March 30, 1998 in Nation/World

Newest Iraqi Palace Almost Ready For Visitors Inspectors Continue Search For Weapons

Vijay Joshi Associated Press
 

U.N. weapons inspectors saw a lot of construction work at President Saddam Hussein’s palace compound in his hometown in northern Iraq, a diplomat said Sunday.

Some of the new buildings at the palace in Tikrit are completed and “probably ready to receive visitors,” said Antonio Monteiro, a Portuguese diplomat.

The inspectors, who are searching for information relating to Iraq’s chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, as well as long-range missiles, spent all day Saturday at the compound 110 miles northwest of Baghdad and did an aerial survey by helicopter.

Monteiro did not say whether he considered the construction work at the Tikrit compound to be of any significance to the U.N. arms inspectors.

The United States has repeatedly accused Saddam of using the country’s resources to build palaces rather than assist Iraqis, who are hard-hit by economic sanctions imposed after the 1990 invasion of Kuwait, which touched off the Persian Gulf War.

Monteiro, who is Portugal’s ambassador to the United Nations and chairman of the U.N. sanctions committee on Iraq, said he participated in the helicopter survey.

“Everything went smoothly,” Monteiro told reporters. “Again, small problems needed clarifications, but without any interference in the work.”

Monteiro said that from the helicopter over the Tikrit palace compound, he could see “there are a lot of things under construction.” He added: “Not everything is finished.”

The inspectors also entered the main palace building. He did not give any other details.

Meanwhile, the official Iraqi News Agency reported that Saddam visited Tikrit on Saturday and was greeted by a rapturous welcome by throngs of citizens.

Saddam climbed the roof of a government building to greet the crowd, who chanted “long live beloved leader.” INA gave no other details.

On Sunday, the weapons inspectors were in Mosul, the site of another presidential complex, 240 miles north of Baghdad. Monteiro would not say whether that complex would be inspected Sunday.

Monteiro is among 20 diplomats chosen by the United Nations to accompany U.N. inspectors to eight presidential compounds.

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