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Blix Wants Inspectors Back in Iraq

Blix Wants Inspectors Back in Iraq

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BERLIN (AP) - The chief U.N. weapons inspector for Iraq urged the U.S.-led coalition to allow his team back into the country to look for weapons of mass destruction, saying that would increase the credibility of any discoveries, a magazine reported Thursday.

Hans Blix, who was in charge of searches for chemical and biological weapons and long-range missiles in Iraq, also challenged President Bush's administration to present proof of its allegation that Syria has chemical weapons.

"Whoever claims this should, in the interests of credibility, very quickly present the relevant proof," Blix said in an interview with the German weekly Der Spiegel. "For my part, I doubt that the Syrians would have been enthusiastic to serve as a depot of weapons of mass destruction for Baghdad."

Weapons inspectors left Iraq days before war in Iraq began. In explaining their decision to invade, the United States and Britain charged that Saddam Hussein's regime had weapons of mass destruction.

"Now we will see whether London and Washington were right," Blix told Der Spiegel. "I am very curious and can only wish them luck in their search."

The Bush administration, which blamed Blix for hampering its drive to win international support for war, has not invited U.N. inspectors to take part in disarming postwar Iraq. Instead, the United States has tried to hire away some inspectors and has deployed its own teams to search for weapons of mass destruction.

Blix said internationally backed inspections would have "considerably more credibility."

"The alliance came as liberator and occupier, and that can prove to be a disadvantage," he told the magazine. "If its experts now should really discover weapons of mass destruction, their authenticity might be called into question."

Reports on Iraqi weapons programs that the inspectors received from intelligence agencies were "pretty pathetic" and led to no discoveries of weapons of mass destruction, Blix said.

The chief nuclear weapons inspector, Mohamed ElBaradei, even received forged documents meant to persuade the inspectors that Iraq had nuclear weapons ambitions, Blix said. He gave no details.

Blix, who has been invited to brief the U.N. Security Council on April 22, called for efforts to declare the entire Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction, "naturally including Israel."

Israel is widely believed to have nuclear weapons, though it has not officially acknowledged having them.

(Copyright 2003 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

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