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Row over hunt for Iraq's WMD

A U.N. weapons inspector takes chemical samples at Iraq's Al Muthanna facility in February.
A U.N. weapons inspector takes chemical samples at Iraq's Al Muthanna facility in February.

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UNITED NATIONS (CNN) -- A row is brewing between the United States and the United Nations over the search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

The United Nations inspection team says it is prepared to return to Iraq to hunt for banned weapons, but the U.S. says it has now taken over the job.

Chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix briefed the U.N. Security Council Tuesday in a closed-door meeting.

Before the meeting he told reporters: "I will talk about the readiness of [U.N. inspectors] to go back to Iraq but also about the need for some signals and adjustments of the basis for our work there by the council. We are serving the council, as you know." (Full story)

However, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said the coalition led by the United States had undertaken the task of searching for and destroying Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, and he envisioned no particular role for Blix's inspection team.

France, meanwhile, has 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.

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.

The allegation that Iraq under Saddam had stores of banned weapons of mass destruction was a key reason for military action.

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

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, U.S. President George W. Bush called for the sanctions to be lifted to free up revenue from Iraqi oil for costs of the country's reconstruction.

Sanctions that have been in place since 1990 have hit Iraqi people hard.
Sanctions that have been in place since 1990 have hit Iraqi people hard.

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.

Unlike Russia, France did not insist that U.N. arms inspectors first verify Iraq no longer had weapons of mass destruction before there could be movement on sanctions. The embargoes were imposed in August 1990 shortly after Iraq invaded Kuwait.

Meanwhile, U.S. troops worked to restore water and power to the Iraqi capital Tuesday.

Only about a quarter of Baghdad west of the Tigris River had power late Tuesday, Maj. Gen. Buford Blount, commander of the Army's 3rd Infantry Division, said, and occasional outages are still expected over the next few days.

"All the power generation stations are functioning -- not at full capacity, but functioning," Blount said. "About 40 percent of the city has power today, about 80 percent tomorrow and then the last 20 percent in the next four or five days."

Once basic services are restored, "We'll get out of the hospital business, out of the power business ... and just focus mostly on security," he said.

Elsewhere, Shiite Muslim leaders are planning a march through one of Islam's holiest cities Wednesday after more than a million pilgrims took part in ritual long suppressed under Saddam Hussein's rule.

Demonstrations were expected to begin about 11 a.m. (7 a.m. GMT) in Karbala -- home to the tomb of the Imam Hussein bin Ali, grandson of the prophet Mohammed and a Muslim martyr killed more than 1,300 years ago.

The march follows a call for a U.S. withdrawal by the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, an Iran-based group that wants to see the establishment of an Islamic state. (Full story)

Other developments

• Muhammad Hamza al-Zubaydi, No. 18 on the U.S. list of most wanted Iraqis, has been arrested, according to U.S. officials. (Full story)

• Jay Garner, the retired American general who is overseeing the postwar reconstruction of Iraq, received a warm welcome when he arrived in the northern Kurdish region Tuesday to survey the country's needs.

• Spain's Foreign Minister Ana Palacio said Tuesday she did not want an "extremist Islamic government" in power in Iraq. (Full story)

• Dozens of Iraqi residents continue to head to Jordan's border with Iraq, where the U.N. refugee agency and other groups are now caring for more than 1,000 refugees, according to an agency spokesman.

• U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld disputed a newspaper report that said the Pentagon wanted to use four bases in Iraq well into the future. (Full story)

• At least one item looted from an Iraqi museum has been seized by customs agents at an unidentified U.S. airport, an FBI official said Monday. (Full story)


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