Baghdad/Moscow, Jan. 15 (Reuters): UN inspectors hunted for banned weapons deep in the heart of President Saddam Hussein’s Baghdad palace today and demanded Iraq’s active help so they could get the job done.
It was unclear whether Saddam was at his main office when seven carloads of inspectors drove into the vast al-Jamhoury palace compound where he is widely believed to conduct most of his presidential business.
Journalists, barred from entering the walled compound made up of dozens of buildings and lush gardens, could only sneak a glimpse from an iron-barred main gate guarded by Iraqi soldiers armed with assault rifles.
The UN experts gained immediate access to the palace, and one of their cars blocked the entrance. It was the second palace the inspectors had visited since resuming their search eight weeks ago after a four-year break.
A palace employee, Wissam Essawi, said the experts had searched several buildings. When asked what jobs they do, employees insisted they did administrative work that had nothing to do with banned weapons, he told reporters.
On a trip to Moscow, the chief of the UN International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohamed ElBaradei said: “I intend...to impress upon Iraq the need to shift gear from passive cooperation to active cooperation.”
While US President George W. Bush yesterday raised the volume on the war of words with Baghdad, saying he was “sick and tired” of what he called Iraq’s games and deception, Moscow launched a bid to avert war itself.
Russia, which has close ties with Baghdad, said its leading Iraq expert — deputy foreign minister Alexander Saltanov — would go to Baghdad, perhaps as early as today, in search of a diplomatic solution.
Washington and its ally London have been pouring warplanes, ships and tens of thousands of troops into the oil-rich Gulf region while demanding Iraq abide by a UN Security Council resolution demanding it disarm or face war.
Today, 3,000 British Royal Marine commandos boarded the helicopter carrier Ocean to sail as part of the country’s largest amphibious task force in 20 years for possible war in Iraq.