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U.N. Weapons Inspectors Gearing Up

The war of words is over. Now the United Nations weapons inspectors are gearing up for their part in the next phase of the Iraq crisis.

The advance team arrives in Baghdad on Monday, led by chief U.N. inspector Hans Blix, who is in charge of biological and chemical inspections, and Mohamed ElBaradei of the International Atomic Energy Agency, which is in charge of nuclear inspections.

The inspections themselves will begin exactly one week later, Nov. 25, well ahead of the Dec. 23 deadline in the resolution. Before that, the team will be busy laying the groundwork for the job to come.

Workers will be reopening the office used by inspectors before they left in December 1998, installing new computers, getting the old laboratory up and running, arranging secure communications, getting vehicles, and preparing for the arrival of helicopters, Ewen Buchanan, Blix's spokesman, said.

"It's pointless to send inspectors to Iraq until we have all the necessary tools in place," he said.

Within a few weeks after inspections resume, the United Nations intends to have 80 to 100 inspectors in Baghdad, plus a backup team of interpreters, medics, logistics and communications experts, laboratory personnel and helicopter crews, Buchanan said.

The inspectors must report to the Security Council 60 days after resuming work. But if Iraq fails to cooperate, the resolution orders inspectors to immediately notify the council, which will discuss possible action.

By Dec. 8, Iraq must declare all its chemical, biological and nuclear programs. Any omissions or false reports count as a black mark under the resolution.

"If they are clean, they are going to have to prove to us that they are clean," ElBaradei said in Vienna.

The U.N. resolution adopted unanimously last Friday by the Security Council gives Iraq "a final opportunity" to eliminate its nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and the long-range missiles to deliver them.

It gives inspectors the right to go anywhere, anytime, and warns Iraq that it will face "serious consequences" if it fails to cooperate.

Weapons inspectors were last in Iraq in December 1998, pulling out just before an allied bombing campaign punishing Iraq for refusing access to several suspected weapons sites.

Inspectors this time will likely have access to surveillance aircraft provided by the Pentagon, and will get information on suspected sites that the U.S. has gathered from satellite photos, defectors and aerial patrols.

Of particular interest will be underground bunkers and formerly off-limit areas that no outsider has seen in four years.

The inspectors will also have detection technology that has advanced greatly in the past four years, according to the New York Times.

These include far more powerful satellite spy cameras; reconnaissance drones; miniaturized sensors that scour air, water and soil for signs of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons; lightweight germ sensors that can find biological weapons quickly and accurately; and improved radar technology that can point out underground facilities.

Inspectors should have freer rein this time, being allowed under the new resolution to interview witnesses without government officials present, and, at least nominally, being able to take scientists and their families out of the country, according to Reuters. Experts said that it might not be possible to take scientists away, however.

But there will undoubtedly be difficulties as well. Previous inspectors complained of Iraqi officials routinely interfering with and preventing effective searches. In one instance in December 1998, Iraqis only allowed four inspectors to search the vast offices of the ruling Baath Party.

In other cases, officials forbade inspectors from photocopying documents or filming searches. A particularly contentious issue involved whether or not inspectors would be allowed access to at least eight presidential palaces.

The U.S. claimed Saddam was using the buildings to hide weapons programs. Baghdad claimed allowing inspectors in would violate Iraq's sovereignty. It was Iraq's intransigence over presidential palaces that led to the U.S.-British bombing in December 1998.

One former inspector was skeptical that the new team could do the job.

David Albright, a nuclear inspector from 1992 to 1997, told Reuters the team needed more people to not only investigate sites but to secure them, and also to conduct searches at several sites at once to befuddle the Iraqis.

"It took me many years to learn how to do interviews and I was sometimes tricked. You need people used to dealing with the negative side of human behavior and I fear they may be short of those kinds of people," Albright, now president of the Institute for Science and International Security, said.

There will be fewer Americans on this inspections team than previously. Inspectors are all full-time U.N. employees rather than experts on loan from governments. Blix has said the inspectors will not share information with U.S. intelligence agencies as previous U.N. teams did.

In the letter of acceptance of the U.N. resolution demanding inspections, Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri accused Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair of fabricating "the biggest and most wicked slander against Iraq" by claiming that it had or was on its way to producing nuclear weapons and had already produced biological and chemical weapons.

Under Security Council resolutions adopted after Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait, U.N. inspectors must certify that Iraq's weapons of mass destruction have been eliminated.

Only then can sanctions against Iraq be lifted — and Sabri said the council has a "lawful duty" to do this when the inspectors find no banned weapons.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.