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IRAQI COOPERATION PRAISED AS ARMS INSPECTORS SURVEY FIRST PALACE

United Nations weapons inspectors ended a day of inspection of Baghdad's Radwaniyah Palace today, and accompanying diplomats praised Iraq's cooperation with them. It was the first such inspection of President Saddam Hussein's palaces.

"Teams saw everything they wanted to see," said Horst Holthoff, a German diplomat.

"I am personally impressed by the spirit of cooperation of the Iraqi side," he said.

The diplomats were accompanying the inspectors under an accord signed by Iraq and U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan last month that defused a crisis and averted the threat of imminent airstrikes against Iraq.

Under the accord, Iraq pledged to allow the U.N. Special Commission, charged with dismantling Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, into eight so-called "presidential sites" where it is suspected Iraq may have concealed material related to its banned weapons programs.

Though Iraq was notified Wednesday night that the searches would begin today, the diplomats insisted Iraqi authorities were not told which specific sites would be inspected and thus the element of surprise had been maintained.

The eight Palace sites, spread across the country, cover a total of 12.5 square miles and contain 1,058 structures.

U.N. officials have said their main interest is not the palaces themselves but the many buildings that share the same grounds. U.N. teams are not expecting to find actual weapons.

Instead, they will be hunting for documents and other evidence that weapons were stored or made at these sites.

The diplomats and arms monitors left early this morning from the inspections teams' Baghdad headquarters in more than 20 four-wheel-drive vans and two minibuses.

Diplomatic sources had suggested earlier that the first search could be at Radwaniyah, near Saddam Hussein International Airport, which is believed to be one of the largest presidential complexes.

The team of 58 inspectors is headed by an American, Charles Duelfer, the second-in-command to chief inspector Richard Butler.

The diplomats accompanied the team under a Feb. 23 agreement between Iraq and Annan. The settlement eased the threat of U.S. and British military strikes over Iraq's earlier refusal to open up the compounds.

Iraq had cited national sovereignty as justification for barring access to the palaces, and the presence of the diplomats was aimed at protecting the country's dignity during the searches. However, they weren't expected to play any active role in the inspections. The teams also will be accompanied by Iraq officials, as has been the case in previous searches.

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