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U.N. Inspections Continue in Iraq - 2003-01-15

United Nations weapons inspectors in Iraq used helicopters for the first time Tuesday to search for weapons of mass destruction. Three U.N. choppers took off from Baghdad to inspect a phosphate factory four-hundred kilometers from the capital. The U.N. team has three more weeks to present its findings to the Security Council. Aerial inspections will allow the team to inspect more sites quickly.

Meanwhile, at the British House of Commons, Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon announced that Britain is sending more than 1000 of its troops to the Persian Gulf.

“I have today made an order under Section 54, 1 of the Reserve Forces Act, 1996 to enable the callout of reservists for possible operations against Iraq.”

The British aircraft carrier Ark Royal will also head for the Gulf this weekend. And the United States continues to send more troops to the area. The “tarawa” amphibious ready group, carrying 2200 Marines, set sail from San Diego, California, Tuesday. The “tarawa” also carries 25 helicopters and half a dozen harrier jump-jets. But U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says war is not necessarily inevitable.

“I don’t know why anyone would use the word inevitable, it (war) is clearly not inevitable. The first choice would be that Saddam Hussein would pick up and leave the country tonight. That would be nice for everybody.”

But as the U.S. prepares for a possible war with Iraq, Mohamed El Baradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency says his team has yet to find anything suspicious in Iraq.

“It’s too early for us to reach a conclusion on that issue. We haven’t seen a smoking gun yet, if you like, that Iraq has lied in its declaration on the nuclear issue.”

Dr. El Baradei says he needs more intelligence from U.N. member countries to investigate Iraq’s alleged banned weapons program.