U.N. arms inspectors paid a surprise visit Sunday to the complex housing the Iraqi National Monitoring Directorate, trapping Baghdad's U.N. envoy and a senior official for several hours in the headquarters of the government body that liaises with the monitors.
Iraqi officials said the experts searched 16 sites across Iraq, the largest number of inspections in one day since the Nov. 27 resumption of the hunt for weapons of mass destruction after a four-year hiatus.
Inspectors are to report back to the U.N. Security Council in three weeks. The report could determine whether a U.S.-led war with Iraq is launched.
Four state companies, a laboratory and a research center in the monitoring complex in Baghdad were searched, Iraqi officials said.
The inspectors froze all movements in the complex, holding up its chief, Gen. Hussam Mohammed Amin, in his office with U.N. Ambassador Mohammed Douri.
"It is unacceptable behavior," Douri told reporters after the six-hour inspection. "They can behave better, and people should be allowed to go in and out in a more civilized way."
After the inspectors entered the complex, they closed its main gate and blocked it with one of their vehicles, witnesses said. For six hours, the experts stopped cars and people. An inspector filmed vehicles as others searched them.
The area includes apartment buildings, and women and children were caught up in the search. Inspectors could be seen going through the shopping bags of women.
Some laughed at the fuss, but others were upset and said they needed to take their children to school. One said her daughter had to go to a hospital.
"They are limiting our freedom," one woman shouted. Then, realizing she should take advantage of the political opportunity of appearing before TV cameras, she quickly added, "We all love Saddam Hussein."
Iraqi officials identified the searched companies at the monitoring complex as Al Basel, Al Khawarizmi, Al Tabani and Al Majd, as well as a food laboratory and a glass research center. Officials from the monitoring directorate have accompanied the experts on every inspection since they began work in November.
Other facilities searched Sunday included a graphite facility, a hospital in the northern city of Mosul and a university and a hospital in Basra, in the south.
Chief weapons inspector Hans Blix will make an interim report to the Security Council on Thursday and visit the Persian Gulf nation Jan. 18-20.