UN inspectors still on the job but their bags are packed

Monday, March 17, 2003

MOSCOW United Nations weapons inspectors are preparing to leave Iraq over the next 48 hours.

UN sources said inspectors from UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission as well as the International Atomic Energy Agency have been ordered to be on alert to leave Iraq imminently. The sources said all of the inspectors could leave Iraq by Thursday.

UN weapons inspections chief Hans Blix has not confirmed that his inspectors plan to leave Iraq, Middle East Newsline reported. Blix said inspections continue to take place despite the threat of a U.S.-led war against the regime of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

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But UN sources told the Moscow-based Novosti news agency that a special UN aircraft would arrive from Larnaca, Cyprus on Wednesday to fly the estimated 200 inspectors out of Baghdad. The agency said this would, in effect, end UN weapons inspections in Iraq.

On Monday, IAEA director-general Mohammed El Baradei said the United States has urged the UN to withdraw its inspectors from Iraq. El Baradei said he relayed the message to UN secretary-general Kofi Annan and the issue will be discussed later in the day.

About 800 UN ceasefire monitors have ended patrols of the Iraqi-Kuwaiti border amid the expectation of an imminent war. The U.S. Army has cut into the border fence to prepare for a ground invasion by troops, tanks and armored vehicles.

The U.S. embassy urged all American citizens to leave Kuwait immediately. The British embassy also asked its nationals to leave the sheikdom.

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