Arms inspectors relying on crack team, tight security

Saturday, November 16, 2002

LARNACA, Cyprus -- Wanted. Cleaning crews for the U.N. inspectors' headquarters in Baghdad. No Iraqis need apply.

The ban on local cleaners -- crews from Cyprus will be flown in to keep things tidy -- is only part of stringent security measures planned for the renewal of U.N. weapons inspections in Iraq, according to members of an advance team going to Baghdad on Monday.

The headquarters itself, a refurbished three-story hotel protected by barbed wire and Iraqi guards with submachine guns, will be swept for electronic listening devices before the inspectors move in, the team members said on condition of anonymity.

The U.N. chemical and biological laboratories, still in place from the last round of inspections in 1998, will likely be moved from the hotel on Baghdad's outskirts to undisclosed -- but more secure -- quarters.

On Wednesday, President Saddam Hussein accepted a tough new U.N. Security Council resolution demanding he disarm and allow inspectors unfettered access anywhere -- and to anyone -- in Iraq.

As the advance crew gathers at this seaside resort, security is the first concern. Officials want to ensure Iraq doesn't get wind of where and when the inspectors will make their visits -- or their mission would be doomed.

Chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix said Friday that preliminary inspections will likely resume Nov. 27, with full-scale checks to begin after Baghdad files a declaration of its banned weapons programs by Dec. 8.

But one team member said that with the United States ready to invade at the slightest misstep by Saddam, the program may be shortlived.

"The Americans have a checklist," he said. "They're going to look that over, and if he screws up, that's the fast track to war."

The 25-member advance team will be led by Blix, head of the chemical and biological weapons search, and Mohamed ElBaradei, chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency that runs nuclear inspections.

Ewan Buchanan, Blix' spokesman, said the two would meet with high-ranking Iraqi officials "to demonstrate a new beginning" to the inspections mission.

For security reasons, team members said non-Iraqis will handle not only cleaning but maintenance at the inspectors' headquarters in the Canal Hotel.

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