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UN inspectors use helicopters to visit site outside Baghdad

UN inspectors use helicopters to visit site outside Baghdad

United Nations experts travelled by helicopter today for the first time since the resumption of weapons inspections in Iraq, visiting a fertilizer plant well outside Baghdad to probe for evidence of illicit arms.

A 15-member chemical team from the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) left the Al Rasheed Air Base in Baghdad on three Bell-212 helicopters at 7 a.m. and flew roughly 300 kilometres northwest to inspect the Al Qaim State Company for Phosphate, according to a UN spokesman in Baghdad. Two Iraqi helicopters accompanied the flight.

“The team spent about six hours at the site and then returned to the Al Rasheed Air Base at about 5:15 p.m.,” said Hiro Ueki, spokesman for UNMOVIC and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). “It was a successful use of helicopters in support of an inspection activity.”

Elsewhere on the ground, UNMOVIC missile inspectors were divided into three teams, with the first inspecting two places belonging to the Al Mamoun Plant of the Al Rasheed Company, where some critical equipment had been installed by the plan and tagged by the missile team. “On the way to these places, the team stopped by the Al Mutaseem Plant, which also belongs to the Al Rasheed Company, to check the static test stand where a missile test is planned soon,” Mr. Ueki noted.

The second missile team went to the Al Samoud Factory, where they checked two missile engines that will be static-tested by Iraq in the next days. The third team went to the area of Fallujah, where they continued tagging Al Fatah ground-to-ground solid propellant rockets.

An UNMOVIC biological team inspected the Saddam Centre for Cancer and Medical Genetics in Baghdad, which performs research on cancer, while a multidisciplinary team inspected the Ukhaider Ammunition and Missile Storage Area.

A multidisciplinary team based in Mosul inspected the College of Education and the Chemistry Department of the College of Sciences at the University of Mosul. The team visited the library, related laboratories and storage buildings.

The IAEA, meanwhile, conducted inspections at the Bakir Air Base and the Kubaisa Cement Factory to verify information associated with another site, Mr. Ueki said.

The UN currently has approximately 200 international staff in Baghdad and Mosul, including 97 inspectors from UNMOVIC and eight from the IAEA.