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Iraq Special Report

  U.N. Reduces Staff in Iraq

Breaking News
U.N. evacuates staff in Baghdad.

From News Services
Thursday, February 19, 1998; Page A23

BAGHDAD, Iraq, Feb. 18—The United Nations announced today that it will reduce the size of its staff in Iraq as the possibility of a U.S.-led attack draws nearer, a move that will limit the effectiveness of a U.N. humanitarian operation designed to ease the impact of international trade sanctions here.

The U.N. humanitarian office will send 29 employees to Jordan on Thursday and transfer two others to northern Iraq, U.N. officials said. "We're just taking sensible precautions. . . . We have a tremendous responsibility for the lives of our staff," said Denis Halliday, the U.N. humanitarian coordinator for Iraq. "If we can take some precaution without damaging the program too much we will obviously do that."

Some U.N. officials have expressed fear that allied airstrikes against Iraq may disrupt the flow of humanitarian supplies to the country under a program that allows Baghdad to sell $2 billion worth of oil every six months to buy food, medicine and other humanitarian goods to distribute to the Iraqi populace.

The decision came as U.N. surveyors mapped the last of eight Iraqi presidential compounds today in preparation for possible weapons searches there and just two days before U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan is due to arrive in Baghdad to try to broker a peaceful solution to the standoff over Iraq's chemical, biological and nuclear arms programs. The United States and Britain have threatened to launch airstrikes against Iraq unless President Saddam Hussein gives U.N. inspectors full, unfettered access to suspected weapons sites -- more than 40 of which Baghdad has declared off-limits.

The survey team's mission was to map the eight compounds, which Baghdad has offered to open to U.N. arms inspectors -- accompanied by diplomats from U.N. Security Council member nations -- for a period of 60 days. The survey was designed to try to ease the standoff between the U.N. inspectors and Saddam Hussein's government, which has declared the sites symbols of national sovereignty.

Also today, Iraq gave reporters a rare glimpse inside a weapons factory on a three-stop government tour meant to show it is complying with U.N. rules on arms manufacturing. The carefully monitored tour did not include visits to the presidential compounds. The other two sites the reporters visited -- an animal vaccine lab and a biological research lab -- were what U.N. officials call "dual use" facilities, which the United Nations says could also be used to make chemical or biological agents for military application.

Annan is to arrive in Baghdad Friday to meet with Saddam Hussein on a trip that has been hailed by Russia, France, China and a number of Arab states, all of which oppose military action against Iraq. "We hope there will be a positive outcome" to Annan's trip, French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin told reporters in Paris. "France is seeking a diplomatic and political solution, not a military one."

French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine also expressed hope for a diplomatic solution, noting that Saddam Hussein had engineered several previous crises over his arms program and changed his position at the last minute.

In Moscow, visiting Chinese Premier Li Peng, who with Russian President Boris Yeltsin issued a strongly worded statement Tuesday opposing the use of force, reiterated his position today. "Force should not be resorted to," he said, according to Russia's Interfax news agency.

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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