UN inspectors carry out first U-2 surveillance flights in Iraq

UN inspectors carry out first U-2 surveillance flights in Iraq

United Nations inspectors have carried out their first U-2 surveillance flights over Iraq, adding aerial inspections to their land searches for evidence of banned weapons of mass destruction.

The flights, which took place yesterday, could have begun earlier in the present inspection cycle "but we're off to a good start with the U-2s," Ewen Buchanan, spokesman for the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC), said in an interview with UN Radio today.

The planes belong to and are operated by the United States but they bear UN insignia and operate at the direction of the UN inspectors, Mr. Buchanan noted.

"Clearly this obviously increases our abilities we have in terms of reconnaissance and we hope in the not too distant future to add extra assets to our reconnaissance, including Mirage-4 aircraft provided by France, Antonov-30 aircraft provided by the Russian Federation and also drones provided to us by the German Government," Mr. Buchanan said.

Meanwhile UN teams on the ground continued their search for evidence of banned missiles, chemical and biological agents and nuclear weapons development.

UNMOVIC teams inspected five separate missiles sites: Al Khadima, responsible for the final assembly of the Al Samoud 2 missiles; Al Harith, involved in research and development and engine and gyroscope maintenance; Al Qaid, responsible for filling Al Samoud warheads; the location of deployed Al Samoud 2 missiles; and Al Radwan factory where missile parts and containers are manufactured. The teams continued to verify Iraq's declarations and to tag missile components.

Chemical teams went to Al Mutanna to continue destroying artillery shells filled with mustard gas but had to postpone their work because of the weather. They also inspected the Dar Al Salam Factory for Chemical Industries, the Mansour Electronic Company, and the Sa'ad State Company in Baghdad, a mechanical engineering and design centre.

A biological team, meanwhile, inspected the Qadasiyah Dairy Factory, 180 kilometres south of Baghdad.

Teams from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspected the Al Tahidi Company, an electronics facility east of Baghdad, and the Al Naser Al Adheem General Company in the Daura district of Baghdad, and performed a car-borne radiation survey in the Al Mansoor and Rashdiya districts of the capital.