UN inspectors investigate Iraqi universities

January 10, 2003

United Nations weapons inspectors are investigating the nature and extent of links between Iraqi universities and Saddam Hussein's alleged continued development of banned weapons of mass destruction.

They have begun to interview scientists - some based at universities - whose names appear on a list supplied at the end of 2002 by the Iraqi government.

They are attempting to build a detailed picture of the relationship between the universities and activities that may contribute to any weapons programme.

Hans Blix, executive chairman of the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (Unmovic) is due to present his report on the inspections later this month.

After the first interview, which took place before Christmas, inspectors paid a second three-hour visit to Baghdad Technical University, where they sought to establish the nature of links between its academic activities and government departments.

University president Mazen Mohammad Ali said the UN wanted to know how the institute was organised and what research it undertook for the government.

"They visited all the laboratories, and wanted to know through what channels the university obtains its equipment, materials and programmes of study," he said, adding that the inspectors took copies of the curriculum.

Iraqi academics have so far cooperated fully with the inspectors, say UN sources, but all interviews have been conducted in the presence of government officials at the scientists' request.

The University of Baghdad Institute for Biotechnology was the first to be inspected, on December 16. The department of biotechnology was inspected the next day. On Christmas Eve, it was the turn of the College of Veterinary Medicine in Abu Ghraib.

Mosul University, in northern Iraq, was inspected by an Unmovic biological team on December 18.

Then, during an inspection at Baghdad Technical University on December 24, an International Atomic Energy Agency team requested an interview with Sabah Abdel Nour, an Iraqi scientist, conducted separately from the rest of the inspection. He agreed to a "lengthy" interview in a private office chosen at random, without cameras or recording equipment but requested an Iraqi witness. He had not been invited to consider travelling abroad for interview, which the inspectors can require under UN resolution 1441.

Two days later, an Unmovic team visited the university and interviewed its dean.

Inspections continued this week with Baghdad University college of agriculture and the biology department at Baghdad University College of Education on January 4. The following day Basra University's College of Medicine microbiology department, Marine Science Centre, and the biology department were inspected, and, in Mosul, a multidisciplinary team inspected the Ibn Sina Teaching Hospital.

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