Iraq claims victory as the weapons inspectors return

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The Independent Online
UN weapons inspectors returned to Baghdad yesterday with the priority of finding weapon stocks that Iraq may have hidden during a tense three-week stand-off with Saddam Hussein.

Iraq's ruling Ba'ath party newspaper, al-Thawra, said: "Our latest battle with the world oppressors in America has led to a great victory worthy of pride and glory." It added: "We have proved to everyone ... that we have a national iron will."

However, no crowds turned out to watch the inspectors return, which came a day after a Russian-brokered deal persuaded President Saddam to rescind an order expelling the American inspectors. In exchange, Russia pledged to work toward relaxing sanctions, which block oil exports and have devastated the Iraqi economy.

At the UN headquarters in New York, an advisory board of the UN commission responsible for scrapping Iraq's weapons of mass destruction held a day- long brain-storming session behind closed doors to discuss ways of improving its work methods.

Richard Butler, the chief of the UN Special Commission responsible for the weapons inspections, said that in accordance with the wishes of Security Council, the board would "consider the present situation that was caused by Iraq, what effect it has had and discuss some ways in which we could be made more effective."

One possible outcome would be an increase in the total number of Unscom inspectors. This would reduce the proportion of American inspectors, partly meeting one of Iraq's key demands. Underscoring US misgivings about the Russian-brokered deal, the United States has continued its military build- up in the Persian Gulf. The aircraft carrier USS George Washington arrived in the Gulf on Thursday, and six F-117 Stealth fighters landed in Kuwait.

"They will be there until there is full compliance [with UN demands on weapons inspections]," William Cohen, the US Defense Secretary, said.

In Washington, while thanking Russia for its role in the tussle with Iraq, Madeleine Albright, the US Secretary of State, insisted that Moscow does not have the muscle to influence the United States in getting sanctions on Baghdad lifted in the UN Security Council. "The quick answer is no," Ms Albright said, when asked if Russia, could influence US voting in the council in getting the sanctions lifted.

In Moscow, the Russian media, long used to lamenting Moscow's weakness in international diplomacy since the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, praised Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov for his mediation. One publication called the move a welcome change.

The weapons teams in Iraq plan to resume their inspections today, including a search for suspected stockpiles of VX nerve gas and mustard gas. - Agencies