"The return of U.N. inspectors to Iraq is an urgent necessity; not to search for weapons of mass destruction but to write the final report about the nonexistence of (such) weapons ... in Iraq, which will enable the lifting of sanctions," Mohamed ElBaradei, director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, told reporters in Cairo.

He said the invitation was issued by Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari.

The inspectors will be sent in the next few days, ElBaradei said.

U.N. inspectors left Iraq just before the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003, and the United States refused to allow them to return, instead deploying its own teams to search for weapons of mass destruction.