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[casi] U.N. Inspectors in Iraq as Western Warplanes Raid

U.N. Inspectors in Iraq as Western Warplanes Raid
Mon November 18, 2002 12:20 PM ET

By Hassan Hafidh

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - U.N. arms inspectors arrived in Baghdad on Monday to
search for weapons of mass destruction, a mission which will decide whether the
United States goes to war with Iraq.

As chief weapons inspector Hans Blix and his team of about 30 experts flew
into Baghdad to resume U.N. work in the country after a four-year absence, Iraq
vowed to defend "every inch" of its land if attacked.

It also lashed out at Washington as U.S. and British jets again raided Iraqi
air defenses, rejecting U.S. charges that it had violated a new U.N. resolution by
continually trying to shoot down the warplanes patrolling "no-fly" zones.

Blix, who arrived from Cyprus with Mohamed ElBaradei, director of the
International Atomic Energy Agency, went into his first talks at the Foreign
Ministry with General Amir al-Saadi, an adviser to President Saddam Hussein.

"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
told reporters on arrival.

"The situation is tense at the moment, but there is a new opportunity and we
are here to provide inspection which is credible," the 74-year-old Swede said.

Referring to U.N. sanctions imposed on Iraq because of its 1990 invasion of
Kuwait, he added: "We hope that opportunity will be well utilized so that we can
get out of sanctions."

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan urged Iraq's leader to give
"prompt and unfettered access" to sites suspected of having nuclear, biological or
chemical weapons.

"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 whole world," Annan told a news
conference in Sarajevo.


The members of Blix's U.N. Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission
(UNMOVIC) arrived aboard a privately chartered C-130 aircraft carrying the U.N.
insignia. Blix was greeted by Husam Mohammed Amin, head of the Iraqi National
Monitoring Directorate, which liaises with U.N. arms inspectors.

The U.N. team was expected to go to the U.N. inspectors' old Baghdad offices
at the Canal Hotel before starting work on logistics such as hiring vehicles and
setting up laboratories.

Formal inspections are not due to start until November 27. Under the U.N.
Security Council resolution adopted on November 8, the first big test is a
December 8 deadline for Iraq to submit a full account of all its banned weapons

By January 27 next year, the inspectors must have given their first report to
the U.N. Security Council.

In Monday's skirmish in the skies over Iraq, U.S. commanders said U.S. and
British aircraft retaliated after being threatened as they patrolled a northern
"no-fly" zone. Analysts say such clashes could ignite full-scale conflict.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said on Sunday that Iraqi firing at Western
warplanes patrolling the "no-fly" zones, set up after the 1991 Gulf War that drove
Iraqi invasion forces out of Kuwait, was a violation of the U.N. resolution.

But he stopped short of suggesting the United States would refer the issue
immediately to the U.N. Security Council.

Iraq said such statements proved Washington was using the resolution to
justify its "aggressive intentions."

"This U.S. declaration is an additional expression of American intentions to
use (U.N.) resolution 1441 as a cover to justify its aggressive actions against
Iraq," a Foreign Ministry spokesman was quoted by the official INA news agency as

President Bush has repeatedly urged "regime change" in Iraq in recent months,
meaning Saddam's overthrow, and has vowed to wage war if necessary if Iraq fails
to disarm.

Izzat Ibrahim, vice chairman of Iraq's highest authority, the Revolutionary
Command Council, vowed on Monday that Iraqis would fight back if attacked.

"We will fight them on every inch of Iraq's soil and every Iraqi will fight
them," he was quoted by INA as saying.


Iraq's press said on Monday Baghdad would cooperate fully with the inspectors,
but it urged them to be neutral and honest.

"We want these teams to prove to the Americans that our country is free from
weapons of mass destruction," said a newspaper owned by Saddam's son Uday.

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said in Brussels before a European Union
ministerial meeting: "The ball is in Saddam Hussein's court. It is up to him now
whether he is disarmed peacefully or by other means."

In 1998, the United Nations lost patience with what it saw as Saddam's lack of
cooperation and pulled its inspectors out.

IAEA chief ElBaradei has said the inspectors have a good "game plan," having
some knowledge of suspect sites because of tips from U.S. and other intelligence
agencies as well as their own advance investigations.

Blix says nothing will be off-limits and inspections could include mosques and
Saddam's palaces.

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