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Weapons Inspectors Use Helicopters to Broaden Search in Iraq

United Nations weapons inspectors used helicopters Tuesday to broaden their search for Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction.

U.N. inspectors took to the skies for the first time since their hunt for banned weapons in Iraq began in late November, dismissing charges by Iraqi President Saddam Hussein that they are carrying out intelligence work. They say they are trying to do their job professionally and objectively.

A dozen experts flew from their headquarters in Baghdad to a phosphate factory, some 400 kilometers west of the capital. The factory used to process uranium before the 1991 Gulf War. The experts will be using about six helicopters to help intensify their inspections.

In addition, on Saturday they opened a new base in northern Iraq to increase their inspections in that area. Other inspection teams drove to at least five sites.

So far, the U.N. inspectors say they have not found any evidence of an illegal weapons program in Iraq after a four-year monitoring absence there.

As the United States and Britain are speeding up the deployment of troops to the Gulf for a potential war in Iraq, U.S. President George W. Bush says Baghdad still has time to avert a military showdown. But he called President Hussein's defiant speech accusing inspectors of spying discouraging, particularly when taken with what Washington charges is his incomplete weapons declaration to the United Nations.