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IRAQI NUCLEAR THREAT IS `ZERO,' U.N. OFFICIAL SAYS

Allied bombing during the gulf war and the subsequent activities of U.N. weapons inspection teams have rendered Iraq's nuclear program harmless, a senior U.N. inspector said in Baghdad Wednesday.

"It (the program) stands at zero now," Maurizio Zifferero, leader of the latest nuclear inspection team to visit Iraq, told reporters at the end of his second day in the field.Iraq has consistently denied trying to develop nuclear weapons but admitted carrying out nuclear arms-related research.

Zifferero, deputy director of the International Atomic Energy Agency assigned by the U.N. Security Council to oversee the dismantling of Iraq's nuclear program under the terms of the gulf war cease-fire, said:

"This has been achieved not only because of activities of neutralization but because of the activities of the coalition before."

Meanwhile, the governor of Iraq's predominantly Shiite Muslim south says government forces have been specifically ordered not to shoot down allied aircraft policing the U.S.-declared "no-fly" zone.

Taher Jalil Habush, governor of Zukhar province, also denied that Iraqi forces were building up for a ground onslaught against Shiites hiding in the marshlands after a failed revolt against Saddam Hussein last year.

Habush spoke Tuesday to foreign correspondents visiting the marshlands on a government-guided trip.

U.S. and allied jets began patrolling the region south of the 32nd parallel on Thursday. Iraqi military aircraft have been banned from the zone, which shelters Shiite Muslims who have been under attack since trying to overthrow Saddam Hussein last year.

Through an interpreter, Gov. Habush replied "yes" when asked whether there were specific instructions from Baghdad not to fire at the U.S., British and French warplanes enforcing the no-fly zone.