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Situation in Iraq Tense, but Hopeful, says Senior UN Inspector - 2002-11-18

After an absence of four years, U.N. arms inspectors have arrived in Baghdad to search for weapons of mass destruction. Iraqi authorities are promising full cooperation, but not everyone is convinced the inspection process will lead to a peaceful conclusion.

The team of inspectors and technicians arrived in Baghdad promising to conduct a credible inspection. Chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix told reporters in the Iraqi capital Monday, the inspectors were there to determine whether there are any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

State-run newspapers, meanwhile, are carrying front-page editorials insisting that the inspectors respect Iraq's dignity and security, and carry out their responsibilities within international law. One Iraqi newspaper said the inspectors must show proof of their independence, professionalism and honesty.

Upon his arrival in Baghdad, Mr. Blix acknowledged that the situation is tense, but said there is a new opportunity, which he said he hoped both sides could take together.

However, many political analysts in the region say they are not optimistic about a positive outcome. Among them is Uraib el-Rantawi, head of the Quds Center for Political Studies in Jordan. He said he's not sure Iraq will submit completely to the inspection process. He also said the inspectors face a formidable task.

"I think they are shouldering a very, very important responsibility now. They will shape the future of the whole area, not only Iraq. Therefore, I think they will take this in consideration. But still they have a mission to fulfill, and they have to inspect sensitive places. They have to inspect some certain palaces for the president himself. I don't know whether the Iraqis will comply fully with those inspectors or not. Therefore, I think there's a lot of tension in the whole area. People are waiting to see whether this process will end successfully or not," he said.

Two dozen U.N. technicians are among the group that arrived in Baghdad Monday. They will begin setting up communications equipment and refurbishing a laboratory that was left behind when inspectors were last in Baghdad four years ago. They will also set up transportation for as many as 100 inspectors who are expected in Iraq by the end of December.

Formal inspections are scheduled to begin November 27.

On December 8, Iraq will face its first test. It must provide a complete list of all weapons sites, including those that could be used to develop weapons of mass destruction.

Under the U.N. Security Council resolution approved earlier this month, Iraq must cooperate fully with the weapons inspectors.

U.S. officials have warned Iraq there will be zero tolerance for any violation of the Security Council resolution.

U.N. weapons inspectors left Iraq in 1998, on the eve of U.S. and British air strikes that were intended to punish Iraq for allegedly failing to fully cooperate with the inspectors. Afterwards, Iraq refused to allow the inspectors to return.