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UN Weapons Inspectors Begin Mission in Iraq

U.N. weapons inspectors have begun their first inspections in Iraq after a four-year break.

The inspectors split into two groups, after leaving their headquarters in Baghdad this morning in a convoy of about 24 vehicles.

One group, experts searching for missiles, chemical and biological weapons, drove to a large military compound in an eastern suburb of the city.

The second group, a team from the International Atomic Energy Agency investigating Iraq's nuclear facilities, went to a small industrial complex northeast of Baghdad.

Journalists who accompanied the team were not allowed into the compound, but were told by inspectors that it was a site that had been visited in the 1990's. They said the inspectors took nothing from the site, and found nothing suspicious.

Both convoys were escorted by Iraqi officials in separate vehicles.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan says the inspections got off to a good start, but stressed again that Iraqi authorities must cooperate fully.

Air raid sirens sounded over Baghdad about an hour after the inspectors left on their mission. Iraq's civil defense authority said the alert was triggered by Western aircraft. But U.S. and British officials say none of their planes was in the vicinity.

The team of 17 inspectors is equipped with sophisticated new devices, including ground-penetrating radar that can detect underground facilities. As many as 100 inspectors are expected to be operating in Iraq over the next few weeks.

They are operating under a new U.N. Security Council resolution that warns Iraq of serious consequences if it fails to fully cooperate. The Baghdad government has until December 8 to declare to the United Nations any nuclear, chemical or biological weapons it has.

Iraq insists it has none, but Washington is not convinced. President Bush has warned that Iraq's President Saddam Hussein would be entering what Mr. Bush termed his final stage, if he were to stick to such a blanket denial.