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Monday, 25 November, 2002, 18:00 GMT
UN inspectors arrive in Iraq
UN weapons inspectors board a plane in Cyprus on Monday
Inspectors were flown in from Cyprus
A team of 17 United Nations weapons inspectors has arrived in Iraq, supported by a sweeping mandate to search sites that were off limits during seven years of inspections in the 1990s.

The inspectors, resuming work that was broken off in 1998, are expected to carry out their first field mission on Wednesday.

We have the right to inspect any sites at any time

Hiro Ueki,
UN spokesman
The inspectors' return comes less than three weeks after the UN passed a tough resolution compelling Iraq to give up any chemical, biological or nuclear weapons or face "serious consequences".

The UK House of Commons has begun debating possible military action against Iraq.

The government in London is expected to announce that it is preparing the ground for a call-up of military reservists, in readiness for any British participation in an American-led attack on Iraq.

Intrusive inspections

The UN resolution empowers the inspectors to carry out more rigorous searches for suspect material than ever before. Areas such as mosques, which Baghdad declared off limits to weapons inspectors in the past, could now be searched.

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

"We have the right to inspect any sites at any time," said Hiro Ueki, Baghdad spokesman for the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission, Unmovic.

The last UN weapons inspectors left Iraq in December 1998, shortly before American-led strikes on the country.

On Sunday, the Iraqi Government released a letter from Foreign Minister Naji Sabri to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan which denounced the resolution as a pretext for America to declare war on Iraq.

Setting up

The specialists - six from the UN nuclear agency and 11 from the commission charged with searching for other banned weapons - will be based at the former Canal Hotel in Baghdad.

UN weapons inspection equipment is unloaded in Baghdad before the inspectors' arrival
Equipment has already been flown into Baghdad

About 20 tons of equipment has already been flown into Baghdad from Larnaca, Cyprus, including communications kit, furniture and medical supplies.

The inspectors' first missions are expected to involve checking on cameras and other monitoring equipment installed at sites last visited in the 1990s.

An advance team of about 30 inspectors arrived in Baghdad last Monday and eventually there will be up to 100 inspectors working in Iraq at any one time.

There will be about 300 inspectors in all, including biologists, chemists, missile and ordnance experts working for Unmovic, plus engineers and physicists associated with the International Atomic Energy Agency.

'Pretext for war'

Hours before the inspectors' return, Baghdad complained that the UN resolution was unfairly designed to catch it out.

Naji Sabri
Sabri said the resolution was too demanding

In his letter to Mr Annan, Mr Sabri said that the resolution could turn "inaccurate statements [among] thousands of pages" of Iraq's declarations to the UN on arms into a justification for war.

"There is premeditation to target Iraq, whatever the pretext," the foreign minister wrote.

Under the terms of the resolution, Iraq must submit to the UN a full accounting of its weapons programmes by 8 December.

The resolution says "false statements or omissions" could be considered a "material breach", which could lead to military action.

The UN inspectors must report their findings to the UN Security Council by 27 January.

America and Britain have accused Iraq of developing weapons of mass destruction, a charge which Baghdad denies.

Commons debate

In a sign that the UK Government is readying itself for a military campaign in Iraq, UK Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon will announce on Monday that the process for calling up army reservists has begun.

The US asked 60 countries last week for help in any military operation.

In the House of Commons debate, a rebel MP from Tony Blair's Labour party is planning to call a vote for a veto on military action.

But correspondents say that while significant numbers of the government's own MPs have been sceptical about military action, the main opposition Conservative party has been largely supportive of the government's approach.

The BBC's Ben Brown
"If the Iraqis try to hinder the inspectors it could trigger an American-led attack"
Foreign Secretary Jack Straw
"The resolution has one aim, the peaceful disarmament of Iraq"
The BBC's Kim Ghattas
"They will start by visiting sites that were visited during the nineties"

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See also:

25 Nov 02 | Media reports
24 Nov 02 | Middle East
25 Nov 02 | Middle East
24 Nov 02 | Middle East
13 Nov 02 | Middle East
21 Nov 02 | Middle East
25 Nov 02 | Politics
25 Nov 02 | Politics
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