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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Inspectors Search Palace in Test of Compliance

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- UN arms inspectors searched one of President Saddam Hussein's lavish palace compounds in Baghdad on Tuesday in the biggest test of Iraqi cooperation since inspections for weapons of mass destruction resumed.

As a Dec. 8 UN deadline approaches for Iraq to say whether it has banned weapons, U.S. President George W. Bush warned Hussein against trying to deceive the inspectors and said he was not encouraged by Baghdad's attitude.

Teams of inspectors entered the al-Sojoud palace, one of several presidential compounds across Iraq, in central Baghdad. Inspections of presidential palaces had been a source of confrontation between Iraq and UN inspectors in the 1990s.

One team, in six white UN cars, drove up to the palace gate accompanied by Iraqi officials in a separate vehicle.

A witness said guards at the entrance were surprised by the UN convoy's arrival and at first refused to open the gate. Some inspectors left their cars and demanded they be let in.

"Open the gate, we want to come in," an inspector told the guards. "We can't, we are waiting for orders," one guard replied. The inspector protested and a few minutes later the gates were opened. Other inspectors entered from another gate. According to UN Security Council guidelines, access to sites should be immediate and unfettered.

Journalists were not allowed in and Iraqi guards were visibly uneasy at the unexpected visit. But reporters were allowed a peek inside the grandiose palace ground after the UN experts and the accompanying Iraqi "minders" left.

The journalists were guided through a palm-lined driveway surrounded by rose gardens. Ornaments stood at the entrance and throughout a domed inner-courtyard.

No Iraqi officials talked to the press inside the palace, which has marble fountains and golden elevator doors. A plaster model of the compound showed damage from Western bombardment during the 1990s. The inspectors left the compound after one hour and 45 minutes without speaking to journalists.

It was the first presidential palace inspection since the UN experts returned to Baghdad last month, armed with a tough Security Council resolution giving Iraq a last chance to disarm or face a possible war led by the United States.

Both sides agreed on special procedures for the inspections in 1998, a few months before the inspectors pulled out of Iraq for alleged lack of cooperation.

The new UN Security Council resolution last month set tough guidelines for the inspections, abolishing special arrangements for the palaces.

UN documents say Hussein's eight palace compounds contain more than 1,000 buildings -- luxury mansions, smaller guest villas, office complexes, warehouses and garages. In a swoop on a suspect site Monday, they said they had discovered some equipment tagged by previous inspection teams and several UN monitoring cameras that had gone missing from a missile factory.

Speaking at the Pentagon on Monday, Bush said Iraq must supply a "credible and complete list of its nuclear, biological and chemical weapons by Sunday" -- the Dec. 8 deadline set by the UN Security Council.

"Any act of delay, deception or defiance will prove that Saddam Hussein has not adopted the path of compliance and has rejected the path of peace," Bush told military leaders.

"So far the steps are not encouraging."

A top Russian official gave a sharply contrasting assessment to that of Bush, saying the work of the inspectors had begun "in a positive way."

"The absence of difficulties in the work of the inspectors gives grounds for optimism, as does cooperation with the UN people from the Iraqi side," Deputy Foreign Minister Yury Fedotov told Itar-Tass.

U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz said Tuesday a war with Iraq was not inevitable but warned Hussein he would have to go further than ever before to avoid conflict.

"Our goal is to achieve the disarmament of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, peacefully if possible, voluntarily if possible, by force if necessary," Wolfowitz told BBC Radio.

Despite his more conciliatory tone, Wolfowitz, a leading U.S. hawk, warned Hussein he would be toppled if he failed to meet UN demands.

"Our only hope of getting this problem resolved peacefully is to convince Hussein that it really is a brand new ball game and that if he doesn't cooperate in a way he has never cooperated before, it will mean the end of his regime," he said.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri said in an interview in an Iraqi weekly that the United States was trying to blackmail the inspectors by casting doubts over their work. "The language of disdain used by U.S. officials over the resumption of UN arms inspections aims at blackmailing the work of the inspectors," Sabri told al-Rafidain.

"Iraq will extend all facilities necessary to enable inspectors do their job properly," he added.

An official Iraqi daily dismissed as lies U.S. charges Baghdad had weapons of mass destruction. "The cursed Bush and his Zionist team are lying one million times a day when they say that Iraq possesses weapons of mass destruction, as if Iraq has nothing to do but to develop such weapons," al-Iraq said in a front-page editorial.