UN weapons inspectors found empty chemical warheads during an inspection of a storage area in Iraq on Thursday, a UN spokesman said in Baghdad.
The spokesman, Hiro Ueki, did not give any estimate of the significance of the find during an inspection of the Ukhaider Ammunition Storage Area. He said an inspection team had gone there to inspect a large group of bunkers constructed in the late 1990s.
"During the course of their inspection, the team discovered 11 empty 122 mm chemical warheads and one warhead that requires further evaluation," Ueki said in a statement.
"The warheads were in excellent condition and were similar to ones imported by Iraq during the late 1980s. The team used portable X-Ray equipment to conduct preliminary analysis of one of the warheads and collected samples for chemical testing," the statement said.
Iraq insisted the warheads had been included in its weapons declaration. Lt. Gen. Hossam Mohammed Amin, the chief Iraqi liaison officer to the inspection teams, said they were short-range shells imported in 1988 and mentioned in Iraq's December declaration.
He expressed "astonishment" over "the fuss made about the discovery by a U.N. inspection team of `mass destruction weapons.' It is no more than a storm in a teacup," Amin told a news conference called after the U.N. announcement.
Amin added the inspection team found the munitions in a sealed box that had never been opened and was covered by dust and bird droppings.
"When these boxes were opened, they found 122-mm rockets with empty warheads. No chemical or biological warheads. Just empty rockets which are expired and imported in 1988," Amin said, adding similar rockets were found by U.N. inspectors in 1997.
Earlier, U.N. arms experts paid surprise visits to the homes of two Iraqi scientists in Baghdad, in their first foray into private residential quarters.
Witnesses said an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) team arrived unannounced in Baghdad's Ghazaliyeh neighborhood and went into a building where Faleh Hassan, a scientist who heads al-Razzi State Company, lived.
Al-Razzi Company was founded in 1997 by Iraq's Military Industrialization Commission and employs several people who were involved in Iraq's past nuclear program. According to Reuters, this firm was officially involved in laser development and military projects, a U.N. spokesman said when IAEA inspectors visited its facilities in December.
The inspectors also went to the flat of nuclear scientist Shaker al-Jabouri in the same block. Neither man was home, so the inspectors waited outside their apartments while Iraqi officials brought them back from their offices.
Meanwhile, Chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix said Thursday he would tell Baghdad the situation was "very tense and very dangerous" and only fuller cooperation with his team could avert the option of war.
Blix told reporters after briefing European Union officials in Brussels that U.N. inspectors had found illegally imported conventional arms materials in Iraq, some dating from the last two years, but had yet to determine whether they were related to weapons of mass destruction.
Blix, due to visit Baghdad from Saturday after a three-nation tour of Europe, said: "The other major option, as you know, is the one that we have seen taking shape in the form of an armed action against Iraq."
He said his planned January 27 report to the U.N. Security Council would not be the last word and it was very likely that the Council would ask for a further report in February.
The EU demanded earlier Thursday that Iraq cooperate more fully with the U.N. inspectors if it wants to avert war.
After talks with Blix, foreign policy chief Javier Solana said: "He has conveyed to me his concern that the cooperation with Saddam Hussein, the cooperation with Iraq, is not sufficient." "I share completely this position of Mr Hans Blix...We are demanding a more pro-active cooperation from the regime of Saddam Hussein so that the world, the Security Council, the inspectors, are convinced that he has disarmed from all weapons of mass destruction," Solana told reporters. (Albawaba.com)
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