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U.N. Teams Resume Weapons Inspections

December 7, 2002

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Al-ISKANDARIYAH, Iraq (AP) _ U.N. inspectors visited uranium storage sites Saturday and an Iraqi complex that made munitions for chemical or biological weapons as the United Nations prepared to bring in more monitors to accelerate the pace of the inspections.

Since inspections resumed Nov. 27 after a four-year break, about two dozen U.N. monitors have been working in Iraq. Their ranks will be increased with the planned arrival Sunday of up to 35 new inspectors. Up to eight helicopters are also expected soon, enabling the investigators to stage surprise inspections farther from Baghdad, U.N. officials say.

After a two-day break for a Muslim holiday, a U.N. team visited the al-Quds General Company for Mechanical Industries at al-Iskandariyah, 25 miles south of the capital Baghdad. In the 1980s, the complex was associated with Iraq’s production of medium-range missiles now prohibited under U.N. resolutions.

The complex also made aerial bombs capable of delivering deadly chemical or biological agents.

The team presumably checked the site to ensure that such activity did not resume during the four years U.N. inspectors were out of the country. However, the inspectors did not comment on their work.

Hamid al-Azawi, director of al-Quds, said his company was performing research for short-range artillery and rocket launchers. He added that his company was inaugurated in September after splitting from another company, Milad. He did not give information about Milad’s activities.

The inspectors visited the two-building site, including laboratories and administration offices, and ``asked some questions that were all answered,″ al-Azawi told reporters shortly after the 15 inspectors left the site after spending 3 1/2 hours inside. ``We dealt with them with total transparency and they were happy with our answers.″

Meanwhile, a second group of inspectors visited uranium storage sites near the major Iraqi nuclear research center at al-Tuwaitha, 15 miles southeast of Baghdad, Iraqi Information Ministry officials said.

They may have been checking low-grade uranium from an Iraqi research reactor that have been sealed and under monitoring by the International Atomic Energy Agency since the 1990s. Although not bomb-grade material, such fuel could be enriched to that level if the major technological hurdles of efficient enrichment were overcome _ something Iraq was unable to do in the past.

The inspectors have returned under a new U.N. Security Council resolution mandating that Iraq surrender any weapons of mass destruction and shut down any programs to produce chemical, biological or nuclear weapons.

By the end of December a total of 80 to 100 U.N. experts will be making daily inspections in Iraq, U.N. officials say.

``From three or four teams at the beginning, we will multiply to eight teams,″ said Demetrius Perricos, operational chief for the U.N. Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC).

So far, the U.N. teams have largely revisited sites inspected by their predecessors in the 1990s to ensure that equipment is where it should be and producing non-proscribed items.

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