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Iraq Inspections Begin - 2002-11-27

U.N. weapons inspectors began on-site operations in Iraq on Wednesday. It is the start of what is expected to be months of difficult, detailed inspections of hundreds of Iraqi sites after a four-year break. The start of inspections marks the countdown to a December 8th deadline for Baghdad to declare any nuclear, chemical or biological weapons. VOA-TV’s George Dwyer has more on the U.N. weapons inspections mission.

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

One group, 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 inspectors took nothing from the site, and found nothing suspicious.

The United Nations admits the search for evidence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq will not be easy. The search begins with just 17 trained inspectors, although a team of 100 is expected to be in place by the end of the year.

Chief U.N. arms inspector Hans Blix says he expects Iraq to submit a full accounting of its weapons of mass destruction by December 8th, the 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.

"And if they want to be believed, they had better provide, either the weapons if they remain, or better accounts. They have their budgets, they have the archives, they have their reports from individuals, we do not. And, if they want to be believed, then they had better come up with this."

The U.N. teams are expected to visit up to 900 sites, but Dimitri Perricos, head of the U-N inspection team in Iraq, says they will focus first on sites previously surveyed in earlier inspections.

"You can enter a room which is empty but that room might have a history and only if you are taking samples or do some measurements you can find out that the room is not as empty as you thought it was by your eyes only."

Jacques Baute, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency team in Iraq, says spot inspections will be made without notification.

"We have access anywhere and access anywhere is translated into inspections to any type of facilities. If we have access immediately to a site the credibility of our conclusion if we find nothing there is far higher than if there is any notice, even of one or two hours."

Baghdad has publicly promised to cooperate fully with the arms experts, even though Iraqi officials had expressed misgivings about the inspections. 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.