sU.N. Team Searches Two Iraqi Sites
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AMARIYAH, Iraq (AP) _ International arms monitors searched a military missile-testing range and a state factory outside Baghdad Wednesday, starting a new round of inspections that could determine the future of peace in the Middle East.
Inspectors did not immediately disclose their findings but seemed pleased with Iraqi cooperation on the first day.
``We hope the Iraqi response today represents the future pattern of cooperation,″ said Jacques Baute, leader of the team of nuclear inspectors.
Adding a sense of drama, an air raid siren wailed in Baghdad hours after the inspections began, followed by an all-clear siren. An Iraqi Civil Defense official, who refused to give his name, reported a ``hostile flight″ over the capital. A spokesman for the U.S. Joint Task Force at the Prince Sultan air base outside Riyadh, Saudi Arabia refused comment.
The U.N. teams started what was expected to be months of difficult, detailed inspections of hundreds of sites after a four-year break. They are charged with assessing whether the Baghdad government is still committed to chemical, biological and nuclear weapons.
The United States has warned it will disarm Iraq by force if the inspections fail, with or without international help.
In one of Wednesday’s two initial surprise inspections, six white U.N. vehicles pulled up to a military complex 25 miles west of Baghdad, trailed by scores of international journalists who pursued them from the capital and then waited outside as the inspectors entered.
The U.N. team was not interested in the industrial buildings up front but in the largely empty expanse out back, known as the al-Rafah testing station, empty except for a few skeletal steel structures.
On the basis of satellite photos, U.S. intelligence analysts have suggested that a new, square, steel-girder stand for holding and testing missile engines at al-Rafah might be used for missiles larger than allowed under U.N. resolutions. Iraq is forbidden to develop missiles over 90 miles in range.
The Iraqis say the structure can be used only for permitted shorter-range missile engines.
The inspectors spent five hours inside. Over the 7-foot-high walls surrounding the complex, they could be seen crisscrossing the open testing area, wearing U.N.-blue baseball caps and carrying backpacks and clipboards. They spent considerable time in a small concrete building that appeared to be a control center.
They also checked files and photographed documents, the center’s director, military engineer Ali Jassam Hussein, told reporters who were allowed in afterward.
``They didn’t find anything because we don’t have anything illegal,″ he said.
The inspectors in the other three U.N. vehicles went to al-Tahadi, a factory six miles east of Baghdad that is run by the Ministry of Industry and said by Iraqi officials to produce motors for cement factories, refineries and water pumping stations.
About 10 inspectors spent about three hours inside the complex as a crowd of journalists waited outside, then headed back to their headquarters. No one was allowed in or out during the inspection.
The inspectors did not speak to journalists. After they left, factory officials told Associated Press Television News the inspectors were from the U.N. nuclear agency and the factory had been scrutinized by the agency in the 1990s.
Factory director Haitham Maamoud said the facility never was involved in Iraq’s nuclear program.
He said the inspectors, who arrived unannounced, toured maintenance workshops and asked questions. The inspection went smoothly and factory officials answered all the questions put to them, Maamoud said without elaborating.
Iraqi security kept journalists out of the sites during the inspections, though Iraqi officials said earlier they wanted maximum media coverage to prove to the world they do not have weapons of mass destruction. The inspectors had said they needed privacy to do their jobs.
The monitors have a mandate from the U.N. Security Council to test Baghdad’s contention that it has no arsenals of weapons of mass destruction, or programs to build them.
Iraqi cooperation ``is the only way to avoid a military conflict in the region,″ U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said on Europe 1 radio in Paris Wednesday.
Iraqi U.N. Ambassador Mohammed Al-Douri, in remarks broadcast on Radio Cairo Wednesday, said: ``Iraq is not afraid of the inspectors’ work because it has nothing to hide, but Iraq fears that some of the inspectors will misuse their authority and make trouble that the United States will use to strike Iraq.″ Earlier teams of U.N. experts, in seven years’ work ending in 1998, destroyed large amounts of chemical and biological armaments and longer-range missiles forbidden to Iraq by U.N. resolutions after the Gulf War, in which an Iraqi invasion force was driven from Kuwait. The inspectors also dismantled Iraq’s nuclear weapons program before it could build a bomb.
The earlier inspections were suspended in 1998 amid disputes over U.N. access to Iraqi sites and Iraqi complaints of American spying via the U.N. operation.
A working group of 17 inspectors landed in Baghdad on Monday, first contingent of some 100 who will be operating in Iraq at any one time by year’s end. More than 300 experts are available on the rosters of the two U.N. inspecting agencies _ the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency and chief inspector Hans Blix’s New York-based U.N. Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission, known as UNMOVIC.
The U.N. inspectors are to report to the Security Council by late January on their initial round of inspections.
Iraq must submit a declaration by Dec. 8 detailing any such weapons programs, as well as nuclear, chemical or biological programs it claims have peaceful purposes. The Iraqis complain the requirements are too sweeping, encompassing even plastic slippers produced by its petrochemical industry.
If the inspectors eventually certify that Iraq has cooperated fully with their disarmament work, U.N. resolutions call for the lifting of international economic sanctions imposed on Iraq after it invaded Kuwait in 1990.
The U.N. teams say they are interested in up to 900 Iraqi sites in the new inspections round.