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Weapons inspectors return to Iraq

Posted 7:36 p.m. Nov. 18

by Rati Bishnoi

(U-WIRE) WASHINGTON–U.N. weapons inspectors returned to Iraq Monday after a four-year hiatus, to resume biological, chemical and nuclear weapons inspections after Iraq accepted U.S. backed U.N. Resolution 1441 last Wednesday.

Chief U.N. inspector Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei flew to Baghdad accompanied by twenty members of an advanced team assembled to help prepare for preliminary inspections likely to begin Nov. 27. Extensive inspections are due to begin after Dec. 8 by which time Iraq is set to declare its banned weapons programs.

“The question of war and peace remains first of all in the hands of Iraq, the Security Council and the members of the Security Council,” Blix said.

President George W. Bush has sought a “zero tolerance” policy towards Iraq, which he deemed to be part of the “Axis-of-Evil” earlier this year. The policy would make minor infractions potential causes for military action.

Blix, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan as well as some of the fifteen Security Council members including France and Russia have urged military action only in response to serious violations.

Iraqi President Saddam Hussein agreed to allow inspectors to return in a nine-page letter to Annan while still professing that Iraq did not have any chemical, biological or nuclear weapons.

“We have heard such pledges before, and they have been unfortunately betrayed,” Bush said in his weekly radio address. “Our goal is not merely the return of inspectors to Iraq; our goal is the disarmament of Iraq. The dictator of Iraq will give up his weapons of mass destruction, or the United States will lead a coalition and disarm him.”

This difference in approach could create tension between the International Atomic Energy Agency, the agency overseeing the inspections and the Bush Administration U.N. officials told Reuters Sunday on conditions of anonymity.

“The U.S. does seem . . . to have a lower threshold that others may have” to justify military action Annan said. “I think the discussion in the council made it clear we should be looking for something serious and meaningful, not for excuses to do something.”

“We also have modern equipment that is superior to what we had in the past,” Blix said referring to the last time, 1998, when U.N. inspectors were allowed in Iraq. “But…we would like the Iraqis to declare, and this is an opportunity for them to do so and we hope that they will seize that opportunity,” Blix said.

Blix is urging the U.S. to provide more intelligence support for the inspections but has said he is cautious of the appearance of any close association with government intelligence agencies and Western states.

Iraqi suspicions of U.N. inspectors spying for the U.S. in 1998 was a key reason for the halt in inspections, which were immediately followed by four days of U.S. and British air strikes on the nation.

“We’re happy for the handshake, but we don’t want the hug,” said a U.N. official on conditions of anonymity to Reuters in reference to American influence and presence during the inspections.

Blix has 60 days to report his findings to the Security Council.

The Security Council cannot lift Iraq’s current economic sanctions, which were imposed after Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990, until U.N. inspectors find Iraq to be free of weapons and missiles.

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