Inspectors Drop in on Saddam Palace; Weapons Search Ends after Just 90 Minutes
UNITED Nations arms inspectors swept into one of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's sprawling palace complexes yesterday to search for evidence of weapons of mass destruction ... and then left after only 90 minutes. There was no explanation for the brevity of the visit to the Al-Sajoud palace on the banks of the Tigris in Baghdad.
``Hardly enough time to clean the chimneys never mind hunt for weapons,'' said one observer.
The visit itself carried a message: that this time the inspectors have a free run of Iraq, under a Security Council mandate requiring the Baghdad government to give up any chemical, biological or nuclear weapons.
The security staff at Al-Sajoud clearly was aware of the inspectors powers, taking just seven minutes of radio consultation before opening the towering, ornate gates.
As usual, Saddam's whereabouts were not revealed. He is known to move frequently between dozens of presidential palaces across Iraq, rarely staying for more than a day, such is his fear of assassination.
The inspectors' move came as a key Iraqi official said the Baghdad government would hand the UN a long-awaited declaration about its weapons programmes ahead of deadline.
The document ``will include new elements,'' said chief Iraqi liaison officer General Hossam Mohammed Amin, ``but those new elements do not mean Iraq has weapons of mass destruction. Iraq is free of weapons of mass destruction.''
After the inspectors left the opulent palace, reporters were briefly shown into the spectacular marble entry hall. Officials said the president used the complex mostly for receiving guests and throwing banquets for the poor.
Each of the walls in the eight-sided hall was inscribed in huge gold letters with a poem praising Saddam. His whereabouts - as usual - were unknown.
The Iraqi leader has dozens of palaces, often covering vast tracts of land and underground tunnels where inspectors believe materials for chemical, biological and nuclear weapons systems may have been hidden.
It was the status of these residences that was a sticking point in the last round of inspections, which ended four years ago. …