United Nations weapons inspectors have arrived in Cyprus after being evacuated from Iraq Tuesday, as war appears imminent in Iraq. Other U.N. personnel are also being evacuated after U.S. President George W. Bush gave Saddam Hussein and his sons 48 hours to get out of Iraq or face an attack. Some of the weapons inspectors said that they were disappointed they were not able to complete their mission.
Within hours of receiving an order from U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, weapons inspectors in Baghdad gathered their belongings, boarded a convoy of minibuses and headed for Saddam International Airport early Tuesday morning.
A total of 146 U.N. personnel, including 56 weapons inspectors and 80 support staffers, arrived at the airport, with many expressing sadness and regret that they were unable to finish the job of making sure Iraq is disarmed of weapons of mass destruction.
The spokesman for the inspection team, Hiro Ueki, said the inspectors had done their best. He said they felt as though they had received "good amounts" of cooperation from the Iraqis and said there were more signs of cooperation recently. But Mr. Ueki said a high level decision was made and the inspectors had no choice but to leave.
Tuesday morning they boarded a U.N. aircraft and flew out of Baghdad to Cyprus.
That plane and a larger cargo aircraft were expected to shuttle more United Nations employees out of Iraq.
Weapons inspectors returned to Baghdad last November after a four year absence. But after almost four months of renewed inspections, President Bush declared that Saddam Hussein had failed to meet repeated U.N. demands to destroy Iraq's nuclear, biological and chemical weapons.
The president has said recent Iraqi cooperation, including destruction of al-Samoud 2 missiles and the filing of a report regarding its supplies of anthrax, was too little too late.
Baghdad criticized the decision to pull out the weapons inspectors, accusing Secretary-General Annan of bowing to pressure from the United States. Mr. Annan also ordered the suspension of a U.N.-supervised oil-for-food program. Officials in Baghdad said the Iraqi people would pay the price for that decision.