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Iraq Weapons Search to Begin Wednesday, says UN's Blix

Chief United Nations arms inspector Hans Blix says 17 inspectors will begin searching in Iraq for banned weapons of mass destruction on Wednesday and he hopes to have a team of 100 inspectors fully operational within a month. Mr. Blix briefed members of the U.N. Security Council Monday on his recent talks in Baghdad.

As U.N. weapons inspectors start moving into Iraq, the chief inspector, Swedish diplomat Hans Blix, concedes the mission will not be easy. He suggested to reporters that logistics alone could be a problem in the early phase, considering the relatively small number of experts he has to work with.

"Armies are used to having 100,000 men, and they can manage it. But to do this on an international basis, getting the insepctors from all corners of the world, to get them together working as a team, with some reasonable organization, is not that easy," he explained. "So I think we will do reasonably well if we are warmed up and we are effective with 100 people by Christmastime."

At the same time, Mr. Blix said he expects Iraq to submit a full accounting of its weapons of mass destruction by December 8, a deadline set by the Security Council. Iraq maintains it does not have the banned weapons. Mr. Blix says if that is true then Iraq will have to prove it on paper - providing, for example, records that show Iraqi weapons programs that were previously declared have been shut down.

The chief U.N. inspector says Baghdad has promised to cooperate fully with the arms experts, even though Iraqi officials had expressed misgivings about inspections of presidential sites in the country, where there had previously been disagreement over access by inspectors. The Security Council, in its resolution earlier this month, demanded that the inspectors be allowed to go anywhere they want, whenever they want, without delay or conditions.

Meanwhile, the Security Council seems to be holding its collective breath. Council president Wang Yingfan of China told reporters council members are pleased so far with Mr. Blix's preliminary work in Iraq. "So far, so good. I think that is agreed," he reported. "And we stress that we need cooperation from Iraqi authorities for the implementation of U-N resolutions, especially the latest one adopted by the Security Council."

With Washington talking about a possible war against Iraq if it is in material breach of the latest Security Council resolution, the Chinese ambassador declared to reporters that the Security Council as a whole would decide whether Iraq is in material breach of its obligations. And he said that discussion would take place only after the inspectors have reported on Iraq's performance. That briefing by the experts is not expected until late January.