Iraq insists 12,000-page report detailing weapons stockpiles is complete
 
Canadian Press

BAGHDAD (AP) - President Saddam Hussein's chief science adviser insisted Thursday that Iraq's arms report was complete, and Iraq's official press challenged the United States and Britain to prove allegations that Baghdad is hiding biological, chemical and possibly nuclear weapons.

Amir al-Saadi, the presidential adviser, told a visiting South African delegation he could cite specific information in the report, submitted to the United Nations last month, to refute claims that Iraq has not eliminated banned weapons.

"People who claim there were gaps, I could tell you right away they have not read it," al-Saadi said. "There were no gaps, and I could give you where to find the answers in the specific pages or tables and information."

Referring to the 12,000-page report, al-Saadi added that some who found gaps in the information may not be "fully acquainted with our voluminous report or they lost their way."

He referred to questions raised by U.S. and British officials as "off-the-cuff remarks by tendentious people." But he did not specifically mention similar complaints about the report by Hans Blix or Mohamed ElBaradei, leaders of the UN organizations conducting the weapons search.

Blix is to brief the UN Security Council on Thursday about initial findings of the inspectors. He is to issue a formal report to the council on Jan. 27.

In Baghdad, inspectors visited six sites Thursday, according to Information Ministry officials. The visits included return inspections to two military installations - the al-Harith missile maintenance workshop north of Baghdad and the al-Rafah facility west of the capital that specializes in checking missile engines.

Inspectors also went to the al-Raya company, which conducts research for metal and plastic industries north of Baghdad, the al-Meelad company for electronic research south of the capital and a veterinary laboratory inside the city. They also visited a company that manufactures household appliances northeast of Baghdad.

A visit to an unidentified site in western Iraq was aborted after three helicopters carrying inspectors had to return to Baghdad because of bad weather, according to reporters and government officials.

Blix's inspectors say Iraq's weapons report fails to support its claims to have destroyed missiles, warheads and chemical agents such as VX nerve gas. ElBaradei has said he does not yet have enough information to determine whether Iraq is still trying to develop nuclear arms.

The United States and Britain doubt Iraq is committed to abiding by the UN's order to get rid of any weapons of mass destruction in its stockpiles.

Both countries have dispatched thousands more troops to the Persian Gulf region for a possible military showdown.

Washington has cited nine areas in which it said Iraq's declaration fails to give a complete picture of weapons holdings. These include thousands of kilograms of unaccounted-for materials for producing anthrax, and the chemical precursors for manufacturing mustard gas.

In London, however, the Daily Telegraph newspaper reported Thursday that Britain is pressing the United States for any war to be delayed for several months to give weapons inspectors more time to gather evidence against Saddam. The newspaper said senior British officials believe there is no clear legal case for military action against Baghdad.

Prime Minister Tony Blair's office refused to comment on the report. Washington has repeatedly warned that it is prepared to go it alone to disarm Iraq.

In an editorial Thursday, the newspaper Al-Thawra, published by the ruling Baath party, complained that the Americans and British were threatening war to disarm Iraq before UN arms experts have even made their first substantial report on their inspections.

"The inspectors are still in Iraq, their work is not over yet . . . so we challenge the rulers of Washington and London to present any proof verifying their allegations," the editorial said.

Referring to Washington and London as an "axis of mediocrity," the newspaper said the two governments would have already made public their evidence against Iraq if they had any.

Meanwhile, Iraq insists it is ready for war. Saddam met Wednesday with army and militia commanders to encourage them not to fear a technologically superior foe.

"In aerial combat, there is a disparity in weapons, but on the ground, men fight with their guns and it's enough for the men to have bombs, bullets, a loaf of bread, water and a gun," Saddam was quoted as saying. As long as Iraqi forces receive the support of the people, "the enemy will be defeated," Saddam told the commanders, according to the official Iraqi news agency.