U.N. weapons inspectors ended their five-day vigil outside an Iraqi military base and U.N. sources said the team will leave the country today.
The 53-member team, working in shifts, had been guarding around-the-clock a site suspected of containing illegal weapons material, trying to prevent Iraq from removing documents or other evidence of its weapons program.
It is one of five sites U.N. inspectors have been denied access to since Tuesday. They are trying to determine whether Iraq has complied with U.N. orders to destroy all its long-range missiles and halt its nuclear, biological and chemical weapons programs.
Iraq must comply with these demands, pay war reparations and account for some 609 missing people before crippling economic sanctions imposed for its 1990 invasion of Kuwait can be lifted. The invasion led to the 1991 Persian Gulf War.
The inspectors and their vehicles - which they’d been using to barricade entrances - were no longer outside the military complex in suburban Baghdad when reporters visited Saturday.
When they left was not known and the U.N. sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity, refused to say why the vigil was abandoned.
However, they said the entire team would leave today for Bahrain, the regional headquarters of the U.N. Special Commission.
Rolf Ekeus, head of the special commission charged with destroying Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, had said Friday in New York that the inspectors probably would be withdrawn soon because they were exhausted by the standoff.
Ekeus said then that he would arrive in Baghdad on Wednesday to present the U.N. Security Council’s demand that inspectors be allowed into all five sites, installations of President Saddam Hussein’s elite Republican Guard.
The Security Council rejected Friday an Iraqi proposal to permit inspections of the targeted sites under certain conditions. The council insisted on unconditional access to all suspect sites in Iraq, but stopped short of threatening military force to ensure compliance.
Iraq has not officially commented on the resolution, which was not mentioned Saturday in the country’s government-run newspapers. They did, however, deliver scathing attacks on the inspections team.
Ekeus and the commission deliberately were delaying the lifting of sanctions imposed after Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait by not cooperating with Iraq, the Al-Jumhuriya newspaper said Saturday.
“Ekeus always avoided showing his data to permanent (U.N. Security Council) members because he knows beforehand that they are lies and that they are politically motivated,” the newspaper said.
Last month, Iraq accepted a U.N. offer to sell $2 billion worth of oil to buy food and medicine. Iraq has expressed hope that the agreement would pave the way for lifting all of the sanctions, which have devastated its economy.
But Western diplomats have said Iraq’s actions against the inspectors had undercut the position of those on the Security Council - such as France, Egypt and Russia - who are more sympathetic to the Iraqi position.