Iraq Rages At US For Seizing
Its WMD Report
From UN Officials

(AFP) -- Baghdad accused Washington of "banditry unparalleled" in UN history after the United States seized a crucial Iraqi arms declaration within hours of its delivery to the world body's headquarters in New York.
Iraq's charge came as the daunting task of analyzing its nearly 12,000-page document began in earnest, backed by swelling numbers of UN experts in the country.
Washington had earlier defended its removal of the massive declaration, saying it was essential to restrict circulation of sensitive details of how Baghdad made weapons of mass destruction to the five permanent members of the Security Council who are declared nuclear powers.
But other council members questioned how they could judge US charges Iraq was lying about its banned weapons programmes if they were denied access to the full text of its "currently accurate, full and complete declaration".
In the Arab world, where Washington is widely suspected of plotting to derail the UN disarmament process as a pretext for military action, the US action Sunday, which only emerged late Monday, was also branded an "act of piracy".
British and French diplomats said they got copies of Iraq's declaration in Washington at 6:30 pm (2330 GMT) Monday, about 18 hours after a US official took the document -- containing almost 12,000 printed pages and several computer disks -- from the office of UN chief arms inspector Hans Blix.
US State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said copies had to be made "in a controlled environment in order to guard against the inadvertent release of information" -- an assertion backed by the French.
"They were done as quickly as possible and in the requisite conditions of security," a French diplomat said.
It was not immediately clear if the two other nuclear-armed permanent members -- China and Russia -- had also received copies, although council president Alfonso Valdivieso of Colombia said those with special expertise in weapons proliferation would receive the declaration first.
The 10 non-permanent members would be given sanitized versions later.
Valdivieso said he made his decision after consulting other council members, but he did not say whether they had agreed.
Several sources who asked not to be identified said a US official, accompanied by Valdivieso, took the declaration away just three hours after it was delivered to the Security Council on Sunday in accordance with the deadline set last month.
The documents were not signed for and Valdivieso did not even lay a hand on them, the sources said.
"There were no face-to-face consultations, and many members are upset," a council diplomat said.
The only one prepared to protest publicly, Syrian Ambassdor Mikhail Wehbe, said the act was "in contradiction with every kind of logic in the Security Council and against the unity of the council."
UN Secretary General Kofi Annan defended the US action, while acknowledging he had learnt of it only after the event.
"The council is master of its own deliberations. If the council decided to do that, it is their right and I will not quibble with that," said Annan.
In Cairo, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher urged that "before Washington gives its judgement on the arms issue, that the declaration be subjected to an attentive reading," the government newspaper Al Ahram reported.
Just how much was at stake in the assessment of Iraq's arms dossier was made clear by British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who insisted that any breach would be an immediate trigger for military action by London and Washington.
"If (Iraqi President Saddam Hussein) fails to cooperate, either in any false declaration or in refusing access to the sites or interviewing witnesses, then that is a breach" of Resolution 1441," Blair told the Financial Times.
"And in those circumstances, my understanding is that the UN is very clear: there should be action."
In the Arab world, the Al-Raya daily asked whether that was not precisely the motive for Washington's decision to take charge of Iraq's declaration to the United Nations.
"The method by which Washington obtained the dossier can only be termed an act of piracy," the Qatar-based daily charged.
"This method is all the more suspicious because the US administration does not hide its belligerent intentions towards Iraq," it said.
Meanwhile, Russia warned Washington against the situation as a pretext for attempting to overthrow the regime in Baghdad.
"Work on eliminating Iraqi weapons of mass destruction cannot be replaced by efforts to change the incumbent Iraqi regime," foreign ministry spokesman Alexander Yakovenko was quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying.
Iran's powerful former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani accused the United States of seeking to install another dictator in neighbouring Iraq, Tehran press reports said.
US and British troops held a second day of war games in Qatar Tuesday as the Western allies pressed on with their contingency plans for war.
About 1,000 US and British staff officers were involved in the "Internal Look" exercise, which is seen as a key test of command capabilities for any fully-fledged invasion of Iraq and bears the same name as a similar exercise conducted in the run-up to the 1991 Gulf war.
The White House meanwhile announced 92 million dollars in military assistance to six groups opposed to the Baghdad regime ahead of a major opposition meeting in London later this week.
In Baghdad, five teams of UN inspectors went out on site visits, compared with the two which had operated in the first two weeks of inspections, ranging far and wide from Baghdad for the first time since the hunt for banned arms resumed two weeks ago.
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