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UN Inspectors Arrive in Baghdad - 2002-11-19

United Nations weapons inspectors are back in Iraq after a four year absence to resume searches for nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. Led by Swedish diplomat Hans Blix, inspectors began arriving Monday, just as Washington was accusing Baghdad of already being in material breach of the Security Council resolution authorizing their return.

Chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix arrived in Baghdad to begin what could be Iraq's last chance to avoid war.

"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," he said.

Baghdad has already declared it has no such weapons. After setting up offices and secure communications, U.N. inspectors will begin new searches as early as next week amid what chief inspector Blix describes as a tense situation.

"We are here to do a job and we will do that professionally and I hope competently," he said.

But the inspectors' arrival was overshadowed by what was happening in the skies over northern Iraq. In what could prove to be an early test of Baghdad's willingness to cooperate with the United Nations, U.S. military spokeswoman Shannon Collins says allied warplanes patrolling the country's northern no fly zone were targeted Monday by Iraqi gunners for the second consecutive day.

"We responded in self-defense to the Iraqi attacks by dropping precision-guided munitions on elements of the Iraqi integrated air defense system," she said.

All aircraft returned safely to bases in Turkey. But U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld called Iraq's actions unacceptable.

"There is no question but that firing at coalition aircraft in the northern and southern no-fly zone is an act that is against the efforts of the coalition to enforce U.N. resolutions," he said.

The White House charges the Iraqi action amounts to a material breach of a U.N. resolution unanimously approved earlier this month. But the Bush administration decided not to take the matter to the Security Council right now, apparently waiting to see if a clear pattern of Iraqi violations emerges.