- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 28, 2002

BAGHDAD U.N. weapons inspectors led their Iraqi escorts and a pursuing press pack on a sometimes comical high-speed chase through the Baghdad suburbs yesterday as they demonstrated their determination to turn up at suspect sites without warning.
The arms experts one of two teams to head out yesterday described their first day of formal inspections in almost four years as a success, saying the inspection team had been able to complete the day's work "as it planned."
That was not quite the case for the dozens of press and television vehicles that had been assembled in front of the U.N. headquarters waiting to report on the resumption of inspections.
The U.N. convoy sped out of the compound at precisely 8.30 a.m., leaving the reporters and the Iraqi escorts from the National Monitoring Directorate scrambling to follow.
Traffic policemen at major intersections watched as the U.N. team's white four-wheel-drive vehicles led the chaotic convoy ducking and weaving through rush-hour traffic, horns blaring.
The head of the inspection team, veteran International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspector Jacques Baute of France, personally took the wheel of the lead vehicle.
At one point, the three U.N. vehicles took a wrong turn and stopped abruptly. With brakes and tires squealing, the following vehicles barely managed to avoid a multicar pileup before the convoy made a U-turn and reassembled.
After 40 minutes of madness, the mystery tour arrived in the northeastern suburb of Al-Rashad, named after an asylum for the mentally ill.
Managers appeared genuinely surprised at the arrival of the inspectors at their facility, a former women's prison that now houses facilities of Iraq's state body for military industrialization. But after just a few minutes of conversation, the inspectors entered and began a three-hour inspection.
"The team was able to complete the inspection work as it planned with the cooperation of the Iraqi side, and we had access to what we wanted to see," Mr. Baute told reporters afterward.
It was one of two inspections conducted yesterday. A second squad of U.N. inspectors said they had successfully completed their mission after arriving unannounced at a graphite factory in Al-Amiriya, 45 miles west of the capital.
"We managed to do all the things that we planned to do," said Greece's Dimitri Perricos, who led the 11-member U.N. Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Mission (Unmovic) team.
"We got the activities and the data we wanted to get in order to be able to assess further the capabilities of the sites."
Haitham Mahmoud, director-general of the military installation searched by Mr. Baute's team, said he and his aides had been surprised by the arrival of the U.N. inspectors "but we cooperated fully with them."
"We led them into all the rooms, workshops, laboratories and all other places," he told journalists. "When they went out, they told us that there were no problems."
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, in Paris, said the disarmament mission the first since inspectors fled in December 1998 ahead of U.S. and British air strikes against Iraq appeared to be off to "a fairly good start."
War is not inevitable, Mr. Annan added, but stressed that President Saddam Hussein must pursue full cooperation with Unmovic chief Hans Blix and his team.
Russia, too, stressed its desire to see Iraq comply with U.N. Security Council Resolution 1441, adopted on Nov. 8, which gives the U.N. teams unprecedented powers to search Iraqi sites and question local scientists about Saddam's arms programs.
"Iraqi authorities must prove through real action their earlier statements of intent to cooperate with the United Nations as well as the IAEA," the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
IAEA spokeswoman Melissa Fleming told CNN television that the inspectors faced a "daunting task."
Iraq has categorically denied it now possesses or is developing weapons of mass destruction, or ballistic missiles to deliver them, and insists that the inspectors will find nothing incriminating.
Its next major act of compliance with the U.N. resolution will fall on Dec. 8, the deadline for Baghdad to make a complete and accurate declaration of its programs to develop chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, ballistic missiles and other delivery systems.
Should it fail to cooperate with the inspections, Iraq would face "severe consequences," which are likely to include U.S.-led military strikes.


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