Weapons inspectors will tread softly in Baghdad

THEIR COWBOY days are over. UN arms inspectors, if they return to Iraq in line with UN Security Council proposals, will be on their best behaviour, culturally trained, and flanked by political commissars.

Gone are the days when the American UN expert Scott Ritter would swagger into Baghdad in his baseball cap to knock on the door of a private home at midnight on a surprise inspection in search of germ agents. Mr Ritter, demonised by the Iraqis, resigned in August last year, complaining that his political masters were hampering the inspections aimed at ensuring that Iraq would never again threaten its neighbours with weapons of mass destruction.

"We're not going to go back kicking doors down. That's not the way to get the job done," a British diplomat said yesterday.

But the UN Special Commission interim chairman, Charles Duelfer, said yesterday that the unfinished business of tracking down Iraq's illegal weaponry was more pressing than ever. "We have found issues of concern that would be very interesting for future monitoring," he said, while declining to provide details.

The successor organisation to Unscom, whose inspectors have been barred from Iraq in the year since Operation Desert Fox, will be known as Unmovic - the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission.

Its chairman, who will be a diplomat with a disarmament background, will be under the heavy political influence of the permanent Security Council members who include China, France and Russia, and who are the most sympathetic to Iraqi positions. A new "college" of commissioners will approve the future chairman's reports and give "practical advice and guidance."