Baghdad, Nov. 24 (Reuters): World leaders pressed Iraq to comply with UN weapons inspections and UN officials in the Iraqi capital today said they were ready for the first 18 experts who start a search for any banned arms on Wednesday.
At the premises of Baghdad’s former Canal Hotel, the UN monitoring centre was declared ready. “We are in a position to receive the first group. But we still have a lot of cleaning to do,” Yashuhiro Ueki, the inspection mission’s spokesman in Iraq told reporters. His colleagues were busy fixing broken windows and sweeping up mess accumulated since the last inspectors left in 1998.
Yesterday, western warplanes hammered targets in southern Iraq while in Bucharest US President George W. Bush kept up the war of words by comparing Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to Romanian communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu.
In Paris, French President Jacques Chirac said the UN inspections were essential to clear up any doubt over whether Saddam was still harbouring weapons of mass destruction. He told a news conference that war would be in no one’s interest.
“I hope that everyone is aware that war is always the worst of solutions, and that it is in nobody’s interest,” he said.
Chirac’s call was reinforced by the Russian and Chinese foreign ministers, who said after a meeting in Moscow that Iraq must fulfill its commitments to allow UN inspectors to search for any banned weapons.
Iraq insists it has no biological, chemical or nuclear arms.
In Washington, the US military said Western planes bombed a mobile radar system south of Al Amarah, some 265 km southeast of Baghdad, yesterday.
Iraq had moved the radar into the southern no-fly zone imposed after the 1991 Gulf War, the US Central Command said in a statement, adding that the radar provided tracking and guidance for surface-to-air missile systems. It did not say whether Iraqi forces had fired at Western aircraft patrolling the zone.