Iraqi President Saddam Hussein on Monday accused U.N. weapons inspectors of spying and declared that his country is ready to fight to defend itself.
"Instead of looking for the so-called weapons of mass destruction
The inspectors are "addressing employees with questions that carry hidden agendas, giving special attention to military camps, to permitted military production and to other matters, all or most of which constitute purely intelligence work," Hussein charged in his first public criticism of the U.N. teams.
Much of the speech was devoted to rhetoric calling upon the army and citizens to be ready to make sacrifices in a war.
Iraq's enemies are "the friends and wicked assistants of Satan, the inhabitants of night and the dark," Hussein said. In battle, "their arrows will go astray while your arrows will hit them."
"If anyone attempts to intimidate you, people of Iraq, repel him and tell him that he is a midget while we belong to a nation of glorious faith, a great nation and an ancient people."
Reading a prepared text in a low near-monotone, Hussein accused the United States of applying pressure on the U.N. teams "to make them go beyond the objectives of the Security Council." Despite his rhetoric, he looked tired and unemotional.
The Iraqi leader gave no indication that he planned any action against the inspectors.
"Saddam will have to put up with us, as he so far has been doing quite nicely," said a U.N. inspector who spoke on condition of anonymity. "I hope and I think he didn't mean to insult us, or rather I think he didn't think of us at all. He needed to show to his people that he is still in charge and although he agreed to our intrusion, he is not doing it willingly and he is still the master in his own land."
So far, Iraq has appeared to cooperate with the U.N. teams, although some Iraqi officials have accused them of using aggressive and overly intrusive methods.
"I think these strong charges against inspectors are so far just loud words," said a European diplomat in Baghdad, who also spoke on condition of anonymity. "I think this strong rhetoric was for internal consumption rather than to apply real pressure on the inspectors, given the fact that they don't seem to have really uncovered anything up to now."
The diplomat said Hussein has looked tired and distracted in most of his recent appearances.
While the occasion marked the 1921 founding of the Iraqi army, Hussein wore a suit and tie rather than a military uniform, which seemed meant as a message that Iraq is not rattling its sabers.
In Vienna, Melissa Fleming, a spokeswoman for the International Atomic Energy Agency, denied the charges of spying and said that if inspectors are gathering intelligence, "it's intelligence for the United Nations."
"We certainly flatly reject any accusation that we work for any government or provide direct information to any single government," Fleming said. IAEA experts are on the inspection teams.
An earlier U.N. monitoring effort collapsed in 1998 amid Iraqi allegations of U.S. spying from within the inspection teams and disputes over inspectors' access to sensitive sites.
Chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix and IAEA Director Mohamed ElBaradei are to present an interim report to the U.N. Security Council on Thursday, with a comprehensive report due Jan. 27. Any conclusion that Iraq is hiding weapons of mass destruction could trigger a U.S.-led war to disarm the country and oust Hussein.
ElBaradei told the Reuters news agency in Vienna on Monday that the inspectors had found nothing suspicious in Iraq thus far but that it was too early to draw conclusions.
"We haven't yet seen any smoking gun ... if you like, that Iraq has lied in its declaration on the nuclear issue," he said. "But we're still very much in the process of an inspection, and it's too early for us to come to any conclusion."
Hussein dismissed U.S. threats to disarm Iraq as "hysterical hubbub and clamor" intended to hide U.S. domestic and foreign policy failures and divert attention from the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories. He accused the U.S. administration of harboring plans to secure control of Arab resources.
Weapons inspectors are in Iraq under a U.N. Security Council resolution passed in November. They are trying to establish whether the country has chemical, biological or nuclear weapons or the means to deliver them. Iraq has denied having such weapons, but the United States and Britain charge it with hiding banned arms.
Hussein declared that Iraq would prevail if attacked because truth and justice are on its side.
"We are in our country, and whoever is in his own homeland ... and is forced to face an enemy that stands on the side of falsehood and comes as an aggressor from beyond seas and oceans will no doubt emerge triumphant," he said.