UN Team Leaves Iraq After Destroying VX Gas


By Leon Barkho

Boston Globe
July 28, 1999

Baghdad, Iraq - A U.N. team of independent experts left Baghdad today, ending a controversial mission that involved the destruction of the deadly VX nerve agent, U.N. sources said.

On Tuesday, the experts destroyed a small quantity of VX after receiving orders from the U.N. Security Council to do so, said the sources, speaking on customary condition of anonymity. The council ordered the destruction after Iraq's allies failed to convince the U.N. Security Council to hold the samples for further analysis.

The official Iraqi News Agency said today that the destruction of the VX was done under U.S. pressure ''to erase evidence'' that U.N. inspectors were ''involved in contaminating a number of scrapped (Iraqi) missile warheads.'' The scrapping and neutralizing of VX gas and other toxic materials, which were left behind in a U.N. laboratory when weapons inspectors pulled out of Iraq in mid-December, were carried out ''in a very safe manner,'' the U.N. sources said.

The mandate of the four experts from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and a German biological expert ran into trouble the first day they arrived in Iraq. Their original mission to destroy chemical agents and mustard gas was first delayed over disagreements on how to enter the building with Iraq insisting that Russian, French and Chinese diplomats should oversee the destruction. Their discovery of small quantities of VX agent in the laboratory a few days later led to a protracted fight at the U.N. Security Council with Iraq's supporters Russia, France and China demanding an investigation to determine whether inspectors from the U.N. Special Commission did not use the gas to contaminate Iraqi missile warheads.

But the United States, Britain and the majority of the 15-member council backed UNSCOM inspectors who said the small quantities of VX which could only be used to calibrate equipment, posed no danger, and should be destroyed.

On Tuesday, the current council president, Malaysia's U.N. Ambassador Hasmy Agam, ruled that there was no consensus to change the mandate of the team of experts in Baghdad. U.N. sources in Baghdad said the process of destroying the poisonous materials ''proceeded smoothly and safely'' and no precautionary measures were necessary to protect the nearly 150 U.N. relief staff in the building. The sources said the team left in two four-wheel vehicles early today heading to Jordan.

More Information on Sanctions Against Iraq

More Information on the Iraq Crisis