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Saturday, 9 March, 2002, 15:24 GMT
Iraq attacks US over arms inspections
Iraqi Vice-President Taha Yasin Ramadan makes his way around a conference portrait of Saddam
Iraqi officials have been rallying around Saddam
The United States and Britain only want arms inspectors to return to Iraq as a pretext for new military attacks, the Iraqi vice-president said on Saturday.

Taha Yasin Ramadan told a conference in Baghdad that the international inspectors had finished their job when they left in 1998.

American-British aggression is expected

Tariq Aziz
Iraqi deputy prime minister

The comments came only two days after the Iraqi foreign minister discussed the issue with UN Secretary General Kofi Annan in New York.

Mr Ramadan also condemned a Saudi initiative for Arab states to make peace with Israel in return for its withdrawal from occupied territory.

Washington and London were seeking to "manufacture a new crisis in order to provide an excuse for fresh American-British attacks on Iraq", he told conference of Arab politicians and non-government organizations.

Accusing the US of terrorism and aggression, he said any new attacks would be defeated.

Mr Ramadan's comments were echoed in an interview given by Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz to a German newspaper.

Mr Aziz said the Americans were using the war on terror and arms control concerns as a cover.

The real aim was to "get rid of the regime of Saddam Hussein and support an armed opposition to stir up a civil war", he told Welt am Sonntag.

UN moves

Mr Annan is due to resume talks on the weapons inspection issue with the Iraqi Foreign Minister, Naji Sabri, in mid-April.

The UN head has described their initial meeting as a "good start".

Correspondents, however, say Iraq has given no sign of softening its line on allowing new inspections of its suspected arsenal of weapons of mass destruction.

The inspectors pulled out in December 1998 just before new US-led air strikes.

Turkey, for one, has appealed to Washington to focus less on Iraq and more on achieving peace in the Middle East.

In his speech on Saturday, the Iraqi vice-president said the Saudi peace initiative on the Middle East was only encouraging Israeli "arrogance".

He condemned "all forms of links or normalization" with Israel and called for a holy war to "liberate Palestine and all the occupied Arab territories".

The BBC's David Chazan
"Washington wants Saddam Hussein out of power"
See also:

01 Mar 02 | UK Politics
Britain backs US over Iraq
07 Mar 02 | Middle East
Iraq keeps talking on arms inspectors
09 Mar 02 | Middle East
Arabs say peace plan in danger
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