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Iraq objects to use of spy planes in U.N. search

WASHINGTON—U.N. weapons inspectors want to use U.S. spy planes to strengthen their hunt for Iraq's illicit weapons, but Iraq has objected, a top Pentagon official said Wednesday.

Under the auspices of the United Nations, the spy planes flown by American Air Force pilots would search for chemical, biological and nuclear weapons and missile programs, using sophisticated high-surveillance cameras that would feed satellite information directly to inspectors. U.N. inspectors used such planes during the 1990s inspections.

The Iraqi regime objected to the reconnaissance missions in a letter to chief weapons inspector Hans Blix, Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said at a briefing.

The U.N. weapons inspectors have not yet used any overhead surveillance as they have searched hundreds of sites since November for banned weapons of mass destruction.

The United States offered the use of the U-2 and the CIA's unmanned Predator aircraft. Blix turned down the offer of the Predator. The weapons inspectors accepted the U-2, but it wasn't clear whether they would actually use it, because of Iraq's objections.

The U-2 is a high-altitude surveillance plane with a variety of sensors and cameras that can provide day or night surveillance in all kinds of weather. The U.S. military has been using it since the 1950s.

Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld and Myers said the buildup of U.S. forces in the Persian Gulf region didn't mean the United States had passed a point of no return in going to war with Iraq. "Certainly, from a military perspective there is no point of no return," Myers said.

Several hundred U.S. Army trainers have departed for Taszar Air Base in Hungary to train the first wave of Iraqi exiles who want to volunteer to help the American military, Myers said. The recruits would offer language skills and "local knowledge" to military units, he said.

Myers also warned Iraq's ruling Baath party not to pursue plans to recruit civilians to act as human shields at palaces and other potential wartime targets. "It is illegal under the international law of armed conflict to use noncombatants as a means of shielding potential targets," he said. "Iraq action to do so would not only violate this law, but be considered a war crime in any conflict."

The use of human shields wouldn't necessarily prevent the U.S. military from striking targets. "We're not into killing," Myers said. "We don't want to take on civilian populations; we don't want to take on noncombatants. And we take every measure to avoid doing that."


(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.