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Ready to begin work in Iraq, UN weapons inspectors await green light

Ready to begin work in Iraq, UN weapons inspectors await green light

United Nations weapons experts are set to begin field operations in Iraq as soon as they receive a green light to enter the country, according to a new report by the head of the inspections team.

In his report to the Security Council, Hans Blix, the Executive Chairman of the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC), says that "with the work completed to date, UNMOVIC is ready to take up the full tasks mandated to it by the Council." He stresses that "only then will UNMOVIC be able to assess fully the disposition of Iraq's now proscribed weapons of mass destruction programmes."

Since its establishment in December 1999, UNMOVIC has been unable to conduct any inspections in Iraq because of Baghdad's refusal to cooperate with the Commission. Despite the fact that there have been no on-site inspections for nearly two and a half years, UNMOVIC has been able to make "considerable progress" in analyzing samples taken by the Commission's predecessor, which was known as UNSCOM. Mr. Blix notes, however, that the remaining disarmament tasks can only be completed "after the Commission's experts have commenced work in Iraq."

The report describes preparations undertaken by UNMOVIC since March, including the organization of training seminars for experts who can support the Commission's work. Currently, 61 people from 26 countries are participating in a training course in Ottawa, which covers UNMOVIC and its work, Iraq's proscribed weapons programmes, and the country's history, culture and religion. Once that course ends in late June, UNMOVIC will have a roster of 180 persons trained for work in Iraq.

For his part, the Executive Director has continued to visit capitals, including Oslo, Ottawa, Paris, Stockholm and Washington, D.C., for consultations with senior government officials, according to the report.

The Security Council created UNMOVIC to undertake the responsibilities of the former UN Special Commission (UNSCOM), which was charged with monitoring the elimination of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq - a precondition for lifting the international sanctions against the country.