An American weapons inspector at the center of the latest gulf crisis toured Iraqi weapons sites Friday in a test of Iraq's willingness to carry out its promises to the United Nations.
A convoy of 10 vehicles, including three carrying Iraqi officials, followed Scott Ritter's car as he drove through Baghdad's congested streets for the first time since he was pressured into leaving in January.Nine hours into his inspections Friday, there was no word of any Iraqi interference.
In January, Ritter was prevented from entering some suspected weapons sites after Iraq alleged he was an American spy and said his U.N. team included a disproportionately high number of Americans.
Ritter's inspections Friday were "routine," a U.N. official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. He did not say which sites Ritter and his team toured.
His team, which arrived Thursday, is only one of several that are deployed in Iraq. The other groups have worked daily, even during the crisis.
Iraq's refusal to open up the sites to inspectors led to a buildup of U.S. and British military force in the Persian Gulf and threats of air strikes against Iraq. Baghdad had argued the sites were symbols of sovereignty.
Ritter's return follows a Feb. 23 U.N.-Iraq accord under which Iraq agreed to give inspectors full access to eight presidential palaces previously declared off-limits. The accord, worked out by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan during a visit to Baghdad, averted potential U.S. air strikes.
Iraq has said Ritter and his 50-member team will be conducting spot tours of suspected weapons sites that may cover sensitive compounds.
An Iraqi official, speaking on customary condition of anonymity, said Ritter will not try to visit any of the eight palaces. These will be visited by a special team made up of U.N. arms monitors and diplomats as part of the accord.
The weapons inspectors must certify that Iraq has eliminated all its weapons of mass destruction before U.N. sanctions that were imposed after Iraq's 1990 invasion of neighboring Kuwait can be lifted.
Both Iraq and the U.N. officials in Baghdad are tight-lipped about Ritter's activities. Iraqi newspapers Friday did not report his arrival in Baghdad.