U.N. Team Begins Iraq Weapons Inspections
Inspectors concentrated on the al-Rafah missile testing area, a part of a military compound that is largely empty except for a few steel structures that may be used in missile tests, the Associated Press reports.
The other site searched was a factory Iraqi officials say is used to produce motors for cement factories, refineries and water pumping stations, the AP reports.
The inspection team, on the hunt for components of biological, chemical or nuclear weapons, did not immediately disclose its findings. However, members of the group said officials in Saddam Hussein’s government had been cooperative and quick to allow access to the group’s chosen sites.
“As far as we are concerned, we were able to carry out the activities that we had planned to carry out,” inspection team leader Dimitri Perricos told reporters. “You witnessed the immediateness of the access and that is a good sign.”
The day’s mission began what is expected to be a lengthy search of sites within Iraq to examine the state of the Iraqi weapons program. U.N. resolutions passed following the 1991 Persian Gulf War have limited the strength and range of weapons Iraq is allowed to produce, but some countries, including the U.S., have accused Iraq of breaching those rules.
Under a U.N. resolution passed earlier this month, Saddam’s government has until Dec. 8 to outline the status of its banned weapons programs as well as offer clear and convincing evidence those programs have been eliminated.
U.N. inspectors are due to report back to the Security Council on their findings within 60 days.
Meanwhile, the Security Council is expected to take up the debate next week over extending the humanitarian oil-for-food program in Iraq.
The council reached an agreement last week to grant a routine six-month renewal of the program’s mandate. However, the U.S. on Monday said it would instead push for a shorter three-month extension and a review of military goods Iraq is allowed to import under U.N. rules.
Many on the council, including Syria, have opposed the move.
“Frankly speaking … at least 14 members were upset, because this is complicating the work of the council,” the AP quotes Syria’s deputy U.N. Ambassador Fayssal Mekdad as saying Tuesday.
The oil-for-food program allows Iraq to use money gained from oil sales to purchase food, medical supplies and other humanitarian goods while maintaining U.N. sanctions against Saddam’s government. Earlier this week, the Security Council passed a stopgap extension of the program, allowing it to run into next week while the U.N. debate continues.