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Actor Sean Penn hopes for peaceful end to Iraqi crisis

Monday, December 16, 2002

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- U.N. inspectors hunted for weapons of mass destruction at missile plants and nuclear complexes Sunday, while an unusual visitor -- Hollywood star Sean Penn -- spoke out in Baghdad against a U.S. attack and in support of the Iraqi people caught up in an international crisis.

In Berlin, meanwhile, the German defense ministry said the United Nations had asked it to supply the inspection operation with unmanned spy aircraft to help in the search for banned Iraqi weapons or the facilities to make them.

A decision on whether to supply the LUNA drones and the technicians needed to maintain them likely will be made this week, said a ministry spokesman on customary condition of anonymity. German-U.S. relations were strained over Berlin's opposition to attacking Saddam Hussein, but Berlin has pledged full support for the inspection program.

Also Sunday, coalition jets patrolling the southern no-fly zone over Iraq fired on two installations, a surface-to-air artillery battery and a mobile radar unit, after coming under fire, the U.S. Central Command reported on its Web site.

'Evil warplanes'

It said the sites were near An Nasiriyah, about 100 miles southeast of Baghdad, and Al Basra, 240 miles southeast of the capital. Coalition planes hit three targets in the southern no-fly zone Saturday.

An Iraqi military spokesman said "the evil American and British warplanes bombed civil and service installations in the provinces of Dhi Qar and Wassit" on Sunday but offered no further information, the official Iraqi news agency reported.

Penn issued his comments at the end of a three-day visit to Iraq which was organized by the Institute for Public Accuracy, a research organization based in San Francisco.

"Simply put, if there is a war or continued sanctions against Iraq, the blood of Americans and Iraqis alike will be on our (American) hands," Penn said at a news conference in the Iraqi capital Sunday.

U.N. inspectors hunting for banned weapons of mass destruction searched a missile plant south of Baghdad that the United States said had aroused suspicion. It was one of 10 sites the inspection team visited Sunday, according to Iraqi government officials and a statement by U.N. inspectors' headquarters in Baghdad.

Iraqi officials said the inspectors also revisited al-Qa'qaa, a large nuclear complex just south of Baghdad, Sunday that had been searched Saturday and last week as well. The site had been under U.N. scrutiny in the 1990s and was involved in the final design of Iraq's nuclear weapons ambitions before it was destroyed by U.N. teams after the 1991 Gulf War.

The United Nations offered no details on Sunday's inspection at al-Qa'qaa. During their Saturday visit, inspectors said the question the director of the facility about changes made since teams were last in Iraq four years ago. Last week the teams began taking inventory of nuclear materials still at the site.


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