The special group of UN Special Commission for Iraq (UNSOM) weapons inspectors, diplomats and representatives of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) completed its initial inspections of Iraqi presidential sites on 02 April 1998. It took eight days to complete the so-called baseline inspections of the presidential sites. Access to these sites, which Iraq had declared off limits to the United Nations, was granted only after Secretary General Kofi Annan signed an agreement with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein during his visit to Baghdad last month which allows UN weapons experts, accompanied by a special group of "diplomatic observers," to inspect the compounds. Unfettered access to these and other sites is one of the conditions that must be met to complete the weapons inspections and ultimately lift UN sanctions.
All eight "presidential sites" visited appeared to be well defined by high walls or fences. They all had a rather similar landscape pattern: main guesthouses, with an integrated system of ancillary buildings and villas for accompanying dignitaries. Often an artificial lake with small artificial decorative islands located in a way to give access to the lake from each guesthouse. The mission was not intended to be a search for prohibited material and none was found. In fact, there was very little equipment, documentation or other material in the sites at all. It was clearly apparent that all sites had undergone extensive evacuation. In all the sites outside of Baghdad, for example, there were no documents and no computers. The buildings were largely empty. A key accomplishment of the mission was to plot more precisely the boundaries of the presidential sites.
The largest compound on the UN list is the Jabal Makhul presidential palace near the central Iraqi town of Samarra, which covers 10 square miles. Jabal Makhul - which means "under the mountain" - contains 90 structures, including one presidential residence, three large, multistory buildings, five medium-sized ones, 75 villas or offices, five warehouses, and a parking lot.
The Special Group proceeded to this site directly from visiting the Mosul site, completing their visit in the afternoon of 29 March 1998. A request was made by the UNSCOM experts for the landing of the helicopter on site, but the Iraqi authorities proposed that the helicopter land immediately outside the site but within close proximity to it. Detailed examinations of underground facilities for the disposal of rainwater took place without difficulty. The visit was concluded in approximately three hours and the Special Group returned to Baghdad late on the night of 29 March. The visit to the site was undertaken by a reduced number of experts and diplomats since the team proceeding to Basrah had proceeded to Baghdad after the Mosul site was visited. A subsequent visit was conducted on 31 March 1998 with a senior diplomat to examine the layout of the cooling and heating system on the site.
Jebel Makhoul (40 km north of Tikrit), a site which was said to contain nuclear and chemical facilities, a headquarters of the Special Republican Guard, and a palace of Saddam, was hit by US and UK bombing in December 1998.
As of early January 2003 it was reported that about 800 Iraqi Special Republican Guard forces had built up ground and air defenses at an underground complex at Baiji in the Jabal Makhul mountains. One of Saddam's presidential palaces is located in the complex.
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