Iraq criticized the United States on Sunday for opposing the appointment of a Russian as deputy chief of U.N. weapons inspectors, saying this proved the Americans wanted to dominate inspection operations.
The statement on the official Iraqi News Agency came as U.N. officials said Scott Ritter, an American once blocked from working by Iraq, has led an inspection team on visits to six sites leader Saddam Hussein considers “sensitive.”
Ritter’s visits were seen as a test of Baghdad’s pledge last month to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan to cooperate with the U.N. inspectors trying to certify that Iraq has destroyed its weapons of mass destruction.
Last week, Russia requested that Annan appoint a Russian deputy to Richard Butler, head of the U.N. Special Commission that oversees the inspections. Such a move would give Russia, a strong supporter of Iraq, a hand in managing the inspection program.
The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Bill Richardson, told CNBC on Friday that “we are not very crazy” about the idea of adding a Russian deputy.
Iraq’s response came Sunday in a statement, attributed to the political editor of state-run Radio Baghdad, carried by the Iraqi News Agency.
The editor, who was not identified, accused the United States of “insisting on keeping the imbalanced composition” of the inspection teams, “giving priority to the presence of American members,” the news agency said.
This, the editor said, was aimed at using “the Special Commission and its activities as a tool to serve their political and espionage activities.”
The commentary said the Americans aimed to keep the inspectors moving “in never-ending circles” to prolong their work - and trade sanctions imposed after Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, leading to the Persian Gulf War.
The Security Council has said it will not lift the sanctions until the inspectors certify that Iraq has destroyed its biological, chemical and nuclear weapons as well as long-range missiles.
U.N. spokesman Alan Dacey said Ritter’s team visited the six “sensitive” sites Friday and Saturday and his team “received the full cooperation of the Iraqi authorities.”
So-called sensitive sites include ministries and headquarters of intelligence or military operations.
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. The teams includes inspectors from at least 11 countries, including 12 Americans.
In January, Iraq had accused Ritter of being a spy and said that his team included too many American and British inspectors.