Wednesday, Dec 04, 2002
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By Atul Aneja
The visit assumes importance as it shows that Iraq is complying with the recent U.N. Security Council resolution that allows the inspectors to carry out surprise inspections anywhere and at anytime in Iraq. On the sixth day of their probe, inspectors spent one and a half hours inside the Al-Sajoud palace on the banks of the river Tigris in west Baghdad.
The inspection team did not make any comments after concluding the visit. Access to Mr. Hussein's many presidential sites was an explosive issue in the previous round of inspections in the 1990s. The Iraqis had sought to bar the U.N. inspectors, leading to difficult negotiations between the U.N. Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, and Mr. Hussein. The inspectors, as a result of these talks, were allowed to visit key presidential sites with diplomatic escort and notice.
As the weapons probe gathers momentum, there are early signs that the inspectors are asking the Iraqis to do some explaining.
According to the BBC, the Iraqis have told the inspectors that they had tried to import aluminium tubes for building weapons, which is a violation of the U.N. sanctions regime imposed against Iraq after the Gulf War.
However, the Iraqis, according to the inspectors, have categorically denied the U.S. and British allegations that it was seeking these tubes as part of its nuclear weapons programme. On the contrary, it wanted these items for building multi-barrel rocket launchers. In any case, the import of the tubing never materialised.
In another indication that the inspectors might be beginning to mount pressure on the Iraqis, the U.N. announced on Monday that some equipment that the inspectors were interested in was missing when they visited Karama complex in Baghdad on Monday. A spokesman for the U.N. team said the Iraqis had informed them that the equipment was shifted to a new location. The Iraqi side has also reportedly said that some of the equipment may have been destroyed during U.S. air raids.
Eighteen U.S. cruise missiles had targeted the Karama General Co. complex in December 1998, soon after the first inspection team had pulled out of Iraq.
It is alleged that the facility has been a nucleus of Iraq's missile development plans.
Iraq, under a new U.N. Security Council mandate, is required to shut down any nuclear, chemical or biological weapons programmes. An earlier resolution bans Iraq from building missiles that have a range above 144 km.
As the inspections gather steam, the U.S. and Britain have heightened their coercive diplomacy.
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