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Inspectors: Equipment Missing From Iraq Missile Site

Some Iraqi military equipment that was tagged by U.N. inspectors at a missile site in 1998 was missing Monday when inspectors conducted a six-hour investigation of the site for the first time in four years.

In a statement, the U.N. weapons inspectors said Iraqi officials had told them the equipment had either been destroyed by Allied bombing or was moved to other facilities in Iraq.

"In 1998, the site contained a number of pieces of equipment tagged by the United Nations Special Commission [UNSCOM] and several monitoring cameras," the statement said, according to Reuters. "None of these are currently present at the facility."

The inspection took place on the fifth day of the renewed search for weapons of mass destruction under a tough U.N. mandate.

The U.N. team spent six hours at the Karamah (Dignity) compound in Baghdad, a factory that once made guidance and control systems for Iraq's "stretch Scuds."

Iraq modified Soviet-made Scuds to longer range and used them in the Persian Gulf War. Iraq is prohibited from having such missiles — which have a range of 400 miles — and inspectors presumably wanted to ensure that such work had not resumed.

In Monday's statement, the inspectors said the facility, run by the Military Industrialization Commission, was currently an engineering design and research and development site.

The inspectors left the missile plant after six hours inside and did not immediately comment to reporters. The plant's deputy director, Brigadier Mohammed Salah, said all went smoothly and the arms experts found nothing.

"We don't engage in this kind of activity," he said.

A second team said to be from the U.N. nuclear regulatory agency visited three alcoholic-beverage plants on Baghdad's outskirts, according to the plants' Iraqi managers. The purpose of the inspection could not immediately be determined.

The managers said inspectors also visited the plants in the 1990s and placed tags on some equipment.

"They surprised us with a visit today," said Albert Moussa Younan, manager of one plant. "They did not find anything because we are a company that produces alcoholic beverages."

Surprise has been an important tactic for the inspectors. The Security Council resolution that sent them back after a four-year absence empowered them to go anywhere at any time to determine whether Iraq still is harboring banned weapons.

In separate developments, the U.S. military said allied warplanes bombed an Iraqi air-defense site Monday after coming under anti-aircraft artillery fire while patrolling the northern no-fly zone.

The U.S. European Command based in Stuttgart, Germany, said coalition planes were fired on near the northern city of Mosul.

There was no immediate word from Iraqi officials on the strike.

U.S. aircraft also dropped 240,000 leaflets over communications facilities about 100-150 miles southeast of Baghdad. The sites, between the cities of Al Kut and An Nasiriyah, were damaged by U.S. airstrikes Sunday.

Two leaflet messages urged the Iraqi military not to repair the facilities, while a third warned that Iraqi firing on U.S. and British aircraft flying over southern Iraq could trigger more allied attacks.

Earlier, Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri complained to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan about Sunday's U.S.-British air raids in southern Iraq. Baghdad says allied bombs hit an oil installation, killing four people and wounding 27.

The U.S. military reported no casualties and said the Sunday strikes targeted Iraqi air defenses.

Sabri, in a letter to Annan, called for U.N. protection to prevent further attacks, saying they violated Security Council resolutions and marked an "escalation of the hostile and terrorist campaign by the United States and Britain."

In London on Monday, the British government accused Baghdad of systematic human-rights abuses, charging in a report that Saddam's regime has oppressed ordinary Iraqis through torture, rape and terror.

Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said the report's aim was "to remind the world that the abuses of the Iraqi regime extend far beyond its pursuit of weapons of mass destruction in violation of its international obligations."

Amnesty International, however, accused Straw of a "cold and calculated manipulation" of the human-rights situation to support his case for a possible war in Iraq.

During inspections Sunday, U.N. experts showed up at a field 20 miles north of Baghdad searching for devices that can spray deadly microbes from the air. U.N. teams in the 1990s determined that such devices were tested at the airfield.

"I was surprised because I wasn't here," said the field's director, Montadhar Radeef Mohammed. "I was also surprised that they didn't allow me to enter until they got permission. I wasn't aware of the visit."

The inspectors routinely seal sites during their searches.

"We are not giving any notice whatsoever and we insist to exercise our full rights," the top nuclear inspector, Mohamed ElBaradei, told the British Broadcasting Corp.

"And we intend to have it all the way in that fashion," ElBaradei added later.

The United States has threatened to disarm Iraq — alone if necessary — if Baghdad holds back any relevant information or fails to cooperate with the U.N. inspectors.

The U.N. resolution requires that Iraq give up all weapons of mass destruction or face "serious consequences."

The work of previous inspectors in the 1990s after the Gulf War led to the destruction of many tons of Iraqi chemical and biological weapons and the equipment to make them, and the dismantlement of Iraq's nuclear bomb program.

That inspections regime collapsed in 1998 amid disputes over access to sites and Iraqi complaints that U.S. spies were among the U.N. inspectors. Those inspectors believed they were unable to find and destroy all of Iraq's illegal weapons.

Iraq must reveal the extent of its weapons capabilities to the United Nations by Dec. 8. ElBaradei warned Sunday that everything must be noted.

Also Monday, Arab diplomats said the Arab League's secretary-general, Amr Moussa, met with Iraqi opposition leader Omar Boutani over the weekend to discuss the possibility of a U.S. military strike against Iraq.

The diplomats, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Boutani, a ranking member of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, briefed Moussa on recent efforts by exile opposition groups to create a unified front against Saddam.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.