un iraq

It is "too early" to talk of UN weapons inspectors returning to Iraq, deputy prime minister Tareq Aziz said on Monday, warning that Baghdad would fight any US attack.

"It is too early to speak about that," Aziz told reporters when asked if Baghdad would allow in the inspectors under threat of US attack.

He was laying the foundation stone of a museum and memorial to the 400 and more people Iraq says died in the Al-Amiriya shelter in Baghdad during a US Gulf War air raid in 1991.

"The dialogue will resume next on Wednesday and let us wait for its outcome," he said, referring to talks between foreign minister Naji Sabri and UN secretary general Kofi Annan in New York amid US demands to verify if Iraq is again developing weapons of mass destruction.

"It seems that they want to resume their wide aggression against Iraq and commit another crime like the crime they committed back in 1991 in this shelter," Aziz said in English.

"Anyhow, the Iraqi people and the Iraqi leadership are prepared to defend their country and their sovereignty," he added.

"People of Iraq support their leadership and they are ready to defend their leadership against any kind of aggression and against any kind of foreign interference in the domestic affairs of this country".

Asked about the possible return of the weapons experts, he replied: "George Bush is the president of the US, he can make decisions in his own country but he does not have the right and does not have the capability to change anything outside his country, especially in this courageous country Iraq".

The UN arms monitors fled Baghdad in December 1998 just before the United States and Britain unleashed a fierce three-day blitz against Iraq for failing to cooperate with the inspections.