Iraq Inspectors Search Chemical, Nuclear Facilities

One day after their surprise inspection of one of Saddam Hussein's presidential palaces, U.N. weapons monitors scored a double coup Wednesday, searching both a former chemical-weapons factory and an Iraqi nuclear facility.

Elsewhere, U.S. war planes bombed an Iraqi air defense site in the northern "no-fly" zone about 15 miles from the city of Mosul, U.S. officials said. The attack came after the Iraqis fired on U.S. jets patrolling the area, the officials said.

In Baghdad, a senior Iraqi official said Iraq would hand over its report on chemical, biological and nuclear programs on Saturday, a day ahead of the U.N. deadline.

The official, Gen. Hossam Mohammed Amin, said the report will not admit to any proscribed weaponry "because, really, we have no weapons of mass destruction."

President Bush, meanwhile, dismissed reports that Iraqi weapons inspections were going well.

"We've been at this five days — this is after 11 years of deceit and defiance," Bush told reporters Wednesday in a brief White House exchange.

After a circuitous drive through the fog-bound desert from Baghdad, inspectors arrived at the front gate of al-Muthanna at 10:25 a.m., presumably to make sure chemical-weapons production had not resumed. They were admitted quickly to what appeared to be a vast installation.

U.N. inspectors entered the al-Muthanna State Establishment, which once produced chemical and biological agents, and a team from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which conducts the U.N.'s nuclear inspections, went to the al-Tuwaitha nuclear complex, famous for once being attacked by Israeli warplanes.

In the late 1990s, U.N. teams demolished al-Muthanna, in wastelands 40 miles northwest of the capital, after finding it had produced some of the deadliest chemical weapons known: mustard gas, first used during World War I, and the nerve agents tabun, sarin and VX.

The facility once operated as the Iraqi State Establishment for Pesticide Production — most nerve gases were originally developed as pesticides — but the Iraqis finally admitted that it produced 4,000 tons of chemical weapons per year. It also developed biological agents, apparently including anthrax.

The demolishing of al-Muthanna, which was bombed during the 1991 Gulf War, was a major achievement of the first round of U.N. inspections. A recent Iraqi report said the teams had destroyed 38,500 artillery shells and other chemical-filled weapons, almost 520,000 gallons of liquid material, 150 pieces of equipment used to make chemical weapons and four production facilities.

After five hours, the inspectors left al-Muthanna without speaking to journalists waiting at the gate.

An Iraqi liaison officer, Raad Manhal, said the arms experts had searched for signs of resumed production at the site.

"There were looking for any change, and they found no change," Manhal said.

About 16 miles southeast of Baghdad, the IAEA team entered the al-Tuwaitha nuclear complex, apparently following up on satellite photos that show recent construction at the site.

Israeli jets destroyed the Tamouz reactor at al-Tuwaitha in a surprise strike in 1981, alleging that Iraq was using the facility to develop nuclear weapons. Ten years later, the site was heavily bombed during the Gulf War.

Wednesday's searches came at the end of the first week of renewed inspections under a U.N. Security Council mandate for Iraq to shut down any continuing chemical, biological or nuclear weapons programs.

So far, the inspectors have reported the Iraqis to be generally cooperating. In New York on Tuesday, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan described Iraq's cooperation as good, but he cautioned "this is only the beginning."

Annan's assessment appeared at odds with that of President Bush, who said Monday that early signs from Baghdad "are not encouraging."

In a more upbeat assessment, Secretary of State Colin Powell told reporters while en route to Colombia that the inspection process is "off to a pretty good start" and noted the inspectors have been allowed to visit sites thus far without Iraqi interference.

"I'm not prepared to say the inspections are working," Powell said. "They're not up to strength and they're not up to speed yet."

The Bush administration alleges Iraq retains chemical and biological weapons — missed during the 1990s inspections — and has not abandoned its nuclear weapons program.

Bush threatens to wage war on Iraq — with or without U.N. sanction — if it does not disarm. Other governments say that only the Security Council can authorize an attack on Iraq in a situation not involving immediate self-defense.

The Iraqi Foreign Ministry on Wednesday criticized the inspectors for their visit to the presidential palace, Al-Sajoud, the previous day.

A statement issued by an unidentified ministry spokesman questioned the validity of the visit.

"What did they search for in Al-Sajoud Palace?" the statement asked. "Was this visit really to search for banned weapons or for other aims?"

Tuesday's search of the opulent palace along the Tigris River in western Baghdad was the first time the U.N. inspectors had entered a presidential compound since inspections resumed last week.

Inspections of presidential palaces in the 1990s had to be undertaken according to strict rules agreed with the Iraqis. However, Tuesday's visit took place under the new U.N. Security Council mandate that gives inspectors the right to enter presidential compounds without notice or any other restriction. The visit was seen as a test of the new mandate.

The inspectors left Al-Sajoud palace after 1½ hours, issuing no comment to reporters as they departed.

The inspectors of the 1990s eliminated tons of Iraqi chemical and biological weapons and the equipment to make them, dismantled Iraq's effort to build nuclear bombs, and destroyed scores of longer-range Iraqi missiles. However, the inspectors reported that they suspected they had not found all of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.