| An Israeli boy sits on his gas mask as his family waits to change their kits at an army distribution centre in Tel Aviv. (AFP)
Baghdad, Dec. 22 (Reuters): Iraq said today it is ready to answer any questions from the US and Britain about its arms declaration and “welcomed” the CIA to come and indicate suspect sites to the UN weapons inspectors.
“We are ready to deal with each of those questions if you ask us,” Amir al-Saadi, an adviser to President Saddam Hussein, told a news conference at which he also accused previous inspection regimes of manipulating evidence against Iraq. “We do not even have any objections if the CIA sent somebody with the inspectors to show them the suspected sites.”
Saddam himself demanded the US stop harassing him. “The world should tell America now there is no need for more aggression and sanctions on Iraq in order to let it cooperate freely (with the UN),” he told visiting delegates.
Saadi said chief weapons inspector Hans Blix had sent Iraq a “formal request to provide a list of certain scientists and we are going to provide that list before the end of this year”.
There has been growing talk of war since the US last week condemned Iraq’s UN-ordered declaration of its weapons programmes as incomplete and so a “material breach” of Security Council Resolution 1441 on Iraqi disarmament. Defying the resolution carries an implicit threat of eventual war.
Saadi addressed specific questions already raised by Washington and London, for example over attempts to obtain uranium, and said some of those concerns were based on outdated information. Iraq denies possessing weapons of mass destruction.
Seaborne invasion plan
The US and Britain were, according to a British defence ministry source, planning a massive seaborne invasion if war broke out against Iraq, a strategy planners hope would make troops less exposed to chemical or biological attack.
The US is forging ahead with a military build-up that could see more than 100,000 troops in the Gulf region in January or February.
A British defence ministry source said the US and Britain were planning a major invasion of Iraq through its short stretch of Gulf coastline as the first stage in any ground war. “Discussions on future amphibious operations are at an advanced stage,” the source said.
The source said planners were leaning towards an amphibious assault in part because of the difficulties of protecting a large ground-based army from chemical or biological attack.
The New York Times said US intelligence agents were working with Kurdish groups in northern Iraq opposed to Saddam: “American military planners have visited secluded corners of the country to examine potential basing sites for use in a war, according to a Western expert familiar with the activity.”
UN experts in Iraq pursued their hunt for banned arms today. Iraqi officials said sites searched by the inspectors included a space research centre in Baghdad.
Scores of UN arms inspectors are scouring Iraq for evidence of banned nuclear, chemical or biological weapons, but Washington has made clear it believes it has enough evidence of its own to justify military action if Iraq does not come clean.
In Baghdad, Saadi said US questions over whether Iraq had disclosed its efforts to obtain uranium from South Africa or Niger had already been discussed in talks with Blix and UN nuclear inspection chief Mohamed El Baradei.
He said he told the two men last month that Iraq tried to obtain uranium oxide, not uranium itself, from Niger in the mid-1980s but never tried to get such material from South Africa.