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Iraq: UN Inspectors To Use Helicopters To Widen Search For Weapons

Baghdad, 2 January 2003 (RFE/RL) -- UN weapons inspectors today continued their search for evidence Iraq is producing or developing weapons of mass destruction, visiting several sites in central Iraq, including a printing house and a missle site. The weapons inspectors said yesterday they planned to use helicopters to widen their operation. A UN spokesman said inspectors also planned to set up a new regional base in the north of the country, in Mosul.

In other developments, the United States has taken new steps to build up its military strength in the Gulf region in light of the tensions with Iraq.

The U.S. Third Infantry Division, based in the U.S. state of Georgia, was put on alert today for deployment to the Gulf.

Up to 15,000 soldiers, with tanks and helicopters, were due to move to the region over the next few days, joining an estimated 60,000 troops already there.

In addition, the aircraft carrier "Abraham Lincoln" and accompanying vessels have been put on standby for Gulf operations.

U.S. Central Military Command says aircraft taking part in U.S.-British patrols struck an Iraqi military air defense radar today after it was moved into a "no-fly" zone in southern Iraq.

The command said this meant the radar constituted a threat to aircraft policing the area. The radar was located near al-Qurnah, 210 kilometers southeast of Baghdad.

In Cairo, British Prime Minister Tony Blair met Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak for informal talks last night in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.

A Blair spokesman said they discussed Iraq and the Mideast peace process. Blair is on holiday in Egypt.