A plane loaded with medicine and carrying a Santa Claus with Christmas gifts landed Friday in Iraq, the second U.N.-approved humanitarian aid flight to arrive in two days.
Separately, the Iraqi leadership said the United States is likely to attack the Iraqi president’s palaces with chemical and biological weapons.
Although this is the first time Iraq has claimed the United States will attack it this way, Iraq regularly issues statements attacking the United States over arms inspections and dealings with the United Nations. Iraq also claimed recently that a U.S. air strike against it was imminent.
At the White House, a spokesman for President Clinton said Friday the Iraqi claim was so “absurd and ridiculous” that it was unworthy of official comment.
The aid plane was chartered by the Icelandic charity Peace 2000 Institute in collaboration with an Italian group called Bridge to Baghdad.
The Santa, an unusual sight in this mostly Muslim country, stepped out of the plane with a sack of gifts on his back and told reporters: “Stop killing my children.”
Referring to the U.N. trade embargo against Iraq that has resulted in extensive malnutrition, the Santa said: “Violence leads to more violence. Stop using children in politics.”
The head of the Icelandic charity, Thor Magnusson, told reporters he also was calling on world leaders “to stop harming the children, because children are not a political weapon.”
The Iraqi government says the sweeping U.N. sanctions imposed after its 1990 invasion of Kuwait have caused the death of hundreds of thousands of children. A recent U.N. report said they had inflicted widespread malnutrition.
The plane landed at al-Habbaniya air base, 40 miles west of Baghdad. It originally was scheduled to arrive Thursday, but was delayed en route because of technical failures.
The Peace 2000 Institute has undertaken other humanitarian operations on behalf of children injured by the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in Belarus and children in the Bosnian capital, Sarajevo.
A Russian plane carrying 5 tons of medical supplies arrived in Baghdad on Thursday. On board were 21 members of the ultranationalist Liberal Democratic Party, whose leader, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, opposes the sanctions.
Meanwhile, Iraq’s Revolutionary Command Council and the ruling Baath Party issued a statement Friday accusing the United States of “spreading rumors” that Iraq was hiding chemical and biological weapons in President Saddam Hussein’s palaces.
The United States was likely to attack the palaces with “chemical and biological weapons of mass destruction in order to say afterwards that its claims are true,” the official Iraqi News Agency quoted the statement.