Iraqis Ready for 'Holy War and Martyrdom'
Published on Thursday, December 26, 2002 by the lndependent/UK
Iraqis Ready for 'Holy War and Martyrdom'
by Anne Penketh

Saddam Hussein has used his traditional Christmas message to warn the United States that the Iraqi people are ready for holy war and "martyrdom".

"As much as Iraq loves life, its people are ready for martyrdom in the defence of its land and air space," he said in a statement read by a television announcer on Christmas Eve. "The road to deter the injustice, aggression and wickedness of the evil-minded is the road of jihad [holy war] and struggle."

He repeated Iraq's position – which infuriates Washington and fuels the US calls for war – that it no longer holds any weapons of mass destruction, saying he was confident that the UN inspections, if conducted properly, "will expose all the American lies".

The Iraqi leader makes an annual Christmas broadcast to the 1.5 million-strong Christian minority in Iraq, but in recent years it has been dominated by the crisis between Baghdad and the US.

The pace of the UN weapons inspections has not let up over Christmas. They visited at least five sites in southern and central Iraq yesterday in their hunt for concealed chemical, biological, ballistic or nuclear weapons and related documents.

They checked at least seven suspect sites on Tuesday, going farther south from Baghdad than at any time since the resumption of inspections on 27 November after a four-year break. The inspectors have also begun questioning scientists as part of their attempts to build a complete picture of the weaponry and technical know-how at Iraq's disposal.

The first nuclear scientist to be questioned by the International Atomic Energy Agency experts declined to be interviewed alone, and requested that an Iraqi official be present.

"The discussions were friendly and questions were mainly about what has been done or any progress which has been achieved in Iraq from 1998 'till now," said Sabah Abdul Nour, one of the scientists. "I explained to them all I know and [that] we have, in fact, nothing to hide," he said.

© 2002 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd