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Arms inspectors look to return to Iraq

ElBaradei: U.N. teams could do job faster than U.S. military

ElBaradei: "Why should we reinvent the wheel?"

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- U.N. inspectors should be allowed back into Iraq to continue their hunt for weapons of mass destruction, the director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency said Sunday.

Mohamed ElBaradei's group was responsible for searching for nuclear arms programs in Iraq alongside U.N. inspectors charged with tracking down chemical and biological weapons before the U.S.-led war against Iraq.

The coalition said Iraq's failure to cooperate with the inspectors helped lead to the war.

"We are the ones who have the most credibility, not because we're the only ones who are trustworthy but because of who we are -- we are the representatives of the international community; we have the independence and impartiality that creates that credibility," ElBaradei said.

"We have been in Iraq for over 10 years, we know the people, we know the infrastructure, we know where to go," ElBaradei said. "Why should we reinvent the wheel?"

ElBaradei predicted that U.N. weapons inspectors could complete the job "in a very short period of time."

Since the war, the United States has taken over the search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Before the war, Iraqi leaders had insisted that they had destroyed all such weapons.

It was understandable, ElBaradei said, that U.S.-led coalition forces would handle weapons searches during hostilities, but "once there is a secure environment, I don't see any reason why we should not go back as soon as practical."

ElBaradei said neither he nor chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix have received a direct answer from the Bush administration on if and when U.N. inspectors might be allowed to return to Iraq.

Their return is necessary not only to boost the international community's acceptance of whatever is found, but also to fulfill the mandate they were given under the same United Nations resolution that President Bush said authorized the use of force in Iraq, he said.

Later Sunday, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee endorsed allowing U.N. inspectors back into Iraq.

"It will add greatly, immeasurably to the credibility of any finds," Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan said.

"The skepticism about America in this world is so deep that, if we find and when we find weapons of mass destruction, many people will not believe it," Levin said.

"Many people around the world will think we planted those weapons unless the U.N. inspectors are there with us."

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