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U.N. inspectors begin withdrawal

A United Nations plane carrying departing U.N. inspectors taxis to the runway at Saddam Hussein International airport in Baghdad
A United Nations plane carrying departing U.N. inspectors taxis to the runway at Saddam Hussein International airport in Baghdad

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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- The United Nations on Tuesday began evacuating its expatriate staff from Baghdad, flying out dozens of weapons inspectors who have been looking for evidence of weapons of mass destruction since late last year.

The first group left Saddam International Airport around 10:30 a.m. (2:30 a.m. EST), an airport official told CNN, and arrived a short time later in Larnaca, Cyprus.

The inspectors were ordered out of Iraq ahead of a possible U.S. attack. Their departure is believed to be the first of several waves of evacuations.

"The job is unfinished, but up to now, we have done our part," said Hiro Ueki, a U.N. spokesman, at the airport. "We feel that we have received a good amount of cooperation from the Iraqis. They did facilitate our inspection activities [but] there are still some areas where we need fuller cooperation."

Before the evacuation began, there were 134 international staff in Baghdad, including 60 inspectors from the U.N. Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The rest are humanitarian workers.

The planes are expected to make several trips to Cyprus in order to evacuate all the workers.

It's not clear if the United Nations will evacuate its Iraqi staff.

--CNN Correspondent Rym Brahimi contributed to this report


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