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UN Weapons Inspectors Check Crop-Spraying Aircraft in Iraq - 2002-12-01

United Nations weapons inspectors hunting for banned weapons of mass destruction in Iraq spent their fourth day investigating a base for crop-spraying planes.

The weapons inspectors went to an agricultural site Sunday that previous U.N. inspectors believed may have been used to test a device capable of spraying toxic bacteria from helicopters.

The inspectors drove to an idle airstrip run by the Agriculture Ministry, where more than 12 helicopters, stripped of their engines, sat on the tarmac. Journalists viewed the inspection from a distance while the inspectors searched for evidence of chemical or biological agents.

As usual, the inspectors made no statements following their visit to the facility, about 30 kilometers northeast of Baghdad.

It was the fourth day of renewed inspections, following a four-year break, under a U.N. Security Council resolution demanding that Iraq give up any weapons of mass destruction and destroy any facility capable of making them. Iraq says it has no such weapons.

So far the inspectors have visited sites in and around Baghdad, but soon they will be capable of unannounced inspections virtually anywhere in Iraq.

The first of several U.N. helicopters scheduled to arrive in the Iraqi capital are to be used to transport the inspectors to any location they choose. The helicopters will also be used to provide surveillance to make sure there is no movement in or out of a facility, while it is being inspected.

The helicopter shipment arriving Sunday is also expected to include electronic gear that will allow the inspectors to scan their headquarters in Baghdad for any surveillance equipment.

On Sunday, an Iraqi government-run newspaper said the inspection process would prove Iraq is free of banned weapons.

Mohammad Kamal, a political science professor at Cairo University, says that if no weapons of mass destruction are discovered, that would give President Saddam Hussein verbal ammunition. "He will have more ammunition to use against the U.S. to talk about double standards of the U.S. administration, that the U.S. administration just wanted to attack Iraq for no legitimate reason, and stuff like that," said Prof. Kamal. "So the level of anti-American sentiment in the region will probably rise because of that, and I am sure he will capitalize on that. I think it would put the U.S. administration in a very awkward position, because they said from the beginning that Iraq owns weapons of mass destruction."

American officials say there will be no attack if Iraq cooperates completely with the inspectors.

Iraq has until next Sunday to submit a declaration of any banned weapons in its possession. The U.N. inspectors must submit their first official report to the U.N. Security Council in late January.