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Monday, 18 November, 2002, 16:42 GMT
UN inspectors begin Iraq mission
Mohammed el-Baradei and Hans Blix arrive in Baghdad
Hans Blix (r) said inspections would resume this month
International inspectors have returned to Iraq for the first time in four years with a sweeping new mandate to search for weapons of mass destruction.

The leader of the UN team, Hans Blix, said inspections would resume on 27 November and that he hoped the work could ease a "tense" situation.

The situation is tense at the moment but this is a new opportunity

Hans Blix,
Chief inspector
Iraq has until 8 December to declare all its weapons programmes to the UN, but the inspectors also have long lists of suspect sites based on their previous work and on intelligence reports.

Hours before the arrival of Mr Blix and the advance party, US and British aircraft fired on Iraqi air defences after being "threatened" as they patrolled no-fly zones, US military commanders said.

The new UN resolution agreed unanimously by the Security Council earlier this month gives the weapons inspectors powers to inspect any site in Iraq - including President Saddam Hussein's palaces - and talk to anyone they want.

Open in new window : Iraq spotlight
Click to see maps of Iraq's suspected weapons sites

But Mr Blix said he hoped that the arrival of the inspectors would begin a peaceful end to the dispute over Iraq's suspected development of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons.

"The situation is tense at the moment but this is a new opportunity," he said.

Air strikes

US President George W Bush has threatened to lead a coalition to disarm Iraq by force if inspections fail.

Next steps
18 Nov: Inspectors arrive in Iraq
8 Dec: Iraq must reveal all programmes, plants and materials which could be used for weapons production
23 Dec: Inspections must have resumed
21 Feb: Inspectors to report to UN Security Council

The air strikes in the no-fly zones set up after the 1991 Gulf War came after planes were fired on for the second day in a row, US officials said.

Leaflets were also dropped across Iraq on Sunday warning Iraqi forces not to fire on US and British aircraft.

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said the pressure was still on President Saddam Hussein and urged him "to comply fully for the sake of his people, for the sake of the region and for the sake of the whole world".

The 25-strong team of inspectors now in Iraq include Mohammed el-Baradei, Mr Blix's counterpart from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

The advance party will hold discussions with Iraqi Government officials to pave the way for new searches, but Mr Blix has said there will be no advance warning of any site to be checked.

The inspectors - whose numbers are expected to swell to 100 by the end of the year - have been instructed to report to the Security Council on their findings or any hindrance to their work.

If Iraq fails to meet the UN demands, the Security Council could reconvene to discuss taking further action - even war.

No hiding place

Mr Blix has said that even the best-hidden weapons can now be detected with new technology, but sceptics say that the four years since the UN inspectors left Iraq have provided plenty of opportunities for concealment.

Poster of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein in Baghdad
Iraq has been preparing for the UN's arrival
Iraq has rejected accusations that it is developing or hiding illegal weapons and remains suspicious of the inspectors, though President Saddam allowed their return.

The BBC correspondent in Baghdad, Caroline Hawley, says Iraqi newspapers have made no explicit mention of the inspectors' return, but have urged the UN to be independent and impartial.

Evening news bulletins said the inspectors - from the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (Unmovic) and the IAEA - were "on a visit of several days".

The BBC's Caroline Hawley in Baghdad
"Iraqis know that the hard part is just beginning"
Mark Gwozdecky, International Atomic Energy Agency
"They have made everything available to us"
Jack Straw, UK Foreign Secretary
"This is Saddam Hussein's final opportunity to comply with the international community"

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See also:

18 Nov 02 | Middle East
18 Nov 02 | Americas
15 Nov 02 | Americas
15 Nov 02 | Middle East
14 Nov 02 | Middle East
01 Oct 02 | Middle East
19 Sep 02 | Europe
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