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 Monday, 6 January, 2003, 16:09 GMT
Inspectors reject Saddam spy claims
Iraqi soldiers salute at the tomb of the Unknown Soldier
Iraqi soldiers have been on parade for Army Day
United Nations weapons inspectors in Iraq have rejected accusations by President Saddam Hussein that they are conducting "pure intelligence work".

A spokesman for the United Nations inspections team (Unmovic) told BBC News Online that inspectors were carrying out a professional and objective job in Iraq.

Saddam Hussein making his Army Day address
The victory ... of the people of Iraq is at hand

Saddam Hussein

"We are there working on behalf of the Security Council, on behalf of the United Nations," said spokesman Ewen Buchanan.

"If we found anyone violating that arrangement then we would fire them," he said.

The United States has described the Iraqi leader's comments as "unfortunate" and has said the inspectors' work must go on.

Inspections continued at four sites on Monday.

'Strong and direct criticism'

President Saddam denounced the work of the teams sent to monitor Iraq's compliance with demands to disarm, saying they were exceeding their mandate.

The BBC's Caroline Hawley says the strong and direct criticism of the UN inspectors by the president is significant.

But it remains unclear if Iraq will stop co-operating with the scrutiny of its suspected weapons sites, which resumed in November with a threat of "serious consequences" from the UN if it did not do so.

The Iraqi leader charged: "Instead of searching for so-called weapons of mass destruction to reveal the lies of liars... the inspection teams became interested in compiling lists of Iraqi scientists, ask workers questions that are not what they seem and gather information about army camps and legitimate military production.

"These things, or most of them, are pure intelligence work," he said in a television broadcast to mark Army Day.

But Mr Buchanan said that the Security Council specifically granted inspectors the authority to compile such lists.

"I do not believe the Iraqis have brought any specific allegations," he said.

He said if there were specific complaints, they would be investigated and any guilty parties would be "booted out".

Military build-up

The Iraqi president said Iraq had prepared for a possible attack led by the United States and predicted victory.

He described threats by US President George W Bush to disarm Iraq by force as the "hiss of snakes and bark of dogs."

The UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said on Monday that the prospect of war had receded, from a 60:40 likelihood of conflict to a 60:40 likelihood of peace.
US President George W Bush salutes in front of a tank
US President George W Bush has ordered more troops to the Gulf

Britain co-authored the United Nations resolution threatening Iraq with possible military action if there was no confirmed disarmament.

The US is accelerating its military build-up in the Gulf, deploying tens of thousands of troops plus equipment.

Mr Straw said the UK still hoped for a peaceful outcome, though the situation changed from day to day.

Inspections continue

Iraqi officials earlier accused UN teams of being "intrusive" in an inspection on Sunday.

On Monday, teams visited a veterinary research centre north of Baghdad, as well as conducting inspections at a former nuclear research centre south of the capital, a maintenance centre in Baghdad and an industrial zone north of Mosul, the AFP agency reported.

Iraq said last week that the UN teams had visited 230 sites and had found no evidence of banned nuclear, chemical or biological weapons.

Baghdad says it has no weapons but has warned that the US is planning an invasion anyway to seize control of Iraq's valuable oil reserves.

The UN's chief weapons inspector, Hans Blix, has been invited for talks in Baghdad before his next scheduled report to the UN on 27 January.

  Saddam Hussein, Iraqi President
"The enemy will pay dearly later"
  The BBC's Paul Adams
"The Iraqi leader was in defiant mood"
  Abdel Bari Atwan, Al Quds al Arabi newspaper
"He is preparing his people for war"

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See also:

06 Jan 03 | Middle East
06 Jan 03 | Middle East
06 Jan 03 | Politics
05 Jan 03 | Middle East
03 Jan 03 | Middle East
31 Dec 02 | Middle East
28 Dec 02 | Middle East
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