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U.N. Weapons Inspectors Arrive in Iraq

BY Admin  November 18, 2002 at 1:55 PM EDT

Speaking upon his arrival in Baghdad, chief U.N. inspector Hans Blix told reporters that credible inspections were “in the interest of Iraq and the interest of the world.”

“We have come here for one single reason and that is because the world wants to have assurances that there are no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq,” Blix said. “The situation is tense at the moment, but there is a new opportunity and we are here to provide inspection which is credible.”

Blix, who arrived with Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, planned to meet with Iraqi officials to expedite the resumption of inspections as early as Nov. 27.

The inspectors’ return is only part of the action required by U.N. Security Council Resolution 1441 that deals with Iraq. Under the agreement, which Iraqi President Saddam Hussein agreed to last week, Iraq must by Dec. 8 outline the status of its banned weapons programs as well as offer clear and convincing evidence those programs have been eliminated.

Blix’s group, the U.N. Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission [UNMOVIC], must then confirm what Iraq has outlined and search for any unreported programs. UNMOVIC will then report its findings to the Security Council within 60 days.

Even as Iraqi and U.N. officials met to outline the program, international leaders were calling on Iraq to continue to cooperate with the steps outlined in Resolution 1441.

“I urge president Saddam Hussein to comply fully for the sake of his people, for the sake of the region and for the sake of the world order,” U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said Monday.

Iraqi newspapers called on inspectors to confirm their country is free of banned weapons and to lift the economic sanctions that have held the Iraq’s economy in a stranglehold for more than a decade.

One leading paper, owned by Saddam’s son, editorialized that Iraq wants the inspectors’ mission to “prove to the Americans … that our country is free of weapons of mass destruction.”

The full inspection team of more than 300 is not expected to arrive for more than a week. The team is made up of citizens of more than 48 countries, including some 30 Americans. During earlier inspections, Iraq accused Americans working for the U.N. of being spies and ordered them out of the country, but thus far there have been no such accusations.

Even as the U.N. officials were arriving in Iraq, British and American fighter jets attacked sites in the northern “no-fly” zone. The planes bombed several sites in the area after being fired upon during a routine patrol of the area. Recent weeks have seen a series of clashes in both the northern and southern “no-fly” zones.

Ewen Buchanan, the U.N. inspectors’ spokesman, told the Associated Press Monday he did not think the no-fly zone activity would affect the meetings between Blix and the Iraqis.