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Iraq Special Report
  Iraqi Sees Agreement Helping Country Break Out of Its Isolation

By Nora Boustany
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, February 26, 1998; Page A23

BAGHDAD, Iraq, Feb. 25—A high-ranking Iraqi official said today that this week's accord with the United Nations regarding weapons inspections shows that this country has turned a corner in breaking its isolation on the world stage.

"The world has changed. . . . We are part of the world," Deputy Foreign Minister Riad Qaissi told reporters.

The agreement reached Monday between U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan and Iraqi President Saddam Hussein helped avert an expected U.S. military strike against suspected production or storage sites for weapons of mass destruction.

Iraq promised the U.N. Special Commission in charge of supervising the country's dismantling of such weapons unfettered access to designated sites, but the accord requires that inspectors be accompanied by foreign diplomats when visiting areas designated by Iraq as presidential sites.

Government officials and ordinary Iraqis said that having the U.N. secretary general come to address the Iraqi leadership's frequently voiced concerns of "dignity, sovereignty and national security" for the first time was a great gesture toward a country that is prickly about pride and respect.

In the dilapidated streets of Baghdad and in private living rooms, Annan has become a national hero; some here refer to the diplomat from Ghana as Iraq's Nelson Mandela. "He is the good and lovely African," said Naeera Abbas, 81, as she echoed sentiments being expressed frequently around the city.

Relief at having Iraq's fate in U.N. hands rather than in those of individual nations -- not only the United States, but countries that expressed sympathy for Iraq -- was also widely heard. "The French and the Russians have been dealing and flexing their muscles at our expense. Every Iraqi knows this: All they care about is their part of the oil market when all this is over," Abbas added.

The praise heaped on Annan stands in sharp contrast with Iraqis' words for the U.N. weapons inspectors, however. When officials talk about the secretary general, the word "trust" is repeated three or four times. But some officials with the inspection team, Qaissi complained, "don't tell the truth. They don't make conclusive judgments. . . . They engage in power games and leave many loose ends." He said his criticism was aimed at the institution, not personalities.

Qaissi accused Richard Butler, the Australian who heads the inspection commission, of talking to the media before reporting to the U.N. Security Council. "The least I could say about such behavior is that it is unprofessional," he said.

With the completion of the U.N. accord, Qaissi said, the world is "zooming in" on Iraq's concerns about what the inspectors were doing. "These are the sources of the ills that we have faced with [the U.N. inspectors], not because we don't want to implement obligations, not because we are concealing anything," he said.

The officials' concerns about the inspectors have been mitigated, however, by a provision in Monday's accord that requires the U.N. teams to be accompanied by foreign diplomats during inspections of presidential sites. "Diplomats will be full participants," Qaissi said.

Monday night, Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz beamed as he told a group of editors in a televised discussion that not only does the agreement "preserve Iraq's status, but it uncovers the truth. Inviting diplomats, and, before that, journalists, [to inspect the sites] is an Iraqi idea, which is now required, and it served Iraq's interest."

But today Qaissi was conciliatory in assessing the resolution of tensions between Baghdad and Washington. He chided a journalist who asked him whether Iraq believed it had won. "The victory is not for Iraq, the victory is for peace," he said. "It is no longer tenable to talk of victor and vanquished."

When asked what he had to say to skeptics who believe that the same crisis will erupt with Iraq in another six months, Qaissi replied: "Just you wait, Mr. Higgins, just you wait."

Reuters news agency reported:

Aziz suggested today that U.N. weapons inspectors could finish palace searches within 25 days. In an interview with the BBC's Arabic-language service, Aziz said he told Annan the diplomats and inspectors should be able to search one-third of a square mile a day.

U.N. officials have not commented on a time frame. The inspectors must certify that Iraq has destroyed its weapons of mass destruction before U.N. sanctions imposed after Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in 1990 can be lifted.

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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