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  •   UN Inspectors Leaving Iraq

    By Eileen Alt Powell
    Associated Press Writer
    Saturday, November 7, 1998; 6:08 a.m. EST

    BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) -- Fifteen U.N. weapons inspectors, some of them experts on missiles, were leaving Baghdad today in the first stage of the U.N. reduction of its teams in Iraq.

    The withdrawal comes a week after Iraq said it was halting all cooperation with the U.N. Special Commission, which oversees the destruction of Iraq's chemical and biological weapons as well as long-range missiles.

    Caroline Cross, the commission's spokeswoman here, said the monitors leaving today were a visiting missile team. Its support staff, she said, would remain in place. ``They have the qualifications to resume work immediately should Iraq have a change of heart,'' Cross said.

    The 15 inspectors were expected to fly to Bahrain on a U.N. plane from an air base outside Baghdad. They are among 26 people that UNSCOM has decided to withdraw from its staff of about 120 to 140. The decision announced Friday was in response to Iraq's Oct. 31 announcement banning all spot inspections and monitoring.

    It was not known when the other inspectors would leave.

    The U.N. Security Council condemned Iraq's move in a resolution Thursday, but the council remains divided on whether to authorize military strikes as favored by the United States and Britain.

    Iraq's position on halting cooperation ``still stands,'' Trade Minister Mohammed Mehdi Saleh told reporters in the first public comment from a Cabinet minister since the U.N. resolution.

    Iraq's government newspaper, Al-Jumhouriya, dismissed the U.N. action as a ``conspiracy'' to prolong U.N. sanctions imposed after Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, which led to the Persian Gulf War.

    On Friday, U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen returned from a tour of Arab nations and Turkey, saying he was satisfied the United States would have adequate support from Arab allies to carry out military action. But comments made by officials in the region indicate that the Arabs may be against another war.

    Russia's Foreign Ministry warned in a statement Friday that armed actions are ``fraught with most unpredictable consequences for peace and stability in the region and in the Middle East as a whole.''

    Iraq has said it will resume cooperation with UNSCOM only if the Security Council provides a timetable for sanctions to be lifted. The sanctions, however, can only be lifted once UNSCOM says Iraq is free of all weapons of mass destruction.

    Iraq also had a suspected nuclear program, which is now believed to be dismantled. The Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency deals with Iraq's compliance on nuclear issues, and its monitors have not been banned by Iraq.

    Cross, the UNSCOM spokeswoman, said a nuclear team went into the field to continue monitoring work today. No details were available.

    U.N. envoy Prakash Shah, meanwhile, said in Baghdad that the Security Council has asked U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan to help resolve the standoff. Annan signed an agreement with Iraq on Feb. 23 to end a previous crisis over inspections of presidential palaces.

    © Copyright 1998 The Associated Press

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