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Interview: Ben Brown Discusses the First Day of U.N. Inspections in Iraq

All Things Considered: November 27, 2002

U.N. Arms Inspections Resume in Iraq

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

JACKI LYDEN, host:

And I'm Jacki Lyden.

The United Nations-led weapons inspections resume today in Iraq for the first time in four years. Inspectors spent five hours searching one site and three hours at another, but were silent about what they were looking for and whether or not they found anything. They were followed by scores of international journalists. One of them was Ben Brown of the BBC, and he joins us now.

Ben, tell us more about these two sites that were searched. One of them, I guess, was a surprise inspection, wasn't it?

Mr. BEN BROWN (BBC): Yes. And the inspectors have said all along they wanted these inspections to be surprise because they need the element of surprise. If the Iraqis know they're coming, then there's a danger that they can hide whatever they may have there. So they kept us guessing. They kept the Iraqis guessing right up until the last minute. And that's why we had a very frantic car chase through the streets of Baghdad as we were trying to keep up with the inspectors after they'd set off from their headquarters. They drove at very high speed. We were following them pretty chaotic, frantic, sometimes rather farcical scenes in Baghdad, I'm afraid. And I think we caused a bit of traffic chaos. But we finally we ended up at a factory called al-Tahadi, which means challenge in Arabic. And the challenge for the journalists was to get in there and have a look, but the Iraqi guards there were keeping us out because the UN inspectors didn't want any media in watching them as they carried out their inspection.

LYDEN: Ben, you describe this scene chasing the inspectors around. I guess one of the points of contention was how many journalists would be allowed in, wasn't it?

Mr. BROWN: Well, the United Nations inspectors themselves don't want any journalists in. They want to carry out their work in private. But after the inspectors have finished their work today, then the Iraqis did say to us in the press corps, `Come on in and have a look.' They took us to a shop floor inside this factory. Now, obviously, we're journalists, we're reporters, not weapons inspectors--we have no idea really what we were looking at. The director of the factory said they just maintain machine parts. Absolutely, he said, they do not make weapons of mass destruction. But, you know, for us to say anything about that is almost impossible. We just had a brief look. And we talked to the director, who said that the weapons inspectors were very welcome. They could come back if they wanted, but that he had nothing to hide.

LYDEN: So so far the atmosphere is cordial?

Mr. BROWN: The atmosphere is cordial. And although I suppose you could say that these inspections, now that they've started, have raised the tension somewhat in that if they do go wrong, it could escalate into ultimate war. On the other hand, I think because things have been quite cordial in these first hours and days since the weapons inspectors got here, in some ways it's eased the tension a little bit.

LYDEN: Can you just outline what the task is of the inspectors in the weeks ahead--how many inspectors there will eventually be and how many sites they wish to examine?

Mr. BROWN: Well, there are just 17 of them here at the moment. But eventually they hope to have about 300. And at any one time, they'll have a hundred in the country. So those 300 are going to rotate in and out of Iraq. It's a huge country to search. There are seven or 800 possible suspected sites that they need to have a look at. The weapons inspectors are saying it could take them about a year to come up with a final verdict on whether or not there is a weapons program here. But in the shorter term, they have report back to the United Nations by January the 27th with preliminary findings on what they've discovered.

LYDEN: Well, Ben, thank you very much for speaking with us.

Mr. BROWN: OK.

LYDEN: Ben Brown of the BBC speaking to us from Baghdad.

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