As UN scientists begin work in Iraq this week, searching for weapons of mass destruction, they are hopeful that a new system of on-the-spot analysis of samples will help them avoid the stalemate that eventually forced their predecessors to leave the country four years ago.

The search for biological warfare agents is being conducted by UNMOVIC, the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission. Its first inspectors arrived on November 18 and, combined with inspectors seeking chemical and nuclear arsenals, they should number about a hundred by the end of the year.

The inspectors are drawn from a UN list of 220 experts, mostly scientists, ready to travel to the country. Their task is daunting but two factors suggest they could succeed where their predecessor body UNSCOR is reckoned to have failed in the 1990s.

First, the new rules of engagement drawn up by the UN Security Council do not...

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