The head of the UN's Iraqi arms monitoring commission said Friday that he expected to have a roster of 72 trained and qualified inspectors by the end of next week.
UN officials said this was between a third and half the number of inspectors which the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) would need if Iraq allowed it to start work.
In his quarterly report to the Security Council, UNMOVIC chairman Hans Blix said the commission would complete its second month-long training course for inspectors on December 8.
Iraq has said it will not allow the UN to resume inspections which were halted when the former commission, known as UNSCOM, left Iraq two years ago on the eve of a bombing campaign by the United States and Britain.
But the spokesman for UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said on Wednesday that Annan hoped to renew talks with top Iraqi officials early in the new year and would try to persuade them to let UNMOVIC start work.
UNMOVIC was set up on December 17 by Security Council Resolution 1284.
For the first time, the resolution offered Iraq the possibility of having UN sanctions suspended, by cooperating fully with the new arms inspectors.
The sanctions were imposed in August 1990 after Iraq invaded Kuwait and can be removed only when the council is satisfied that Iraq has destroyed all its weapons of mass destruction.
In his report, Blix said that UNMOVIC now had 43 core staff based in New York, including 10 women. The staff came from 20 countries, he said.
It also had a roster of 23 trained inspectors, he said, and "with the completion of this second training course, UNMOVIC expects to have 49 additional persons on the roster trained and qualified for work in Iraq."
At its peak, UNSCOM had about 60 staff in New York and another 130 in Iraq, of whom two-thirds were inspectors.
UN officials noted that Resolution 1284 refers to "a reinforced system of monitoring and verification," and said the new commission would probably need more inspectors than the old one.
"Preparations are underway for a third training course," Blix wrote.
"It is evident that UNMOVIC has increased its readiness to carry out its mandated activities," he added -- UNITED NATIONS (AFP)
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