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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Iraqis Ban Another U.S.-Led Arms Team

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Iraq will block any arms inspections by a UN team led by the U.S. national Scott Ritter, the government said Monday, setting the stage for a new confrontation with the United Nations.

A government spokesman said the presence of too many Americans on the teams was prolonging the inspections program and delaying the lifting of UN sanctions on Iraq, the official Iraqi News Agency reported.

The agency's statement came after Ritter and a team of UN inspectors reportedly visited a hospital and a prison in Baghdad.

The statement said the ban on Ritter would begin Jan. 13, Tuesday.

The UN Security Council is due to meet Tuesday, and the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Bill Richardson, made clear the Iraqi move would be discussed.

"Iraq is up to its old tricks," Richardson said in Palm Beach, Florida. "We feel the Security Council should make a strong response."

In Washington, a National Security Council official said the ban on Ritter's team was in "clear violation" of UN demands for full access to suspected weapons sites.

"It is not for Saddam Hussein to determine the composition of these inspection teams," said the official, referring to the Iraqi president.

Iraq has repeatedly criticized Ritter, accusing him of spying for the CIA.

Ritter, a former Marine major who has been an inspector for six years, has dismissed the charge as "absolutely untrue."

Ritter was heavily involved in the inspections of sensitive sites that led to last October's standoff between Iraq and the weapons inspectors.

Last month, Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz took journalists to a Baghdad building that Ritter had tried to inspect.

"This is the notorious building," Aziz said with a smile, "which Mr. Ritter wanted to inspect in his last leg of inspections in September. And our refusal for that led to a fury at the Security Council."

On Monday, the Iraqi government spokesman said Ritter's team included too many Americans and Britons. It would not be allowed to continue until it was reformed in a balanced manner.

The team included nine Americans, five Britons, a Russian and an Australian, said the unidentified official.

"This shows striking evidence of the imbalance in the composition of the team and its methods of action in Iraq," the spokesman said. In New York, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said no decision has been taken to halt inspections after Iraq's statement on Ritter. He noted that the chief weapons inspector, Richard Butler, was to travel to Baghdad for talks Jan. 19.

Butler is due to talk to Iraqi authorities about their barring the UN teams from some 60 sites, including about 40 presidential palaces, on grounds of national sovereignty.

"I hope that the Iraqi authorities will not do anything precipitous and will wait for Mr. Butler to get there to raise whatever issues they have with him," Annan said.

Iraq's UN ambassador, Nizar Hamdoon, said Iraq considered such a large percentage of British and Americans on the Ritter team to be "unacceptable."

"Iraq has insisted that the work of the Special Commission, especially on the inspection side, should be more balanced in composition," Hamdoon said. "Therefore, Iraq is not going to accept this heavily influenced team by the American and British nationals."

The other UN inspection teams in Iraq would be allowed to continue their work, Hamdoon said.

In Baghdad, the Iraqi spokesman also accused U.S. arms inspectors of carrying out activities detrimental to Iraq's national interest.

"They have been falsifying facts, inventing lies, deliberately prolonging the process and sending false reports to the Security Council," the agency quoted him as saying.

During last fall's confrontation, Iraq accused U.S. inspectors of spying on Iraq and helping plan for U.S. air strikes. UN officials denied the charges and pulled all weapons inspectors out of the country. The impasse was ended with Russian mediation.

The inspectors' job is to certify that Iraq has fulfilled its obligation under UN resolutions to eliminate its weapons of mass destruction.

Sanctions imposed on Iraq following its 1990 invasion of neighboring Kuwait -- which include a ban on the export of oil -- cannot be lifted until the UN Security Council accepts that Iraqi weapons programs have been halted.

Iraq maintains it has fulfilled the requirements under Security Council resolutions, but the weapons inspectors have repeatedly accused the government of President Saddam Hussein of hiding weapons and the means to manufacture them.