A team of 18 UN inspectors arrives in Iraq today to begin the crucial first round of new checks on Iraqi weapons sites.
But in a letter sent to the UN, Baghdad has complained that the resolution the inspectors are working under contravenes international law and was designed to give the United States an excuse to attack.
In the 19-page letter to Kofi Annan, the UN secretary general, the Iraqi Foreign Minister, Naji Sabri, declared that the resolution was tantamount to entrapment.
Paragraph four of resolution 1441, sponsored by the US, states that "false statements or omissions" in Iraq's stipulated declaration of its alleged chemical, biological and nuclear programme, due by 8 December, could be classified as a "material breach" of the conditions. The letter said: "There is premeditation to target Iraq, whatever the pretext ... Because it considers the giving of inaccurate statements – taking into consideration that there are thousands of pages to be presented in those statements – is a material breach, this provides pretexts to be used in aggressive acts against Iraq."
None the less, Iraq has accepted the resolution and the first inspection by Unmovic (the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission) and the IAEA (the International Atomic Energy Agency) will be on Wednesday.
Last Monday, the UN's chief weapons inspector, Hans Blix, returned to Iraq after an absence of almost four years, with 30 UN personnel. Searches of the most sensitive sites, such as Saddam Hussein's palaces and ministries, are unlikely to be made in the early stages because the UN has not yet established secure communications and its fleet of helicopters will take "several weeks" to be made airborne.
Unmovic has set up a hotline with an Iraqi government liaison committee, which is expected to be used by the UN inspectors to give the Iraqis last-minute notice before they embark on searches.
In the meantime, leaders of an Iraqi opposition group who have arrived in Baghdad said yesterday that they had been promised a new constitution by the regime, which would allow a multi-party system and freedom of expression. Abdel Jabbar al-Qobeissi, who had been in exile in Paris, said the assurances were given by the Vice-President, Izzat Ibrahim. The opposition would help draft the new constitution, he said.
Mr Qobeissi, head of the National Iraqi Coalition, has criticised the Iraqi National Congress, another opposition group, for its alleged links with US and British intelligence. He fled Iraq in 1976 and two of his brothers were executed by the regime. "Even my 70-year-old mother was imprisoned," he said.But he added that his party supported Iraq's right to defend the country against the American threat. "We reject the one-party system and we want to promote dialogue and reconciliation in Iraq," he said.
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