U.N. arms monitors searching for Iraq’s banned arsenal inspected 11 sites without interference Monday - including pharmaceutical factories where biological or chemical weapons could be produced.
But a new confrontation could still develop if U.N. inspectors try to search dozens of other sites, including President Saddam Hussein’s many palaces, which Iraq considers sensitive to national security.
An American U-2 spy plane, which Iraq has threatened to shoot down, made another flight into Iraqi airspace Monday, its third since the crisis over weapons inspections started more than three weeks ago.
A Pentagon official in Washington said the flight over central Iraq - part of the U.N. weapons inspection program - was completed without incident.
Monday’s inspections went smoothly, as they have since they were resumed Saturday. “They have had a normal inspection day with no problems reported,” said Allan Dacey, a British spokesman for the U.N. monitors.
He said the inspectors were searching for missiles and biological, chemical and nuclear weapons, as well as examining arms imports and exports. Some inspectors flew in helicopters to check for any inappropriate activity on the ground; U.N. inspectors have accused Iraq of sneaking documents out the back doors of weapons sites even as inspectors were entering the front.
The arms inspectors’ job is to certify that Iraq has complied with U.N. resolutions requiring it to eliminate weapons of mass destruction in line with treaties that ended the 1991 Persian Gulf War. Economic sanctions, imposed after Iraq’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait that led to the war, have devastated the Iraqi economy.
Despite the latest cooperation in Baghdad, American and Iraqi officials were still arguing over whether inspectors should search Saddam’s many presidential compounds.
In Washington, deputy White House national security adviser James Steinberg said the United Nations had “clear authority” to look at the 47 presidential compounds.
“These presidential palaces seem to be getting larger, more numerous,” U.N. weapons inspector Richard Butler said Monday on ABC television. “How many palaces can one have?”