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Analysis: Ongoing Debate Over Whether Iraq Will Allow Weapons Inspectors Unfettered Access And If The Country Is Preparing For An Attack By The U.S.

All Things Considered: October 12, 2002

Iraq

MARGOT ADLER, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Margot Adler.

The Gordian knot of weapons inspections in Iraq got seemingly more tangled today. The Iraqi vice president told Germany's Der Spiegel magazine that weapons inspectors can search for arms in his country however and wherever they like. But an adviser to Saddam Hussein, in a letter to chief weapons inspector Hans Blix, acknowledged the UN's desire for unfettered access to Iraq's presidential palaces, but refused to confirm any agreement over the matter.

In Baghdad, the Iraqi National Parliament met in emergency session, following this week's congressional resolution authorizing the use of force against Iraq.

Joining us now from Baghdad to sort through these various strands is the BBC's Joe Floto.

Welcome.

JOE FLOTO reporting:

Good evening.

ADLER: First, the Iraqi Parliament. What came out of that meeting today?

FLOTO: Well, at the moment, very little has come out of the Iraqi Parliament. We went down to see the emergency session, and we were allowed to attend only a few minutes of proceedings before the doors were shut and the media were escorted out. But I think the political situation here in Baghdad really depends on Saddam Hussein, and any messages that we get out of Baghdad are directed by him. So the messages from the Iraqi Parliament are really a secondary voice piece for Saddam Hussein himself, and we will hear over the next few days messages from his ministers. The problem we've got at the moment is that we seem to be hearing slightly contradictory messages from different parts of the administration. Of course, all of these are directed by Saddam Hussein, so it is up to the rest of the world, really, for him to interpret what is the actual line coming out of the Iraqi government.

ADLER: In Iraqi newspapers, Deputy Premier Tariq Aziz said today--he had sort of an extraordinary quote--he said, "When someone comes to your house and says, `I'm going to attack you and kill your parents and children,' what do you say? You say, `I'm willing to defend my land, my money and my house.'" What's your read of that statement, and do you see visible preparations for war all around you?

FLOTO: Well, it's very difficult to avoid the preparations for some kind of attack, although it has to be said that over the last few years, that those have been very evident in Baghdad. Today, we were taken to a supposed weapons site. The Iraqi government escorted a number of journalists there to what the American government say is a site preparing nuclear weapons. It didn't appear that way to us, but, of course, we're just journalists. On the way there, however, we did see a number of anti-aircraft batteries. And indeed, the whole of Baghdad is peppered with anti-aircraft installations. So certainly, people are bracing themselves for some kind of attack from the air. And indeed there's a lot of bravado, there's a lot of talk from the government preparing their populace for the attack that many, many people here now think is entirely inevitable.

ADLER: Iraqi clerics issued a fatwa today, calling on Muslims everywhere to launch a holy war on the US, if it attacks Iraq. Does that reflect the mood on the street, or are ordinary Iraqis just going about their lives?

FLOTO: It's very difficult to see what ordinary Iraqi public opinion is. Journalists are escorted everywhere they go. It's very difficult to gage what people think. I think many people are ambivalent. They admire Saddam Hussein as a symbol of Arab resistance in the world, as a champion of Palestinian causes. At the same time, they are very wary of the position that they are being put in at the moment. They're very tired of these sanctions that are being placed upon Iraq. And so it's very difficult to say. The fatwa that was issued today from the clerics, one has to bear in mind that all religious heads in this country are government-appointed, and a fatwa was issued three times in the last decade to coincide with the last major crises that have taken place involving Iraq and the US and the Western world.

ADLER: The BBC's Joe Floto reporting from Baghdad. Thank you so much.

FLOTO: My pleasure.

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