Wednesday, November 11, 1998 Published at 12:57 GMT
UN withdraws staff from Iraq
Over 100 staff have left for Jordan
The United Nations is withdrawing all non-essential personnel from Iraq, amid speculation that the United States is preparing a military attack.
The withdrawal was ordered by UN headquarters in New York following discussions with US Government officials.
Over 100 UN workers have left Baghdad travelling in convoy.
On Wednesday the US Government was reported to have ordered a second aircraft carrier, the USS Enterprise, to speed up its approach to the Gulf.
They will join an already substantial military force ready to launch an attack should President Clinton give the order.
"If we do something, it's not going to be a pinprick," one Pentagon official is quoted as saying.
The decision also affects staff running the oil-for-food programme, under which Iraq is allowed limited exemption from trade sanctions to buy essential supplies.
Only a few UN staff will remain in Iraq, including the UN Secretary-General's personal envoy in Baghdad, Prakash Shah.
Although some Unscom staff began leaving Iraq at the weekend, the large-scale withdrawal of UN personnel has come as a surprise.
The BBC Correspondent in Baghdad, Richard Downes, says the withdrawal has increased speculation that the US may be about to use military force against Iraq.
Support for action
It would however be difficult for the US to act unilaterally. At present only the United Kingdom supports the US on the use of military force without a further UN resolution being passed.
In a statement on Wednesday the Iraqi government denied it had expelled the UN workers.
The authorities in Baghdad have also recently dismissed the possibility of an attack by the US and its allies.
Ealier, the United States warned that Iraq will be able to rebuild its weapons programme in a matter of months unless the international community takes action over its obstruction of UN weapons inspections.
Baghdad announced at the end of October that it would cease co-operation with the Unscom inspectors, whose task is to ensure that Iraq complies with a UN resolution calling for the dismantling of weapons of mass destruction.