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Sunday, 24 November, 2002, 01:37 GMT
Iraq arms teams under pressure
A UN plane is unloaded at Baghdad airport
The UN is back in Iraq after an absence of four years

The search for proscribed weapons in Iraq begins in earnest this week with the arrival of the first inspections team personnel.



It's a highly confrontational environment... You always have the pressure that you are being observed and often filmed and recorded by Iraqi minders

Chris Cobb-Smith, former UN weapons inspector
Their first formal inspection of a suspected weapons site will be on Wednesday.

The inspectors will be under severe pressure and their every step closely scrutinised.

"It's a highly confrontational environment," former weapons inspector Chris Cobb-Smith told BBC News Online.

He was an operational officer for UN inspectors between 1996 and 1998, when the inspections were blocked by Baghdad - provoking US missile strikes. He took part in some of the most intrusive inspections under the leadership of Scott Ritter.

"You always have the pressure that you are being observed and often filmed and recorded by Iraqi minders.

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

"You have to be especially careful that you never do anything to compromise yourself as an individual, as a representative of your country, the UN or Unmovic [the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission].

"Anything you do or say will be recorded and used against you for propaganda purposes," Mr Cobb-Smith said.

Day in the life

If the new Unmovic personnel follow the methods of their predecessors, an inspector's day might go something like this:

  • 0600 - Wake up
  • 0630 - Head count and forming teams in hotel lobby. Team leaders equip their teams. Breakfast
  • 0730 - Detailed briefing on teams' tasks, routes to the site, schedule and precise timings, communication frequencies, safety procedures. Mission decided overnight by Unscom headquarters. Only team leader and operations officer know the mission before the morning briefing
  • 0800 - Move out and meet Iraqi minders
  • Inspections: Could last a morning, or run to two or three days. Sometimes accommodation was planned, sometimes the inspectors slept in their vehicles

The head of the weapons inspection team and the operations officer are likely to work closely with Iraqi counterparts.

Without giving away the destination of the mission, Iraqi officials might be informed of the number of personnel and vehicles on the mission and its likely duration.

This level of co-operation is necessary to allow Iraqi officials to provide for the security of the inspectors.

At times, decoy missions might be run to ensure the element of surprise on arrival at a suspected weapons site.

Watching closely

The inspections will also be watched very closely by the United States.

Whilst trying to avoid antagonising the Iraqi officials too much, Unmovic must convince Washington that the inspections are as tough and rigorous as possible.


The inspectors will be aware that certain countries will be looking for this inspections mission to be a trigger for war

Chris Cobb-Smith
Some senior American officials have openly stated that they do not believe weapons inspections are sufficient to disarm Iraq.

And in the background the build up for war goes on apace.

"The inspectors will be aware that certain countries will be looking for this inspections mission to be a trigger for war," Mr Cobb-Smith said.

First deadline

The first real test of Iraqi co-operation with Unmovic is likely to come on 8 December, when Baghdad must disclose fully any chemical, biological or nuclear weapon or their delivery systems to inspectors.

Picture distributed by the UK Government
An alleged chemical weapons plant at Tarmiya

If this disclosure is judged to be incomplete by any member of the UN Security Council, Iraq could be declared in "material breach" of the new resolution.

Washington has indicated that it will declare Iraq in material breach if it is unconvinced by Iraq's "currently accurate, full, and complete declaration" of its weapons - possibly providing a cause for war.

Mr Cobb-Smith says that the document Iraq will present is likely to be huge and very detailed.

"It is expected to go into every proscribed activity that the Iraqis may have been involved in and may include details of every facility, including dual use items and facilities. These may be ordinary factories, laboratories, universities, even a tannery.

"The analysis on this is going to take a long time."

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Ben Brown
"They checked computers, they took samples"

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See also:

15 Nov 02 | Middle East
09 Nov 02 | Middle East
12 Nov 02 | Middle East
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