BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) – U.N. arms inspectors returned to Iraq after a four-year hiatus yesterday, calling on President Saddam Hussein’s government to cooperate with their search for weapons of mass destruction in the interest of peace. But Washington said it already sees likely violations.
Chief U.N. inspector Hans Blix and about 30 inspectors flew into the Iraqi capital aboard a white cargo plane emblazoned with the black letters “U.N.” as allied warplanes bombed Iraqi air defense systems in the northern no-fly zone. The U.S. military said the jets were fired on during routine patrols.
At the White House, spokesman Scott McClellan said yesterday the Iraqi anti-aircraft fire “appears to be a violation” of the U.N. resolution that sent the inspectors back to Iraq.
It was unclear whether other countries on the Security Council would consider incidents in the no-fly zone serious enough to merit a response, because the council never explicitly authorized the patrols. Iraq considers such patrols a violation of its sovereignty and frequently shoots at them. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, traveling in Chile, said the United States is waiting for a pattern of Iraqi misdeeds before going back to the council.
The return of the inspectors is widely seen as Saddam’s last chance to avoid a devastating war with the United States. President Bush has warned Saddam that failure to cooperate with the inspectors will bring on an American attack and that Washington will pursue a policy of “zero tolerance” toward Iraqi infractions.
Saddam’s deputy, Izzat Ibrahim, told the official Iraqi News Agency that Iraq will work with inspectors to protect its people from America but will fight “if war is imposed on us.”
Eventually more than 220 inspectors from 49 countries will be deployed, although how many at any one time would vary depending on what is required. At least 30 inspectors are American, the largest nationality represented, and at least are five women. At least six of the group are Arabs, and Mohamed ElBaradie, who oversees the International Atomic Energy Agency, is Egyptian.