| Jonathan Hendrickson kisses his father goodbye on Wednesday as he leaves on a bus from Camp Pendleton to San Diego, from where US Marines will deploy to reinforce troops in West Asia. (AFP)
Baghdad, Jan. 16 (Reuters): Diplomatic efforts to avert a war in Iraq intensified today as the top UN weapons inspectors launched a four-day tour that will end in Baghdad and a Russian envoy arrived in the Iraqi capital to push for peace.
On the eve of the 12th anniversary of the 1991 Gulf war that drove Iraqi troops from Kuwait and committed President Saddam Hussein’s government to a rigorous weapons inspection programme, all sides agreed war to disarm Iraq was not inevitable.
But chief UN weapons inspector Hans Blix and International Atomic Energy Agency director Mohamed ElBaradei said to avoid military conflict, Iraq must do more to prove it does not possess chemical, biological or nuclear weapons.
“The message we want to bring to Baghdad is, the situation is very tense and very dangerous and everybody wants to see a verified and credible disarmament of Iraq,” Blix said in Brussels where he met EU officials. He said inspections were one way to resolve the dispute but he cautioned: “We feel Iraq must do more than they have done so far in order to make this a credible avenue.”
ElBaradei, who was in Moscow to meet Russian officials, said: “Iraq should understand that if we continue to report that there are open questions, and we cannot exclude the possibility that they still have some weapons of mass destruction, that will not satisfy the (UN) Security Council.”
Blix and ElBaradei are scheduled to brief the Security Council on January 27 but Blix said he is “almost sure” diplomats will request another report in February.
The inspectors say many gaps must be filled and information analysed.
Blix said inspectors had found illegally imported conventional weapons materials in Iraq, some dating from two years ago, but had not determined if they were destined for banned weapons programmes.
ElBaradei told CNN Iraq must “come forward (and say) here are documents, here are people you can interview in private and ask them any question you want, here is some physical evidence of things that we have destroyed.”
UN arms experts paid surprise visits to the homes of two Iraqi scientists in Baghdad today, one day after a top weapons inspector said his team hoped to begin interviewing some of the 500 scientists Iraq identified as having worked in the past on weapons programmes.
The appearance of inspectors in a residential district was a first for the teams who have scoured plants, military facilities, universities and presidential palaces since returning to Iraq on November 27 after a four-year absence.
US President George W. Bush has amassed tens of thousands of troops in the Gulf ahead of a possible war. He accuses Iraq of hiding banned weapons and defying the international community by trying to develop them.
On Tuesday, he indicated his patience with Iraq was growing thin, saying he was “sick and tired” of Saddam’s “games and deception”.
In Moscow, ElBaradei restated his belief that inspectors needed more time to complete their monitoring of sites in Iraq.
“We are going to ask for at least a few months to do our job,” he said. “We also intend in the next few weeks to intensify our work.” Russian deputy foreign minister Alexander Saltanov, in Iraq to meet Vice-President Taha Yassin Ramadan, stressed the need for “inspectors to continue their work while praising the positive spirit of cooperation from Iraq”.