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U.N. 'finds empty warheads'

A girl waves an Iraqi flag as she walks past a U.N vehicle in front of the house of physicist Faleh Hassan.
A girl waves an Iraqi flag as she walks past a U.N vehicle in front of the house of physicist Faleh Hassan.

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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- U.N. arms inspectors say they have found a number of empty chemical warheads and another one that is still being evaluated.

The U.N. spokesman said Thursday the warheads were regarded to be in "excellent condition."

A U.N. Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission team visited the Ukhaider ammunition storage area, at a site 150 kilometers southwest of Baghdad, to inspect a large group of bunkers constructed in the late 1990s.

They discovered 11 empty 122 mm chemical warheads and one warhead that requires further evaluation.

The warheads were similar to ones imported by Iraq during the late 1980s. The spokesman said the team used portable X-ray equipment to analyze one of the warheads and collected samples for chemical testing.

Diplomats at the United Nations took a cautious stance on the finding.

British Ambassador to the U.N. Jeremy Greenstock said he wanted to "hear the inspectors' report on that before I make any judgment."

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. John Negroponte said: "It sounds like it's an interesting development. We'll have to wait and see what further develops on this question.

"I'm sure the inspectors are giving this their most rapid attention possible," Negroponte said. "I'm sure we'll be learning more as the day and the week progresses."

CNN's Jamie McIntyre reported that a key question inspectors will want to know is if the warheads had ever contained nerve agents. He reported that the Pentagon found that 122 mm rockets in the past have been found to contain the chemical warfare agents sarin and cyclosarin.

Earlier on Thursday, U.N. weapons inspectors made their first search of private houses -- one owned by an Iraqi nuclear scientist -- in the hunt for evidence of weapons of mass destruction, Iraqi officials said.

The homes are located in the Al-Ghazaliyah district in Baghdad and are not listed as declared sites by Iraq, suggesting that inspectors may be working on an intelligence tip.

Physicist Dr. Faleh Hassan Al-Basri was seen leaving with the U.N. team carrying a bulging box of documents and paperwork after an earlier heated discussion with one of the inspectors.

Al-Basri, director-general of the Al-Razi company belonging to Iraq's Military Industrialization Commission (MIC), apparently wanted to have documents that the inspectors sought to be photocopied.

A visibly upset Iraqi physicist Faleh Hassan, left, talks to U.N. inspectors before they enter his house.
A visibly upset Iraqi physicist Faleh Hassan, left, talks to U.N. inspectors before they enter his house.

Inspectors questioned Dr. Shakir Al-Jabouri, a nuclear scientist, at his home.

Al-Basri, a physicist, went off with U.N. Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission inspectors carrying a bulging box of documents and paperwork after an earlier heated discussion between Al-Basri and Dimitri Perricos, an UNMOVIC official, over documents.

Hours later, an UNMOVIC spokesman said the scientist "wasn't detained. I assume he's back home." But no details were provided on where he was taken.

Al-Basri apparently wanted to have documents that the inspectors sought to be photocopied.

The scientists, who are neighbors, were not at their homes when the inspection team arrived, but showed up later and were questioned by three inspectors for several hours.

Inspectors spent almost six hours in those homes, located in a residential area populated by scientists, university professors and other professionals.

The inspections took place on the eve of the 12th anniversary of the first bombs dropping on Iraq marking the start of the 1991 Gulf War.

CNN's Rym Brahimi, who went to the scene, said the scientists were not pleased to see the inspectors on their doorsteps and with the subsequent home searches, which they regarded as invasions of personal privacy. Bedrooms were searched and the son of one of the scientists was not allowed to leave the home to take a school exam. (Visits a first)

Al-Razi Company was founded in 1997 by Iraq's Military Industrialisation Commission and employs several people who were involved in Iraq's past nuclear programme, Reuters reported.

The company was officially involved in laser development and military projects, a U.N. spokesman said when IAEA inspectors visited its facilities in December.

Meanwhile, in Brussels Thursday, chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix said Iraq had illegally imported arms-related material to the country, but it is not yet clear if they were related to weapons of mass destruction.

Blix, who spoke to reporters after meeting with European Union officials, said Iraq had to be more active in addressing the concerns of the United Nations and the inspectors. (Full story)

Weapons inspectors also deployed Thursday to a number of other locations across Iraq:

• Chemical weapons experts visited the Al Tahdi company in Baghdad and also went to an Iraqi military facility west of Baghdad.

• Another chemical team boarded a helicopter and flew over a Mujahedeen Khalq base, located 60 km northeast of Baghdad near the Iranian border. The Mujahedeen Khalq are Iranian dissidents that have been based in Iraq since the 1980s.

• Missile teams went to a Baghdad site called the Seventh of April and also visited the Al Nidaa company -- also part of the MIC -- in the Baghdad suburb of Zafkraniyah. Inspectors were last at Al Nidaa December 12. It is a facility that was once used to produce Al Hussein missiles. The site was bombed by coalition aircraft in 1993 and again 1998.


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