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'Soft start' for Iraq inspections

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Weapons inspectors said they had received good co-operation

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EXCLUSIVE: CNN's Christiane Amanpour talks to Chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix.
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CNN's Rym Brahimi recaps day two of U.N. weapons inspections in Iraq (November 28)
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SPECIAL REPORT
•  Commanders: U.S. | Iraq
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WHAT NEXT?
Deadlines for steps Iraq must take to be in full compliance with U.N. Security Council Resolution 1441:
December 8: Iraq must provide a "currently accurate, full and complete declaration" of any weapons of mass destruction program.
On or before January 27: Inspectors must report back to the Security Council.

BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- U.N. weapons inspections in Iraq were on hold on Friday -- the Muslim holy day of prayer.

CNN's Nic Robertson reported that the inspectors were using the day to "fine tune" their operations and mount a security sweep at their offices to check for bugging devices.

Robertson said that U.N. inspectors and their hosts had "hit it off" during the first two days of inspections, which are due to resume on Saturday.

"But it's a soft start," Robertson said. "The U.N. has been checking sites familiar to both sides. Contentious presidential palaces have so far been avoided."

On Thursday the inspectors declared themselves satisfied with their inspection at the al-Daura animal vaccine plant, which had doubled in the past as a biological warfare facility.

A U.S. Government report said Iraq had said it would renovate the plant, and in UK Prime Minister Tony Blair's "dossier" on Iraq said that there could be a "resurgent" bio warfare programme there.

U.N. weapons inspectors said they received good co-operation Thursday from the director at al-Daura, allowing them to quickly clear up questions raised in their inspection.

They found the equipment at the plant Thursday did not match an inventory compiled when arms inspectors shut the plant down in the mid-1990s for producing biological weapons.

But the inspectors said the director of the facility told them the missing equipment was at another site north of Baghdad. The inspectors immediately went to the site and found the equipment there.

"They had no difficulty getting immediate access to sites, as well as any locations within the sites," said Hiro Ueki, a spokesman for the U.N. Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC).

U.N. weapons inspectors in 1996 destroyed equipment declared by the Iraqis to be part of their biological weapons program. Other equipment, which the inspectors said could have dual use in weapons production or civilian work, was tagged.

It was some of the tagged equipment that was missing from the al-Daura facility and found in the al-Nasir al-Adhim company, a small facility about 12 miles (20 kilometers) north of Baghdad, inspectors said.

CNN's Rym Brahimi says al-Daura was an "obvious" site for the inspectors to visit.

"Once used to produce foot and mouth disease vaccines for livestock, the Iraqis admitted in 1995 that it had also been used to produce the lethal biological warfare agent, botulin.

"That led the previous inspectors to destroy most of the plant's equipment and place surveillance cameras there."

Brahimi said the inspectors wanted to know where the missing equipment was and the plant's director told them -- evidence of willing co-operation from the Iraqis so far.

"At al-Daura, only five of the plant's original 120 employees still work here.

An UNMOVIC weapons inspector checks a tank Thursday at a vaccine laboratory in al-Daura, Iraq.
An UNMOVIC weapons inspector checks a tank Thursday at a vaccine laboratory in al-Daura, Iraq.

"As children gather around the compound, this site is clearly not as sensitive as it once was," says Brahimi. "The inspectors realise far tougher challenges lie ahead."

On Friday, an official Iraqi newspaper said the U.S. would try to obstruct U.N. arms inspections and provoke a row to create a pretext for military action against Baghdad.

The inspectors have returned to Iraq to search for chemical, biological and nuclear arms under a strongly worded U.N. Security Council resolution that gives Baghdad one last chance to dismantle weapons of mass destruction.

Washington accuses Iraq of developing weapons of mass destruction and has threatened military action to topple President Saddam Hussein. Iraq denies the charge.

"The United States is the only one which interprets the resolution in a way that suits its hostile intentions against Iraq and the Arab nation," said al-Thawra, organ of the ruling Baath Party.

"Thus, it will continue to make threats and poke its nose into the work of the inspectors and will fabricate any event or issue to confuse their work or obstruct it, especially when the inspectors and the world realise that Iraq does not have weapons of mass destruction."

Al-Thawra said that it would not matter to U.S. President George W. Bush and his officials that the first two days of inspections had gone well.

"No one in the Bush administration will give a fig for optimism expressed by many countries after the start of the inspection process in Iraq," it said.

"The reason is that Washington has become a hostage of its arrogance, ambitions and Zionists' pressure."

The newspaper asked the U.N. to stand up to Washington.

"Overlooking any American attempt to direct the work of the current teams ... will be a deliberate facilitation of the aggressive American course," al-Thawra said.

"The international body has an obligation to challenge this stance to prevent chaos."

-- CNN Correspondents Rym Brahimi and Nic Robertson contributed to this report.



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