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U.N. inspectors set up new office
BAGHDAD, Iraq -- U.N. weapons inspectors began setting up a new office Saturday in the northern city of Mosul to broaden the range of their searches. Iraq's government declared that U.S. funding and military training for Iraqi opposition groups violate international law and Iraqi sovereignty.
A team of experts in various weapons fields drove from Baghdad to Mosul 250 miles north in a convoy of white U.N. vans. The inspectors have visited sites near the city before, but have then had to return samples and equipment to Baghdad.
The new base "will serve as a convenient location to conduct inspections, particularly in the north," U.N. spokesman Hiro Ueki said before the team left for Mosul early Saturday.
The eight U.N. vans, followed by an ambulance, arrived in Mosul mid-afternoon, and the arms inspectors raised the blue U.N. flag over the Nineveh Palace Hotel, their temporary headquarters until their new base is completed.
Iraq's allegation about America interfering in Iraqi affairs came in a letter from Foreign Minister Naji Sabri to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, the official daily Al-Iraq reported Saturday. It said the letter was given to Annan by the Iraqi U.N. mission but did not say when.
'Aggression' against Iraq
Sabri said the U.S. financing and military training of government opponents -- whom he called "mercenaries" -- violated international guarantees on the sovereignty of nations and amounted to aggression against an independent state.
The United States has funneled millions of dollars to Iraqi opposition groups in recent years, and helped organize a London conference by the main groups in mid-December that named a steering committee to plan an Iraqi government should President Saddam Hussein be toppled. The groups are expected to meet again in northern Iraq -- a Kurdish-ruled territory out of Saddam's control -- on Jan. 15.
In October, the Pentagon announced it would give military training to thousands of volunteers opposed to the Iraqi regime under an order signed by President Bush. The training is expected to occur in Hungary.
On Friday, speaking to U.S. Army troops in Texas, Bush said Saddam "did not even attempt to submit a credible declaration" on his alleged stockpiles of arms and weapons programs in Iraq's required statement to the U.N. Security Council on Dec. 8. The statement maintained Iraq has no more banned weapons.
In recent days, Bush has spoken at times of his hopes to settle the Iraq crisis peacefully and at others with renewed threats of force to disarm Saddam's regime if it does not relinquish chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, and the means to deliver them.
Dr. Zafer Al-Ani, a professor of international relations at Baghdad University, ascribed the wavering to Washington's inability to get its European and Arab allies to back plans for a war while Iraq apparently is cooperating with the U.N. weapons inspectors.
"Until today, the American administration couldn't present the definite proof, which everybody is demanding, that Iraq actually possesses weapons of mass destruction," Al-Ani told The Associated Press.
He said many Iraqis have become convinced that war is coming. "People are getting ready by stocking food and oil for harsh circumstances, which remind them of the 1991 war," he said.
Under Security Council resolutions, the U.N. inspectors must certify that Iraq is free of banned weapons before U.N. economic sanctions on it can be lifted. The sanctions were imposed after Iraq's 1990 invasion of neighboring Kuwait.
On Saturday, the U.N. inspectors visited three sites in an around Baghdad and a fourth, the College of Agriculture, in the southern city of Basra, according to Iraqi officials.
The three sites visited around the capital were the Al-Abour Co., a maintenance arm of Iraq's Military Industrialization Corp.; the Al-Mamoun Plant, which makes missile propellants and was inspected Friday; and the Al-Khalis Alcohol factory, which had not been checked before.
Before the inspectors left for Mosul, U.N. spokesman Ueki was asked by reporters about Iraqi complaints that the arms experts' lengthy visits were interfering with work at Iraqi factories and that some inspectors dealt curtly with factory managers.
"We have a job to do here, so our inspectors know what they should be doing and they are doing their job as best as they can. Our inspectors are professionals ... and they know how to conduct the inspections and how to behave," he replied.
The U.S. Central Command said American and British warplanes dropped 240,000 propaganda leaflets over southern Iraq for the second time in three days on Saturday, providing radio frequencies that broadcast messages urging Iraqis to oppose Saddam.
The cities targeted were Al Amarah and As Samawah, both about 170 miles southeast of Baghdad. It was the 13th time in three months that coalition air crews have dropped leaflets in the area, the command said.
The radio broadcasts, which include details on the U.N. inspections, are part of the U.S. military's psychological operations in preparation for a possible war with Iraq.