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Iraq agreed to inspections to avert attack, Hussein says

WASHINGTON—Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein on Saturday repeated his claim that his nation is "devoid" of powerful weapons and said he agreed to renewed United Nations weapons inspections to avert a U.S. attack.

In a letter read to legislators in Baghdad, Saddam said he expected U.N. weapons inspectors to "see the truth as it really is: Iraq is devoid of weapons of mass destruction."

As the chief U.N. weapons inspector flew toward Baghdad, where he will lead a team of 100 or so inspectors to scour Iraq for weapons of mass destruction, President Bush dismissed Iraqi pledges that the U.N. inspectors would have unrestricted access to the country.

"We've heard such pledges before and they have been uniformly betrayed," Bush said in his weekly radio address.

"Our goal is not merely the return of inspectors to Iraq," Bush added. "Our goal is the disarmament of Iraq. The dictator of Iraq will give up his weapons of mass destruction or the United States will lead a coalition to disarm him."

Chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix, stopping in Paris on his way to Cyprus and Baghdad, said he would seek to avoid the charges of bias and espionage that interfered with the U.N. inspection regime in Iraq between 1992 and 1998. But Blix said he could not rule out the possibility that spies might penetrate the team, which will include people from some 45 nations.

Blix, a Swede, said the previous U.N. inspection program in Iraq "lost its legitimacy by being too closely associated with intelligence and with Western states."

As the U.N. inspection team begins its work Nov. 27, Blix said he would be monitoring closely to assure that the group remains impartial.

"All I can say is that if I see someone having two hats, then I would ask them to walk out from us and to be somewhere else," Blix said.

In Baghdad, Saddam's letter was read to a rubber-stamp parliament that just days before had suggested to him that he reject the U.N. resolution giving Iraq one last chance to disarm before facing a likely U.S.-led attack.

Saddam said in his letter that he accepted the resolution "because your enemy, the alliance between Zionism and the American administration and their satanic lackeys . . . after showing its claws and teeth, decided to wage war unilaterally against our people."

By acceding to the U.N. resolution, Saddam said he hoped it would lead to "ending all kinds of interference in Iraq's affairs, respecting its sovereignty, independence and security."

Echoing Saddam's letter, Deputy Prime Minister Tareq Aziz said the U.N. inspectors would find no evidence that Iraq harbors hidden nuclear, biological or chemical weapons.

"America accuses Iraq of possessing weapons of mass destruction and these are lies," Aziz said.

New signs emerged of the hair-trigger military tensions surrounding Iraq. On Friday, U.S. and British warplanes enforcing a no-fly zone in southern Iraq launched an air strike when they faced Iraqi surface-to-air missiles and anti-aircraft fire.

The Iraqi military said Saturday that seven civilians were killed and four were wounded by the strike some 90 miles south of Baghdad.

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(c) 2002, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

Iraq

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