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Blix, United States dispute inspectors' role in Iraq

France calls for gradual end to oil-for-food program

Hans Blix answers reporters' questions Tuesday after Security Council consultations at U.N. headquarters in New York.

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Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks

Coalition forces are under a cease-fire in Iraq with the People's Mujahedeen, a group viewed as a terrorist organization.

U.S. Central Command confirms earlier Iraqi National Congress reports that Jamal Mustafa Abdallah Sultan al Tikriti -- former deputy chief of tribal affairs -- is in coalition custody.
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UNITED NATIONS (CNN) -- The United Nations inspection team is prepared to return to Iraq to hunt for banned weapons of mass destruction, Hans Blix told the Security Council on Tuesday.

But the White House responded to the chief weapons inspector's comments by saying the United States has taken over the job.

France called for a compromise, saying some way should be found to coordinate the efforts of U.S.-led coalition inspection teams now working in Iraq with the U.N. inspectors who left the country before the war. (Full story)

And in a separate announcement, France proposed an immediate suspension of United Nations sanctions against Iraqi civilians, according to the French ambassador to the international body.

The debate over who should investigate deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's weapons program has echoes of the debate in the United Nations leading up to the war. The United States said the war needed to happen quickly to dismantle Saddam's illegal weapons cache that the White House said included chemical and biological weapons.

So far, there have been no banned weapons found in the early days of post-war Iraq.

Speaking to reporters outside the U.N. Security Council chamber, Ambassador Jean-Marc de la Sabliere recommended a gradual "phasing out" of the oil-for-food program.

"Sixty percent of the Iraqi people depend on the oil-for-food [program] ... and without transition, it would be destabilizing and would have humanitarian consequences," de la Sabliere said. "The program should be adjusted to take into account realities, but there should be a phasing out."

The oil-for-food program allows the Iraqi government to use oil revenues from a U.N. escrow account to buy humanitarian goods.

John Negroponte, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, repeated Washington's stance that "sanctions should be lifted as soon as possible."

He said the United States looks forward to working with France and other countries on that issue.

The move could constitute an important step toward the U.S. goal of ending trade embargoes that have crippled Iraq's economy. Last week, President Bush called for the sanctions to be lifted to free up revenue from Iraqi oil for costs of the country's reconstruction.

Bush and French President Jacques Chirac spoke last week by telephone -- their first conversation since the diplomatic standoff in the Security Council soured relations between Paris and Washington.

Other developments

• In Iraq, exuberant Shiite Muslim pilgrims are surging into the central city of Karbala, reviving a religious tradition that was not allowed under Saddam Hussein's rule. Religious leaders said the crowd could reach several million by Wednesday, the peak of the observance honoring the death of an early Islamic martyr. (On the Scene: CNN's Karl Penhaul, Full story)

• Coalition forces have reached a cease fire in Iraq with a group known as the People's Mujahedeen, Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks told reporters Tuesday at U.S. Central Command headquarters in Qatar. The group -- made up of pro-Saddam armed Iranian dissidents -- has been operating inside Iraq, engaging in firefights with coalition forces. The U.S. government views the group as a terrorist organization, and Brooks said it's premature to describe how the group will be handled. (Full story)

• An estimated $600 million in U.S. currency found in Baghdad has been placed in a secure warehouse, where it will be examined to determine if it is real, Central Command said Tuesday.

Throngs of Iraqi Shiite pilgrims celebrate at the Imam Hussein holy shrine Tuesday in Karbala.
Throngs of Iraqi Shiite pilgrims celebrate at the Imam Hussein holy shrine Tuesday in Karbala.

• Retired U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Jay Garner flew into the northern Iraqi city of Sulaimaniya to meet with Kurdish officials. (Garner profile) Garner, on his first visit as head of the Pentagon's Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance, assured wary Iraqis that services will be restored as quickly as possible.

• Coalition troops have secured the eastern section of Baghdad and about 25 percent of the area west of the Tigris River, said Maj. Gen. Buford Blount, commander of the U.S. Army's 3rd Infantry Division at a news briefing Tuesday. Blount said troops are providing security at 110 sites in Baghdad, mostly banks and museums. He said power should be restored in 80 percent of the city Wednesday and the rest of the city within four or five days.

• The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees said Tuesday that dozens of Iraqi residents were traveling toward Jordan's border with Iraq, where relief agencies are caring for more than 1,000 refugees. Several dozen other Iraqis also remain stuck in a no man's land between Iraq and Jordan, with some there for more than a week, according to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. The vast majority of them are Iranian Kurds who fled the Al Tash refugee camp in the past week.

• Muhammad Hamza al-Zubaydi, No. 18 on the U.S. list of most-wanted Iraqi leaders, is in custody in Iraq, Central Command said. He is the most senior figure from Saddam's government arrested so far and has a reputation as a ruthless and violent enforcer of the former regime's will. Al-Zubaydi is believed to have led the violent suppression of a 1991 uprising in which thousands of Shiites were killed. (Full story, Gallery of most-wanted cards deck)

• Spain's Foreign Minister Ana Palacio said Tuesday that she does not want an "extremist Islamic government" in power in Iraq. During a news conference with Tunisia's foreign minister, Palacio said that such a government would not benefit Iraqis. The Spanish government was one of the most staunch U.S. allies on the U.N. Security Council before the war in Iraq and has continued its support.

• The United States' Rota field hospital in southwest Spain received 22 more wounded military personnel Tuesday, boosting to 384 the number of U.S. troops treated there since the war in Iraq began, a hospital spokesman told CNN.

-- CNN correspondents Jim Clancy, Michael Holmes, Jamie McIntyre, Tom Mintier, Nic Robertson and Barbara Starr contributed to this report.

EDITOR'S NOTE: CNN's policy is to not report information that puts operational security at risk.

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