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 Tuesday, 24 December, 2002, 09:23 GMT
UN prepares for Iraq war
UN inspectors at an Iraqi factory
UN inspectors will be working over Christmas
The United Nations has confirmed that it is stockpiling relief supplies in the Middle East in case of a war in Iraq.

The UN's refugee agency, UNHCR, said that donor countries had been asked for more than $37m in emergency funding to cover contingency plans for Iraq at a meeting in Geneva on 13 December.

What we have done in this case is say, what do we think it is prudent to have in position now

Fred Eckhard, UN spokesman
Aid agencies fear a humanitarian crisis involving thousands of refugees and widespread civil unrest if Iraq fails to comply with UN resolutions to disarm and triggers a US-led attack.

The BBC's Greg Barrow, at the UN, says officials have been cautious about publicising contingency plans for any military action in Iraq.

To admit they are doing so would suggest that the UN thinks a US military invasion of Iraq is almost inevitable.

Fred Eckhard, the spokesman for UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, said that "a first-phase assessment" had been made of action to take if fighting broke out.

US MILITARY BUILD-UP LATEST
USS Constellation in the Gulf
1,000 US troops due in Israel for an exercise to test Patriot missile defence system
3,000 US army troops end large-scale manoeuvres in the Kuwaiti desert
USS Constellation and USS Harry Truman battle groups deployed in Gulf and the Mediterranean in mid-December
He said the planning focused on what he called a modest pre-positioning of food and equipment.

"I don't think anyone can accurately predict the outcome of war," he said.

"What we have done in this case is say: 'What do we think it is prudent to have in position now?' We have done minimal estimates of what might be required - what we would like to have in place."

Mr Eckhard added that the UN still expected Iraq to comply with the demands of the UN Security Council so that military action could be avoided.

UNHCR spokesman Ron Redmond said the moves were part of normal crisis planning.

He said the UN was also considering the risk that large numbers of people might be displaced both within Iraq and across the country's borders.

In Iraq, teams of UN weapons experts continued their inspections on Tuesday, leaving their headquarters in Baghdad for secret locations. Inspections are also expected to continue on Christmas Day.

A UN spokesman in Baghdad, Hiro Ueki, told the AFP news agency that about 150 inspections had been carried out since the UN resumed its work in November after a four-year break.

Scientists identified

On Monday, the UN International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said it had begun identifying Iraqi scientists who might have crucial information on Iraq's weapons programmes.

IRAQI MATERIAL UNACCOUNTED FOR
US troops with Iraqi arms in 1991
Nearly four tons of VX nerve agents
Growth media for 20,000 litres of biological warfare agents
15,000 shells for use in biological warfare
6,000 chemical warfare bombs
Nuclear information
But an IAEA spokesman said officials had not yet interviewed the scientists formally.

The interviewing of scientists is seen as a potential flashpoint in the Iraq crisis.

Washington has said scientists and their families may have to be taken out of Iraq to be questioned, but Baghdad says the move is unnecessary.

"We understand to a large extent where all the old scientists were and who all the new scientists are, so the interviews are conducted more efficiently," an IAEA spokesman in Vienna told Reuters news agency.

In another development on Monday, Iraqi fighter aircraft shot down an unmanned American surveillance plane over southern Iraq.

General Richard Myers, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a Pentagon briefing he did not see it as an escalation in the crisis.

Iraqi forces "attempt to shoot down all our aircraft that fly over northern and southern Iraq," he said.

  WATCH/LISTEN
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  US Defence Sec. Donald Rumsfeld briefs the media


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Analysis

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 VOTE RESULTS
Iraq: Is war inevitable?

Yes
 58.14% 

No
 41.86% 

74035 Votes Cast

Results are indicative and may not reflect public opinion

See also:

24 Dec 02 | Media reports
22 Dec 02 | Middle East
22 Dec 02 | Middle East
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