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US Advises IAEA to Pull Inspectors from Iraq - 2003-03-17

The United States has advised the International Atomic Energy Agency to start pulling its inspectors from Iraq.

The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohamed ElBaradei, said he was warned late Sunday by the United States to prepare for the departure of the agency's inspectors from Iraq.

A spokesman for the U.N. agency, Mark Gwozdecky, said no decision to withdraw has been made. He said the agency would await guidance later from the meeting of the U.N. Security Council.

But Mr. Gwozdecky confirmed that the agency is prepared to act quickly to get its inspectors and support staff out of Iraq in the event war breaks out. "We have an evacuation plan and we have had it in place for some time and we can move quickly if we need to," he said.

In the last few days the number of inspectors has dwindled. Most of the team's helicopters have left the country because their insurance was canceled.

The IAEA has previous experience getting its staff quickly out of Iraq. In 1998 inspectors withdrew suddenly from Iraq on the eve of U.S.-led air strikes on Baghdad.