March 8, 1998 in Nation/World

Stay-At-Home Saddam Takes A Rare Journey Iraqi Despot Visits The North As Arms Inspections Continue

Eileen Alt Powell Associated Press
 

In a rare trip outside the capital, Iraqi President Saddam Hussein on Saturday toured the district of Mosul in northern Iraq, the official Iraqi News Agency said.

State-run television showed crowds shouting, “With our blood and souls we will defend you, Saddam.”

Iraqis slaughtered sheep, a traditional act of celebration, before the president in villages around Mosul, 250 miles north of Baghdad.

Saddam is believed to have spent most of the past few months in Baghdad during a standoff over U.N. weapons inspections that had the United States threatening military strikes. The president’s movements are generally known to only a few.

Also Saturday, a U.N. team led by American Scott Ritter finished its second day of inspections aimed at uncovering Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction.

The Iraqi News Agency said the team carried out three surprise inspections that “went ahead in a normal manner according to procedures agreed upon by the two sides.”

This suggested that they were inspections of “sensitive sites,” such as ministries and military or intelligence headquarters, which require special procedures.

On Friday, Ritter’s team inspected three suspected weapons sites classified as “sensitive” by Iraqi authorities, U.N. Special Commission spokesman Alan Dacey said.

One was a barracks of the elite Republican Guard, a source told The Associated Press.

Ritter is here with 50 inspectors - one of the largest teams ever sent to Iraq - and is expected to spend a week in the country.

Officials at the Iraqi Press Center have banned reporters, photographers and television crews from covering Ritter’s activities. They did not say why the ban was imposed.

In January, Iraq accused Ritter of being an American spy and said he had too many American and British inspectors on his teams. The government prevented Ritter from working by denying his team the necessary escorts, and he left the country without completing his work.

Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf left Saturday for New York, where he is to hold discussions Monday with U.N. officials on how money from the oil-for-food program is to be spent.

The program - an exception to the sweeping sanctions imposed after Iraq’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait - allows Iraq to sell oil to raise money to buy food and other necessities.

The United Nations has decided to more than double the value of oil sold under the program to $5.2 billion over six months.

In addition to food, Iraq can use the funds for medical supplies, educational materials, water treatment facilities and infrastructure projects.

Information Minister Humam Abdel-Khaliq said Saturday the sanctions should be lifted altogether.

“Iraq has met most of its obligations” under U.N. resolutions, Abdel-Khaliq said. “And there’s no reason to maintain sanctions on Iraq. So who is to blame are the United States and the United Kingdom.”

The two countries have said that sanctions should not be lifted until Iraq has proved to the U.N. inspectors that it has destroyed its weapons of mass destruction and long range missiles.

Iraq insists that it has done so, but the inspectors say Iraq still is hiding information and material related to chemical and biological weapons.


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