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U.N. Workers Return to Iraq, Weapon Inspectors to Follow

By John Daniszewski
Los Angeles Times
BAGHDAD, Iraq

The first contingent of 30 evacuated U.N. humanitarian workers returned to their headquarters in Baghdad on Monday night, the first sign that normal operations were resuming here after two weeks of tense showdown between Iraq and the U.N. Security Council.

But the real test of whether the crisis has passed comes Tuesday, when 84 arms inspectors from UNSCOM, the U.N. Special Commission, are scheduled to return for a round of arms monitoring designed to determine whether Iraq will abide by U.N. resolutions.

The inspectors were scheduled to fly in from their field headquarters in Bahrain, where they have stayed since their pullout from Baghdad last Wednesday.

The inspectors, whose work is to seek out and eliminate Iraq's nuclear, chemical, biological and ballistic weaponry, had been at the center of the dispute between Iraq and the United Nations.

Iraq had steadily limited their activities over recent months, and U.S. and British forces were threatening military action to compel the Iraqis to cooperate with UNSCOM.

Iraq reversed itself Saturday and agreed to work with UNSCOM. That decision allowed Iraq to escape an attack that seemed likely to deliver the strongest blow against the Iraqi regime since the Persian Gulf war.

Residents of Iraq voiced widespread relief Monday that the threat of armed force had been defused. But a U.N. official warned Iraq that it should cooperate with the returning weapons inspectors for its own good.

"Many members of the Security Council want the question of Iraq's cooperation with the inspectors to be tested and proved on the ground," said Prakash Shah, the U.N. secretary-general's special envoy to Iraq.

He said that if Iraq cooperates "fully and unreservedly" it will be entitled to a comprehensive review of its disarmament record. Such a review could constitute a first step toward establishing a timetable to lift the 8-year-old economic sanctions on Iraq, and rehabilitate it on the world stage.

In Washington, President Clinton said that if Iraq keeps its pledge to cooperate, the world may soon be free of the threat of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction.

"The world is watching Saddam Hussein to see if he follows the words he uttered, with deeds," Clinton said. "Our forces remain strong and ready if he does not."

White House officials said they expect the U.N. team to stage an early test of Iraq's intentions. But these officials said it will be up to Richard Butler, the chief arms inspector, to judge whether Iraq allows full access after blocking the inspections for most of this year.

Defense Secretary William Cohen announced a halt to the military buildup in the gulf. But he said Washington will maintain a force in the region capable of swift military action in case Iraq again blocks the arms inspectors.

Iraqi newspapers on Monday praised President Saddam Hussein for making the last-minute retreat necessary to avoid a military attack. They also accused the United States of arrogance after Clinton's remarks Sunday that he would like to see a new, more democratic government in Baghdad.

Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz accused Clinton of violating existing U.N. resolutions that confirm the national sovereignty of Iraq.