U.N. Team Finds No Arms Materials in Ministry; Saddam Claims Victory
MANAMA, Bahrain (AP) _ U.N. experts found no evidence of weapons programs in Iraq’s Agriculture Ministry, and Baghdad boasted today that Saddam Hussein’s dignity had been restored during his standoff with the West.
Iraqi television showed Saddam taking a symbolic victory swim in a river near his hometown. There also was footage of a bare-chested Saddam driving a speedboat, showing that he and President Bush share an interest in the water sport.
U.N. inspectors said they had completed a systematic search of the agriculture ministry today.
Achim Biermann, the German head of the team, told reporters in Baghdad that they found no materials covered under the Persian Gulf War cease-fire, which directs Iraq to surrender its weapons of mass destruction under U.N. supervision.
But, he told CBS radio, ″There is room for the concern some major material might have been brought out.″
A previous inspection team was barred from the ministry and gave up a 17- day stake-out last week because of increasingly hostile demonstrations. U.N. officials have repeatedly expressed concerns that the Iraqis used the that time to destroy or remove weapons-related documents.
U.N. experts suspected the ministry contained documents on Iraq’s chemical, biological, nuclear and ballistic weapons. Iraq denied the charge.
A U.S. official told The Associated Press Tuesday that inspectors also had been tipped that, among other things, the Iraqis had stored biological warfare agents in refrigeration units in the Agriculture Ministry’s basement. The official spoke on condition of anonymity.
The inspectors and Rolf Ekeus, head of the U.N. commission charged with destroying Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, returned from Baghdad to the commission’s regional headquarters in Bahrain this evening.
Before leaving Iraq, Ekeus told reporters that, although the search was fruitless, inspectors entered the ministry with ″well-founded concerns.′
The team had searched the ministry for several hours Tuesday and today, while Ekeus met with Iraqi officials to underscore their obligations under the cease-fire.
The confrontation over U.N. demands to search the ministry become a symbol of Iraqi non-compliance with the U.N. truce terms. After U.S. military threats, the standoff ended with a compromise in which the United Nations bowed to Iraqi demands that no American inspectors would enter the ministry.
None of the experts allowed inside was from the countries that went to war last year to force Iraq from Kuwait.
The six U.N. inspectors who searched the building included two Germans, a Swiss, a Finn, a Swede and a Russian. Two American experts and a Russian remained outside to analyze documents and material brought out.
The White House on Tuesday acknowledged that Saddam had won concessions from the United Nations.
But Marlin Fitzwater, President Bush’s press secretary, said Americans would be included in future searches. And he quoted Bush as saying: ″We will continue to show our resolve in enforcing the U.N. resolutions and strengthening the U.N. peacekeeping mission.″
U.S. officials have not ruled out use of military force against Iraq, but they insist that option is not likely anytime soon.
In an interview Tuesday with The Associated Press, U.N. Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali acknowledged that if diplomacy fails, ″we have to move to the enforcement of peace.
″But before reaching this stage, we have to pursue all avenues to solve the problems peacefully,″ he said. ″For the time being, I will recommend more negotiations.″
The U.N. resolutions also include Iraqi oil sales to finance war reparations, demarcation of the Iraqi-Kuwait border and protection of Iraqi minorities such as Kurds in northern Iraq and Shiites in the south.
In northern Iraq Monday, a grenade attack damaged the offices of the World Food Program in the Kurdish city of Suleimaniya, a U.N. official there told The Associated Press.
The blast was part of a series of attacks seen as a campaign by Saddam to drive U.N. agencies or international relief organizations out of Kurdish-held northern Iraq.
Saddam cooled off with a dip in the Tigris River on Tuesday while thousands of demonstrators marched through the streets of the capital and other cities in orchestrated displays on his behalf.
Videotape released by Iraqi television showed Saddam swimming and frolicking with a host of bodyguards at one of his presidential palaces near his hometown of Tikrit, 100 miles north of Baghdad.
Other footage showed Saddam driving a speedboat, without a lifejacket, and being cheered by crowds at a rally Tuesday.
The official Iraqi News Agency said Saddam’s swim marked the 33rd anniversary of his Tigris crossing, with a wounded leg, as he made his way to his hometown after trying to assassinate then-President Abdul-Karim Qassim.
″Today, it is a crossing to the shore of safety, dignity and to a horizon full of light where God’s care is flying high over him,″ the news agency said.
The government-run Al-Jumhouriya newspaper said ″all the world television networks and news agencies″ had reported the demonstrations by ″millions″ chanting slogans of love for Saddam.
″They carried your chants to the capitals of the aggressors and to their bedrooms to make them sleepless,″ it said in a dispatch carried by the Iraqi News Agency today.