Journalists given tour of huge Iraqi palaces
Richardson accuses Iraqis of 'PR games'
December 19, 1997
Web posted at: 2:52 p.m. EST (1952 GMT)
Aziz leads a tour
BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Affable Iraqi officials, led by Deputy
Prime Minister Tariq Aziz, gave Western journalists guided
tours Friday of six presidential palaces -- with landscaped
lawns larger than 10 soccer fields -- that have been
off-limits to U.N. weapons inspectors.
Aziz, described as cordial, said the Iraqis wanted the
journalists to see the places "where many mysteries have been
fabricated about them, so that you can see yourself that
these are normal presidential sites."
But after receiving news about the guided tours, Bill
Richardson, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations,
accused Iraq of "resorting to PR (public relations) games."
"It's pure propaganda. They're playging games. Those are programmed tours," Richardson said. "If they have nothing to fear, why don't they let the U.N. inspectors into those presidential sites?"
The arms monitors, under the auspices of the United Nations,
have demanded access, saying they suspect that Iraq may be
hiding information on its banned weapons programs in the
palaces. The United States has strongly backed the U.N.
U.N. Security Council diplomats have said they will not
consider lifting the crushing economic embargo they imposed
after Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait until Iraq fully
cooperates with the arms inspectors.
Aziz jokes with reporters
At a guest house, Aziz told a young American reporter, "You
can honeymoon here if you like."
The Iraqis handed out fried chicken lunches to the
journalists. President Saddam Hussein's private secretary, a
general, told CNN's Peter Arnett, "Don't hesitate to eat. It
won't kill you. I can assure you there is nothing that will
contaminate you here."
Among the six palaces were five in the presidential complex
on the western bank of the Tigris River in Baghdad, which are
off-limits to civilians.
In that complex, four huge bronze busts of President Saddam
Hussein sit atop the stone palaces where massive lawns are
planted with trees and flowers. One building has a huge
domed hall tiled with Italian marble. Another has bronze
statues of soldiers and paintings of Saddam leading his army
There were two palaces under construction in the sprawling
compound, which was so large that journalists had to take
buses from one site to the next.
The presidential complex in Radhwaniya, outside Baghdad, was
also opened to reporters. It features huge artificial lakes
filled with wild ducks and birds. In one of the palaces
there, builders had made the image of a falcon in Italian
A palace interior
Aziz said the main palace in Baghdad, which was built in the
1950s, was bombed during the 1991 Gulf War. A wall painting
shows Saddam giving a helping hand to the builders who not
only reconstructed it but added two massive new wings.
The palaces in Baghdad had no furniture, and the offices were
not staffed. A few armed sentries stood guard at the main
At the height of the crisis last month over arms inspections,
Saddam opened the doors of his palaces to civilians, who
acted as human shields to protect the palaces from possible
Richardson: 'They aren't fooling anybody'
"It's now the media," Richardson said. "They have also
invited diplomats from the Security Council."
"Why not (include) qualified U.N. inspectors, scientists,
professionals from a number of nations? These PR efforts
aren't going to work and they aren't fooling anybody."
Richardson said the Iraqi decision not to allow weapons
inspectors inside the palaces "shows Iraq is not ready to
comply" with U.N. sanctions requiring that its weapons of
mass destruction be destroyed.
There is "credible evidence of weapons of mass destruction at
those sites," he said.
Butler reports limited progress on access
Richard Butler, the head of the U.N. inspection program,
reported Thursday to the Security Council on his meeting with
Iraqi officials about access to suspected weapons sites.
Afterward, he told reporters there had been progress in some
areas, but that Iraq still refused to offer access to
presidential sites. The Iraqis have said that inspectors can
have greater access to Iraqi Republican Guard sites.
However, Aziz said inspectors would never be given access to
the presidential sites. Iraq has stated that its stance on
those sites is a "matter of principle." According to Iraqi
Ambassador to the U.N. Nizar Hamdoon, "It's not logical those
sites would contain prohibited items."
President Clinton has said there are more than 70
presidential sites. Iraq says the number is exaggerated, but
officials there have not provided their own figures.
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