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U.N. Inspectors Interview Scientists, Uncover Warheads

BY Admin  January 16, 2003 at 3:17 PM EST

A group of inspectors used portable x-ray equipment to discover the buried warheads at a munitions storage area. Iraqi government spokesmen and U.N. officials debated whether the warheads had been previously disclosed in Iraq’s report to the U.N.

Meanwhile, as U.N. teams continued their work in Baghdad and at a location 75 miles to the south, Chief Inspector Hans Blix said from Belgium that Iraq had secretly imported materials banned under the U.N. resolutions.

One inspection team cordoned off a street in a west Baghdad residential district, and entered the houses of physicist Faleh Hassan and nuclear scientist Shaker el-Jibouri. The group then drove with one of the men to a farming area 10 miles west of Baghdad where they inspected what appeared to be an earthen mound.

Hassan reportedly later accompanied inspectors to their hotel, presumably for more questioning.

The surprise visits to the scientists’ homes is a first for the U.N. team and signals an increasingly aggressive approach by inspectors after they reportedly began receiving intelligence information from the United States and other countries.

An Iraqi government spokesman said the scientists were not involved in any weapons programs.

At the same time, Blix, the co-leader of the inspection teams, said during a European Union briefing in Belgium that Iraq had been secretly importing banned materials.

“We have found things that have been illegally imported, even in 2001 and 2002,” Blix said. Blix said inspectors didn’t yet know whether the materials were used to build weapons.

Calling the current situation in Iraq “tense and very dangerous,” Blix said it was up to Baghdad to prove it has eliminated any weapons of mass destruction. Blix said Iraq should let its scientists speak freely with inspectors and leave the country if they wish.

“Iraq must do more than they have done so far,” Blix said, according to the Associated Press.

Iraqi government spokesman Amir al-Saadi said Thursday that his government had accounted for all materials in its Dec. 7 report to the U.N. and the materials Blix had referred to were part of conventional weapons production processes, which are legal under U.N. resolutions.

Friction between inspectors and Iraqi government officials has grown in recent days. On Wednesday inspectors visited Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein’s main presidential palace. Iraq has accused the inspection teams of serving as spies for the United States and violating Iraq’s sovereignty.

In Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said his country was worried that the United States might place undue pressure on the inspectors.

“We are concerned about the growing pressure on the inspectors and leaders of the inspection teams from certain circles in Washington,” he said.

The U.N.’s top nuclear inspector, Mohamed ElBaradei, was in Moscow Thursday to meet with Russian officials. ElBaradei and Blix are scheduled to meet with Iraqi leaders on Sunday and are scheduled to report to the U.N. Security Council on Jan. 27. ElBaradei said he plans to ask the Security Council for more time to complete inspections.

Al-Saadi said Thursday that U.N. officials plan to “take stock of the ongoing inspections” on Sunday.

“All is going well so far,” Al-Saadi said. “We expect to resolve any questions or complaints on Sunday.”