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BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) -- Saddam Hussein banned all weapons of mass destruction from Iraq on Friday, meeting a longtime U.N. demand hours before chief U.N. weapons inspectors were to deliver crucial reports on Iraqi disarmament.
The presidential decree forbids the production or importation of nuclear, chemical or biological weapons, or of any materials that could be used to make them.
"All ministries should implement this decree and take whatever measures are necessary to punish people who do not adhere to it," the decree read.
The Iraqi government insists it has destroyed all such weapons and abandoned all programs to develop them. The United States and Britain claim Iraq is hiding weapons and programs, and have threatened war if Iraq does not convince them it is disarming on its own.
Iraq's parliament met in an emergency session to consider legislation banning weapons of mass destruction, but Saddam's decree -- announced moments before the parliament session began -- appeared to make the legislation unnecessary.
The parliament usually follows Saddam's direction, although it dissented from his decision in November to let the weapons inspectors resume their work after a four-year break.
The decree came just hours before the chief U.N. weapons inspectors, Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei, were to report to the Security Council on Iraq's compliance with U.N. demands to eliminate its banned weapons.
The reports were considered key to determining whether the United States and Britain will launch a war.
Earlier Friday, Saddam and his top deputies warned their enemies not to use the report as an excuse for war, and said Iraqis are ready to fight if attacked.
"Iraq is free of the so-called weapons of mass destruction -- chemical, biological and nuclear," the official Iraqi News Agency quoted the top leaders as saying. The leaders called the argument that Iraq possesses such weapons "an excuse to be used by aggressors in the Security Council as a cover for aggression."
"If the aggressors still attack, the blame should fall on them before God and the people. Iraqis will fight them as a people and as an armed force, with a spirit of faith and holy war," the leaders were quoted as saying.
Those attending the meeting included Saddam's cousin and confidante Ali Hasan al-Majid; Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan; and Izzat Ibrahim, vice chairman of Iraq's top executive body.
U.N. inspection teams headed Friday to a mineral water plant and to the al-Muthanna chemical weapons installation in the desert northwest of Baghdad, Information Ministry officials said. Inspectors there have been destroying artillery shells and neutralizing four plastic containers filled with mustard gas.
Another team of inspectors headed by helicopter to Diallah province, northeast of Baghdad, the officials said, adding they didn't know their precise destination.
After the 1991 Gulf War, inspectors oversaw the destruction of the bulk of Iraq's chemical and biological weapons and dismantled the country's program to develop nuclear weapons. The inspections resumed in November to search for remaining weapons or revived programs.
France, Germany and Russia say the arms inspectors should have more time to verify Iraq's claim that is free of banned weapons programs. But the U.S. and British governments are pushing for early U.N. authorization for an invasion of Iraq if, in their view, it isn't complying sufficiently with the disarmament resolutions.
All of those countries were closely watching Friday's reports at the United Nations, and Al-Thawra, the newspaper of Iraq's ruling Baath Party, urged the weapons inspectors to be objective and careful in what they said.
"We are not expecting this report to be on Iraq's side. We only demand that it mention mere facts, without any additions or omissions," the newspaper, the only one to publish on Friday's holiday in Baghdad, said in a front-page editorial.
The inspectors, it said, "should weigh every sentence in that report, every explanation and every conclusion, with high responsibility and sensitivity, because what they are going to say will have serious consequences."
"A historic responsibility lies on the shoulders of Blix and ElBaradei," the newspaper said. "We hope they are fit for this responsibility."
(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)