Iraq: Inspections Prove Us Right

Iraq said Thursday it has cooperated with U.N. inspectors and that they have found no weapons of mass destruction in five weeks of searching, so their crucial report to the U.N. Security Council this month should favor Baghdad.

The inspectors, however, said it's too soon to draw conclusions about whether Iraq has complied with U.N. demands -- as it must to avoid war with the United States.

The government-controlled Iraqi press also reproached the Security Council for tightening controls on imports to the country, saying council members were following the dictates of Washington and furthering "the mad U.S. attempts to wage aggression on Iraq."

Gen. Hossam Mohammed Amin, Iraq's chief liaison to the U.N. inspectors, said the inspections so far -- visits to 237 sites in five weeks -- gave credence to Baghdad's assertion it has no more banned weapons.

Amin said the inspections had been intrusive and included surprise visits.

"All those activities proved that the Iraqi declarations are credible and the American allegations and claims are baseless and they are lying for political reasons," Amin told a news conference.

He said he was certain the inspectors had found nothing so far since the liaison officers who accompany them "are scientists and engineers and they can, of course, notice anything abnormal."

However, the inspectors on the ground have said nothing publicly about what they have discovered, and Ewen Buchanan, the spokesman for the inspectors, said at the United Nations that "we have not finished our investigations."

"There are many more sites to be inspected and this process will take some time. Inspections are a process and not something where one can draw instant conclusions," he told The Associated Press.

However, weapons inspectors have said Iraq's accounting of its weapons program fails to provide enough evidence to support its claims to have destroyed missiles, warheads and chemical agents such as VX nerve gas.

The Bush administration cited nine areas in which it said Iraq's declaration fails to provide a complete picture of actual weapons holdings. These included unaccounted-for thousands of pounds of growth media for producing anthrax and chemical precursors for making mustard gas.

On Thursday, U.N. inspection teams visited five sites in the area around Baghdad, including a chemical plant, a state company that works on missile propellants and an air force technical warehouse. As usual, they said nothing about their findings.

The inspectors had been expected to begin using helicopters in their work this week, allowing them to explore more Iraqi territory, but Amin said the use of helicopters had been postponed for technical reasons. He did not elaborate.

Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz, meanwhile, complained Washington was going ahead with plans for war during the inspections.

"Despite the presence of the inspectors, U.S. aircraft carriers are heading to the region and U.S. and British soldiers are arriving and making preparations," he told a visiting Spanish delegation.

Washington and London have accused Iraq of hiding banned weapons. Both nations have threatened to use military force unless Saddam Hussein's regime provides evidence it has eliminated all such arms as required by U.N. resolutions adopted at the time of Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait and the subsequent Gulf War.

The U.N. arms experts must certify that Iraq has no more chemical, biological and nuclear weapons or the means to deliver them before economic sanctions imposed after the Iraqi invasion can be lifted.

As part of the sanctions, a U.N. committee must approve export of goods to Iraq, and on Monday the Security Council tightened controls on some communications equipment and antibiotics that the United States and Britain said could be used by the Iraqi military in a war.

Iraq's state-run press reacted Thursday with angry editorials. The daily Al-Jumhuriya said the resolution, which controls imports under the U.N. oil for food program, is new evidence of Washington's "hegemony" over the Security Council.

"This is a bad resolution which would lead to inflicting a deliberate damage and harm to our people," the paper said.

It said the members of the Security Council should "fulfill their responsibility, stand against the obvious U.S. domination of the council and ... foil the mad U.S. attempts to wage aggression on Iraq under the cover of the Security Council."

The daily Babil, which is owned by Saddam's son Odai, said the resolution is particularly disappointing because it came "when the Security Council is supposed to prepare the appropriate circumstances to lift the sanctions on Iraq and as the [U.N.] inspection teams are preparing to declare that Iraq is clear of weapons of mass destruction."