undergo private interviews to aid the search for banned weapons. Iraq's government maintains it's doing everything it can to "encourage" the scientists but says they are refusing because of fears their information could be distorted.
The inspectors declined to interview two of the three after they insisted that an Iraqi official sit in on the meetings. They interviewed a third with an Iraqi official present.
Both the United Nations and the United States have pressed Iraq to persuade its scientists to speak privately to the inspectors, hoping the absence of Iraqi officials would encourage them to be more candid about the nature of their work.