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UN Weapons Inspectors Gear Up For Work in Iraq - 2002-11-17

The top two United Nations' weapons inspectors arrive in Baghdad Monday to begin the process of verifying Iraqi claims that it has no weapons of mass destruction.

Chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix was joined Sunday in Cyprus by Mohamed El Baradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency. Together they will take a team of about 30 technicians to Baghdad Monday to begin setting up communications equipment and laboratories, hire helicopters and reactivate surveillance cameras.

They will be the first inspectors in Iraq since the last group left the country in 1998, after which U.S. and British air strikes were launched to punish Baghdad for allegedly failing to cooperate with the inspectors.

Mr. Blix told reporters in Cyprus his job is not to make judgments, but simply to report what he finds back to the United Nations. "There are responsible tasks that we have before us, and we will inspect, and we will report cooperation, and any lack of cooperation, and we will do so objectively to the Security Council," he said.

In Baghdad, Iraq's Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz said Sunday, Baghdad is prepared to fully cooperate with the inspectors. He said the results would "expose as lies" U.S. charges that Iraq has been developing weapons of mass destruction.

"If they conduct their work in a professional manner, in a scientific manner, we have no problem with that, because we have nothing to hide, you see," Mr. Aziz said.

The inspectors say this is the opportunity for Iraq to rid itself of the crippling sanctions laid out by the United Nations, following the Gulf War in 1991.

Iraq has until December 8 to submit a full account of all of its weapons programs. A month-and-a-half later the inspectors must give their first report to the U.N. Security Council.