Baghdad, Feb. 14 (Reuters): Iraqi President Saddam Hussein complied with a key UN arms demand today by decreeing a ban on importing or making weapons of mass destruction, but the move drew a sceptical response from Washington.
Hours before the top UN arms inspectors presented a report to the UN Security Council that could influence the chance or timing of any war, Saddam also reiterated that Iraq was free of any such weapons, a claim the US rejects.
The decree is at least a symbolic gesture by the Iraqi President to meet one of the demands that chief weapons inspectors Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei made when they visited Baghdad in mid-January.
“Individuals and companies in private and mixed sectors are banned from importing and producing chemical, biological and nuclear weapons,” the presidential decree read. It said materials used in producing them were also banned.
Saddam ordered ministers to take all necessary measures to implement the decree and “punish those who don’t adhere to it”.
An Iraqi parliamentary session was scheduled to discuss the ban, but only discussed the prospect of war.
It ended with an appeal to the international community to thwart a US-led invasion of Iraq. “It is clear now to all the world that Iraq does not have weapons of mass destruction,” Parliament speaker Saadoun Hammadi told reporters after the session.
“According to Security Council resolutions...the problem must be solved peacefully and US aggression and threats stopped.”
The US reacted sceptically to the decree, saying Baghdad had no credibility on the issue.
Washington said the decree was in line with expectations that Iraq would make piecemeal concessions, such as allowing U-2 spy plane flights earlier in the week, in hopes of heading off a war. “It’s impossible to place any credibility in the laws, so-called laws, of a totalitarian dictatorship,” White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said.
“But if one would just want to make believe and pretend that Iraq was a democracy that would pass meaningful laws, it would be 12 years late and 26,000 litres of anthrax short, it would be 12 years late and 38,000 litres of botulin short, and it would be 12 years late and 30,000 unfilled chemical warheads short,” he said.
Iraq has over the past eight days already succumbed to two other key demands by the inspectors — private interviews with Iraqi scientists and U-2 surveillance flights.
The Iraqi News Agency (INA) earlier said Saddam had chaired a meeting of top officials to say the country had no biological, chemical or nuclear arms — but ould fight anyone who attacked.
“That meeting... wanted to assure those whom it may concern in our great people, nation and humanity that Iraq is free of so-called weapons of mass destruction, nuclear, chemical and biological,” INA said.
“They are totally confident that this cover (banned weapons) is over and the aggressors can’t use it as a pretext or an excuse in front of the Security Council to make it a cover for aggression,” INA said. “If the aggressors attack after this... the Iraqi people and armed forces will fight them in a spirit of holy struggle that would please friends and infuriate the enemy.”
Iraqi deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz held crisis talks with Pope John Paul and promised him that Iraq will cooperate with the international community on disarmament demands.