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Iraq will let in weapons inspectors , says Annan.

Iraq has agreed to allow UN weapons inspectors to return to the country without conditions.

UN Secretary General Secretary Kofi Annan said last night he had received a letter from Iraqi authorities confirming the move.

He also said officials were ready to start 'immediate discussions' on the practical arrangements for the return of the inspectors.

Downing Street said it was waiting for further details of Iraq's offer before making further comments.

A spokeswoman said Saddam Hussein had a history of 'playing games' and warned that weapons inspectors must have unrestricted access to all areas 'anytime, any place, anywhere'.

'We will wait to see what's on the table', she added.

Inspectors left Iraq four years ago ahead of US and British air strikes to punish Iraq for not cooperating with inspections.

Since then, Iraq has refused to allow inspectors to return, and the stalemate had split the US, Britain, Russia, France and China - the five members of the Security Council who have power to veto council decisions.

The turnaround has come days after US President George W Bush addressed the UN General Assembly debate and said that Iraq must comply with Security Council resolutions or face the consequences. Mr Annan credited Mr Bush last night for 'galvanising' the international community.

The Secretary General also said the Arab League had played a key role in bringing about the Iraqi response. The letter from Iraq will now be passed on to the 15-member Security Council which will decide what to do next.

Maverick Labour MP George Galloway yesterday joined the pilgrimage of friendly foreign politicians visiting Iraq.

A frequent visitor to Baghdad and vocal critic of the UN sanctions, Mr Galloway said: 'We are gathering here from all around the world to make it clear to the people of Iraq that they have friends all over the world. 'Iraq has millions of friends who oppose the threats of aggression from the US.'

At the United Nations, where the General Assembly debate has been dominated by Iraq, more and more countries seemed to prepare to support a war on Iraq, as long as it was authorised by the United Nations.

In a major shift yesterday, Saudi Arabia said it would back UN-sanctioned action against Iraq but not a unilateral US attack.

Previously, the conservative oil rich kingdom had rejected outright any military action against its neighbour.

Defence Minister Prince Said al-Faisal's statement means the Pentagon might be able to use the remote Prince Sultan Air Base, where most of the 5,000 US military personnel in Saudi Arabia are stationed, as a key base for any attack on Iraq.

Other US forces in the region are based in Kuwait, Bahrain and Qatar, where the US is to have its command headquarters.

Tony Blair has argued alongside President Bush that strong action must be taken to contain Iraq, accused of stockpiling weapons of mass destruction, harbouring terrorists and defying the UN.

But many in Britain, including members of the Labour Party, have raised concerns about a possible US-led war on Iraq.

In Baghdad, Mr Galloway - frequently accused of being an apologist for Saddam's regime - called for the return of UN inspectors to Iraq, but under a comprehensive settlement for the Iraqi crisis.


George Galloway
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Geographic Code:7IRAQ
Date:Sep 17, 2002
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