Allies will attack, Iraqi leader says

Associated Press

LONDON — Iraq’s deputy prime minister says "it is just a matter of time" before Britain and the United States attack his country, and accused them of trying to remove Saddam Hussein’s government under the pretext of a war on terrorism, a British newspaper reported today.

Tariq Aziz denied any Iraqi involvement in the anthrax attacks on the United States and said Iraq’s anthrax supply was destroyed during United Nations inspections in the 1990s.

In The Sunday Telegraph interview, carried out last week in Baghdad, Aziz reportedly said Iraq was aware of plans for Western countries to strike "300 targets with 1,000 missiles."

"We know they are preparing for such an attack," he was quoted as saying. "We are watching what is being said and what is being done in the United States and Britain, and we know it is just a matter of time before such an attack."

He said that would be a "very grave mistake," and although he did not expect Arab military retaliation to follow an attack on Iraq, he believed the coalition against terrorism would fall apart as a result, the newspaper reported.

The report said Aziz claimed that Iraq’s armed forces had recovered from the devastating effects of the 1991 Gulf War and were "capable and in a position to defend the country."

He said suggestions of Iraqi involvement in the release of anthrax in the United States were "baseless" and "ridiculous."

"When America decides to attack Iraq, it will be for their own agenda," he added. "It will be because they want to replace this government. … It will not be because of what is happening in the United States. Although they might use that as a pretext."

Iraq has already strongly denied any involvement in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, which the U.S. government has blamed on the al-Qaida network led by Osama bin Laden.

In the interview, Aziz rejected the confirmation Friday by an official of the Czech Republic that Iraq’s consul in Prague had met there with Mohamed Atta, one of the alleged hijackers of the airliners used in the attacks, before the consul was expelled in April for conduct incompatible with his diplomatic status.

Aziz said he had checked with the diplomat about the allegations and, "I can say categorically that they are false."

"We do not know bin Laden in person," he said. "We cannot make a judgment about him. We simply do not know enough about him."

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