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Wednesday, 27 November, 2002, 13:29 GMT
Q&A: What will the inspectors do?
UN inspectors in Iraq have begun their formal search for illegal biological, chemical and nuclear weapons. BBC News Online answers key questions about the inspection teams and the task they face.

What is the timeframe for inspections?

According to the UN Security Council's recent resolution on Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction, inspections had to begin no later than 45 days after the resolution was adopted.

The inspectors completed their first field visit on 27 November - well within the 45-day deadline.

The UN resolution stipulates that the inspectors have 60 days to report on their progress to the Security Council - although it is not clear whether the clock runs from the day they arrive in Iraq or from the end of the 45-day deadline.

However, if at any point the inspectors believe Iraq is obstructing their work, or that Iraq is in "material breach" of the resolution they can report back to the UN. At this point, the Security Council will reconvene to discuss the consequences.

For its part, Iraq has 30 days from the adoption of the resolution to disclose fully any chemical, biological or nuclear weapon or their delivery systems to inspectors.

What are the inspectors' new powers?

The resolution gives the teams unrestricted inspection rights, including scrutiny of Saddam Hussein's palace compounds and other sites that have been exempt in the past.

Weapons inspectors will, for the first time, be able to take witnesses and their families out of Iraq so that they can give evidence without fear of reprisals.

Analysts say the resolution requires the Iraqis to "bend over backwards" to satisfy the inspectors.

"This implies that they are going to have to fling open their doors, invite the inspectors to go anywhere and everywhere, reveal anything that they can think of about their capabilities," Rosemary Hollis of the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London told the BBC.

Previously, Iraqi officials often failed to co-operate with inspectors and thwarted efforts to carry out effective inspections.

Failure to comply on Iraq's part could lead to military action.

How difficult is their mission?

The inspectors have a huge task ahead - they will be working to a tight deadline and have not worked in Iraq since 1998.

Their first task will be to assess the inspections infrastructure that they left behind.

The International Atomic Energy Agency, which will work alongside the UN's Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (Unmovic) inspection teams and will look for nuclear weapons, says it has been poised to return to Iraq for some time.

It says it has been working on strategic operational plans that will allow inspectors to begin work almost straight away. It adds that scientists have had four years to do a lot of analysis.

If Iraq complies with a stipulation in the resolution to declare all its weapons of mass destruction programmes within 30 days, this will give inspectors a check-list of what they should expect to find.

Otherwise, the UN has no formal access to national governments' intelligence-gathering networks or spy satellites and has to rely on its own information sources - going to established pharmaceutical factories, known military bases, office headquarters and so on.

Who are the inspectors?

Inspectors and their teams are drawn from a wide range of backgrounds, with expertise on missiles, chemical and biological warfare. They also include linguists, customs experts, even import-export specialists - anyone who might help pinpoint the difference between legitimate and banned activities.

There are currently 220 experts from 44 countries on the UN's weapons inspection books, all trained and ready to serve in Iraq.

The UN says that about 80 would probably be in Baghdad at any one time, backed up by doctors, interpreters, pilots and other support staff - taking the total team to roughly 120-130.

Any of the Security Council's permanent members - the US, UK, France, Russia and China - would be allowed to send representatives along with the inspection teams.

How do they operate on the ground?

Teams sent out from the Baghdad office would normally be at least four or five-strong, and could be as large as 20-30 on major inspection projects. Each team includes a report writer as well as the other experts.

Their work involves everything from tagging equipment to trying to work out whether pharmaceutical factories might be producing ingredients for chemical weapons.

They will also need to set up ongoing monitoring equipment like video cameras and recorders.

Are there any security concerns for the inspectors?

In the very early years of Unscom in 1991 or 1992, there were public demonstrations against the inspections and very occasional incidents of assault on inspectors.

These tended to be engineered by the Iraqi authorities.

Weapons inspectors say that in the late years of Unscom operations, between 1996 and 1998, Iraqi minders took exceptional care to ensure that nothing untoward happened to any inspector.

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13 Nov 02 | Middle East
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