After a four year break, United Nations weapons inspectors are set to resume searches in Iraq Wednesday for suspected nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, with Baghdad pledging full cooperation. Even so, the United States is preparing for the possibility of war if the Iraqi government does not.
Armed with a new and tougher Security Council mandate, weapons inspectors are beginning anew the search for Iraq's suspected weapons of mass destruction, with the United Nations warning of serious consequences if Baghdad should again decide not to fully cooperate.
Some of the hundreds of sites inspectors are likely to visit are the same ones where they found evidence of Saddam Hussein's banned weapons program when they were last in the country during the 1990s.
Iraq is now facing a December 8 deadline to provide the United Nations with a comprehensive list of whatever banned weapons it may still have, as well as all of the sites where they are made or stored. Baghdad has complained to the United Nations that providing such a list amounts to giving the United States an excuse to attack.
U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is waiting to see how Iraq responds. "The last I read they said they don't have any. That would be a fairly short list," he said.
With a steady build up of U.S. forces in the region, the Bush administration is warning it is ready to use force if Iraq is found to be hiding banned weapons or if Baghdad interferes with the work of inspectors, as it has in the past.
"You can be sure that we will be ready to do whatever the president requests," he said.
In the coming weeks, as many as 100 weapons inspectors are scheduled to be on the ground in Iraq, prepared to go wherever they want, whenever they want without warning and with no sites off limits. The team set to report its findings to the Security Council by late January.