Iraq inspections ´could last a year´ - Warning by world´s leading expert is likely to rankle with hawks in Washington (GUARDIAN UK) Brian Whitaker, Cairo and agencies 12/02/02)
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The world´s top nuclear inspector said yesterday that it may take 12
months to discover whether Iraq has weapons of mass destruction - a
view that is likely to irritate Washington hawks.
"It will take us probably around a year before we can come to a
reasonable conclusion," Mohammed el-Baradei, head of the
International Atomic Energy Authority, warned.
"We will be able to report progress as we go along but we are not
keen to rush to a conclusion... We´d like to take our time and I hope
the world will bear with us as we go through this difficult task," he
said in a television interview.
Under the recent UN resolution, the inspectors are required to
provide an "update" report to the security council by late January.
US administration officials have indicated that if the inspectors´
work is very prolonged, they reserve the right to act before the UN
sets out its conclusions.
Mr el-Baradei, an Egyptian who often takes a conciliatory approach,
said the team in Iraq had found nothing untoward during its first
four days of inspections at several sites.
Speaking on the BBC´s Breakfast with Frost programme, he said: "We
are off to a good start but we are far from reaching a conclusion.
"I would like to avoid a war. War is not good for anybody but we have
an important job to do and we have to do a thorough job. It really
depends on absolute 100% Iraqi cooperation so the ball really very
much is in the Iraqi court."
He said he had impressed on Iraqi officials the need to "come clean"
with the inspectors.
"There is a light at the end of the tunnel for Iraq if it cooperates
fully," he added.
"War could be avoided, sanctions could be suspended, but if they
don´t come clean and we discover that there are omissions, there will
be, as the security council says, grave consequences."
As he spoke, inspectors in Iraq paid a surprise visit to a disused
airfield 20 miles outside Baghdad which had once ostensibly been used
to launch crop-spraying aircraft.
More than a dozen helicopters, stripped of their motors, sat on the
disused tarmac as the inspectors checked the site and journalists
watched from beyond a distant fence.
The previous Unscom inspectors discovered in the 1990s that the
airfield, at Khan Bani Sa´ad, had been used for testing the so-called
Zubaidy device, designed to spray toxic bacteria from a helicopter or
After their four-and-a-half-hour visit yesterday, the experts left
Montadhar Radeef Mohammed, the Iraqi official in charge of the
installation, told reporters later that the UN experts had checked
seals and tags left by their predecessors.
They had also gone through all the offices and rooms on the site and
made copies of computer files, but he said they found no prohibited
A document acquired by Unscom in the 1990s showed that Iraq had
successfully field-tested Zubaidy devices in 1988, though Iraq
claimed they were not effective.
Iraq eventually handed over some early versions of the device for
destruction but the inspectors were unable to discover what happened
to the 12 final-version devices that they believed Iraq had produced.
While complaining about the tough terms of the inspections, Iraq also
maintains that the checks have so far vindicated its claim to be free
from weapons of mass destruction.
A report issued by the official Iraqi News Agency, and carried by all
Iraqi newspapers, claimed the UN experts had only succeeded in
uncovering the "lies" of Tony Blair.
It quoted a foreign ministry official as saying: "The foot-and-mouth
disease institute and al-Nasr company [inspected last week] were
among the sites accused by the report of British prime minister Tony
Blair in September 2002 of carrying out banned activities.
"But the results that the inspectors reached recently reveal the
spuriousness of the allegations and lies propagated by Tony Blair and
uncover his false accusations against Iraq."
In the southern no-fly zone, western warplanes killed four people in
a strike on an Iraqi oil plant yesterday, according to local
(Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2002 12/02/02)
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