Iraq said it will use suicide bombers if necessary to stave off a U.S.-led attack on it, and the country’s deputy premier insisted it was free of weapons of mass destruction.

“We are looking forward to seeing them (the United States) use ground troops against us after the bombing from the air. They will meet with tough resistance everywhere,” said Iraqi Vice-President Taha Yasin Ramadan in an interview with the German magazine Der Spiegel. “We do not have any long-distance missiles or bomber squadrons, but we will use thousands of suicide attackers, the istishhadiyun, the martyrs.”

Der Spiegel, which posted the interview on its Web site Sunday, did not say when the meeting with Ramadan took place.

Ramadan said the Arabs would be his country’s new weapons.

“They will be used not only in Iraq,” he said. “The Arab peoples will help the people in Iraq in the fight for their independence. This will be a wildfire in the entire region.”

Meanwhile, Iraqi deputy premier Tariq Aziz reiterated his country was free of prohibited weapons of mass destruction. He called U.S. charges against Iraq psychological warfare and an attempt to create a pretext for war.

Another Iraqi official, Information Minister Muhammad Sa’id al Sahhaf, said U.N. weapons inspectors at present in the country enjoyed freedom of movement but were still unable to find weapons of mass destruction. He said U.S. accusations that Baghdad possessed such weapons “camouflaged” Washington’s true intent, which he said was to control the area’s oil.

His comments came in a meeting with Hans Von Sponeck, former U.N. humanitarian coordinator for Iraq.

Since resuming searches on Nov. 27 after a four-year absence, more than 100 inspectors from the United Nations and the International Atomic Energy Agency have visited over 500 sites across Iraq that are suspected of involvement in Iraq’s programs to develop weapons of mass destruction.

Iraq’s Gen. Amer Saadi, a presidential adviser, invited U.N. chief inspector Hans Blix and IAEA head Mohammad ElBaradei to visit Baghdad before Feb. 10 to discuss Iraq’s agreement to allow a U.S.-made U-2 spy planes over Iraq, the questioning of Iraqi scientists in private, and other contentious points. Blix and ElBaradei have agreed to meet with Iraqi officials, most likely on Feb. 8. They are expected to present their second report on Iraq to the U.N. Security Council the following week.

The two submitted a report to the Security Council on Jan. 27 in which they said Iraq was not cooperating as it should with the inspection teams.

U.S. President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, meanwhile, are reported to have agreed to give inspectors as much as six more weeks to do their job. Bush believes Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein has reportedly deceived the international community and so must be disarmed. Before his meeting with Blair last Friday, Bush had said he would use force unilaterally, if necessary to rid Saddam of his suspected weapons of mass destruction.

Copyright 2003 by United Press International. All rights reserved.

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