Inspections expand to the north, south; Report: Arab nations to try convince Saddam to depart
U.N. inspectors continued their search for weapons of mass destruction, visiting sites in Iraq's second city of Basra for the first time and establishing a temporary base in Mosul to the north.
Biological warfare experts from the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) who traveled 550 kilometers south from the capital the previous day inspected Saturday two colleges of Basra University to gather information about professors and researchers, a foreign ministry statement said, according to AFP.
Additionally, the U.N. experts established a temporary base at the Nineveh Palace hotel in Mosul, Iraq's third-largest city, 400 kilometers north of Baghdad.
"We will use the hotel as a temporary base until such time when we open a regional center" in northern Iraq, spokesman Hiro Ueki told AFP from Mosul. Ueki said a team of inspectors would spend the night in Mosul and visit a site there on Sunday.
A total of seven sites were checked Saturday, the 36th day of work since UNMOVIC and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) relaunched inspections in Iraq on November 27 after a four-year break, according to the foreign ministry statement.
Nuclear specialists went to the Al-Mamoun plant, 60 kilometers south of Baghdad, the Al-Abour plant, 30 kilometers west of the capital and an aluminum smelter.
A chemical team visited the Ibn Sina firm, which is part of Iraq's military industrialization organization, 35 kilometers north of Baghdad, and which, the ministry noted.
A mixed team of chemical and ballistics experts visited a helicopter base at Al-Suwaira, some 60 kilometers south of Baghdad, and a team of biological experts inspected an alcohol factory at Al-Khalis, 70 kilometers northeast of the capital.
Meanwhile, The Financial Times reported that Arab governments would try to convince Saddam Hussein to step down if a US-led military campaign becomes imminent.
According to the report, Saudi Arabia is pressing Washington to allow the Arabs a last opportunity for a diplomatic breakthrough if, after the January 27 report to the Security Council by UN inspectors, Iraq is found in violation of its disarmament obligations.
An Arab official told The Financial Times: "One of the proposals is that, after the UN report, a decision on war should not be hasty but that Arabs should be given another chance to look at the situation. One option is for (Saddam Hussein) to depart. He's not thinking about it now, but it could be different when the Americans are serious about the alternative of war."
Officials said an initiative offering Saddam Hussein asylum might have a chance of success if he was convinced he could not avoid a war to topple his regime. "If he accepts, there will be a land for him. Where he goes is not a big problem," said an Arab official, according to the report. (Albawaba.com)
© 2003 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)