United Nations weapons inspectors have completed their first day of inspections in Iraq, visiting two sites outside Baghdad in search of Iraq's suspected arsenal of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, weapons the Iraqi government insists it doesn't have.
The searches were described as being off to a good start, with Iraqi authorities cooperating. But one veteran weapons inspector doubts President Saddam Hussein has now decided to disarm.
Chased by scores of reporters, U.N. inspectors carried out their first searches in four years Wednesday at two sites outside Baghdad. Inspector Dimitri Perricos called this first day a success, although he would not say what, if anything, inspectors found.
"The team were able to complete the inspection work it planned to carry out with the cooperation of the Iraqi side and we had access to what we wanted to see," he said. "We hope the Iraqi response today reflects the future pattern of cooperation."
And that will be the real test. David Kay served as Chief United Nations weapons inspector at the end of the Gulf War. "I think this was a training episode. You should realize almost all of the inspectors have never been in Iraq before," he said.
One site searched Wednesday was a military compound guarded by Iraqi troops, another an industrial complex that Iraq describes as housing a variety of machinery for civilian projects. They were the first of what are expected to be visits to hundreds of locations in the coming weeks, visits that could include searches of Saddam Hussein's presidential sites.
"One of the early 'gotcha' items will be the requirement that they allow Iraqi scientists to be interviewed without security officials present and maybe even removed from the country with their families if they want to," said Mr. Kay. "My personal view is I think Saddam will decide to try to keep the weapons and if he does that, war is, I'm afraid, almost the only course then open."
Iraq denies it has any nuclear, chemical or biological weapons, which it was required to give up at the end of the Gulf War 11 years ago, even though the United States insists it does. Bush administration officials say Iraq is almost certain to face a U.S. led attack if it is found to be concealing any, or if it again tries to block the work of weapons inspectors, as it repeatedly did during the 1990s.