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Inspectors spring surprise

Baghdad, Jan. 5 (Reuters): UN weapons inspectors flexed their muscles today, combing a complex housing Iraq’s arms monitoring directorate and leaving two senior Iraqi officials trapped inside and fuming for hours.

In Israel, the armed forces test-fired an Arrow missile interceptor, preparing to defend the Jewish state against any attack by Iraq in the event of a US-led war in the Gulf.

Iraq had fired 39 Scuds with conventional warheads at Israel in the 1991 Gulf War, causing one death and extensive damage.

While the experts scoured sites in the sixth week of a hunt for banned weaponry, US allies in Europe and West Asia kept up the quest for a peaceful solution to head off war.

In Baghdad, Iraqi President Saddam Hussein announced plans to make a “pan-Arab and historic” speech to the Iraqi people at 11 am tomorrow to mark Army Day.

Speaker Saadoun Hammadi said Iraq would fight with “all available means” and inflict heavy casualties on any US-British forces attacking his country.

“The people of Iraq will defend courageously with high morale and all available means against any American-British aggression,” Hammadi told the official Iraqi News Agency.

“The aggressive America and Britain will fail miserably and suffer great loss,” he added.

Today’s inspection, sprung on the compound housing Iraq’s arms monitoring cell, provoked howls from the directorate chief General Hussam Mohammed Amin and the visiting Iraqi UN ambassador Mohammed al-Douri.

Iraqi officials said the inspectors were focused on Al Basil Company at the complex but witnesses said UN inspectors closed the main gate and blocked the entrance to the complex.

For more than six hours, UN experts stopped people and cars inside the complex, filmed cars, and searched vehicles and personnel. “They wanted to exercise their maximum intrusiveness, maximum hardness of implementation of resolution 1441,” fumed Amin, clad in military fatigue.

Inspectors are enforcing the UN Security Council resolution, which orders Iraq to reveal any chemical, biological or nuclear programmes or long-range missile projects. Baghdad denies having such programmes or weapons.

US allies, fearing regional upheavals, are seeking ways to resolve the crisis and prevent a war to force Iraq to disarm.

Turkish Prime Minister Abdullah Gul was in Egypt on a West Asia tour to try to prevent a conflict but a Turkish newspaper said dozens of Turkish tanks were already in northern Iraq, where Kurds enjoy de facto autonomy from Baghdad.

Greece, current president of the 15-member European Union, called on EU countries to take a united stance on Iraq and urged them to work to avoid a war. “The most important (development) at this time is for UN efforts to conclude in a positive result and to avoid a war,” Greek Prime Minister Costas Simitis said.

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