Global Policy Forum

In New Challenge to the U.N., Iraq Halts Arms Monitoring


By Barbara Crossette

New York Times
October 31, 1998

In its most serious challenge to the United Nations in more than a year of intermittent crises, Iraq said today that it was ending all cooperation with international arms inspectors and would close their long-term monitoring operations immediately.

The action, announced in Baghdad after a meeting of President Saddam Hussein and his top advisers, goes beyond even the Iraqi ban on spot inspections imposed since August and in effect bars almost all surveillance of Iraq's weapons programs. Iraq's representative at the United Nations, Nizar Hamdoon, added in an interview with reporters today that Baghdad assumed that the arms 'Inspectors would now leave Iraq. There are more than 100 inspectors and scientific experts with their support staff in the country.

"They'll have to be pulled out," Mr. Hamdoon said. "That's implied in the statement." He said inspectors would have no further access to any monitoring sites. Several United Nations officials and diplomats said Iraq seemed to be trying to force inspectors to leave on their own, stopping short of expelling them.

The Security Council later unanimously condemned the Iraqi decision, describing it as a "flagrant violation" of Council resolutions and the agreement on access reached in February with Secretary General Kofi Annan. The Council said in its statement that Iraq must rescind its decision and "resume immediate, complete and unconditional cooperation."

In Washington, President Clinton called a meeting of the National Security Council. Afterward, David C. Leavy, a spokesman for the council, said security advisers were "reviewing all options with the President.""Iraq's action cannot be tolerated," he said. Underscoring the seriousness with which the Administration views the Iraqi action, Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen postponed a tour of Asia today, announcing during a refueling stop on Wake Island in the Pacific that he would return to Washington to take part in deliberations instead of continuing to Japan, South Korea and Hong Kong. Mr. Annan's special envoy to Iraq, Prakash Shah, was on his way back to Baghdad tonight to assess the situation, diplomats said. in New York, Charles Duelfer, deputy executive chairman of the commission formed to disarm Iraq, said the inspectors would stay where they are.

"We've got our full complement of staff," Mr. Duelfer told reporters. "We're prepared to do the work that we would like to finish there, and our people are in place." Peter Burleigh, the United States delegate, who takes over on Sunday as the security Council president for November, called the Iraqi move "a very serious development" as he and Britain's representative, Sir Jeremy Greenstock, arrived for the hastily summoned Council meeting.

Iraq said it had decided to stop all inspections in response to a Security Council decision on Friday to reject its demands that a proposed "comprehensive review" of its relations with the United Nations should more or less automatically lead to a lifting of sanctions.

"We expected more support in the comments that the broad assessment of its position sought by Iraq was not a route to ending the embargo, a step that could only come later through a regular sanctions review. Iraq's friends on the Council have not been outspoken on Baghdad's behalf. France, which has been supportive of Iraq, said in Paris this morning that it "deeply deplores" the decision and called on Baghdad to resume cooperation immediately. "Nobody was making excuses for Iraq today," a Western diplomat said after the Council meeting.

The headquarters of the United Nations operations in Iraq is a high-technology hub constructed in a former hotel school at the edge of Baghdad. There, experts view film from remote video cameras trained on Iraqi factories and other production and storage sites, and scientists analyze a battery of air, water and soil sensors and samplers. The monitoring operations were set up in Iraq in the years after the end of the Persian Gulf war in 1991 and were intended to remain in place even after a lifting of sanctions.

The Iraqi announcement-today indicated that those surveillance tools would be rendered largely useless if inspectors would not be able to maintain, service or, for the first time, even operate them. The initial Iraqi announcement said that only the International Atomic Energy Agency would be allowed to operate in Iraq, and only in Iraqis renewed their demand for the dismissal of Richard Butler, the Australian arms control expert who is executive chairman of the United Nations Special Commission charged with disarming Iraq.

The Iraqis also demanded that the commission, known as Unscom, should not have access to information collected by the International Atomic Energy Agency. The commission had routinely combined the, agency's data with its own in reports to the Security Council. "The joint meeting decided to halt all kinds of dealing with the Special Commission and its chief, and stop all their activities in Iraq, including the monitoring, starting from today," the Iraqi statement broadcast in Baghdad said. Iraqi officials have been threatening a boycott of the commission since repeated crises over access for arms inspectors began in the fall of 1997, when the expulsion of American inspectors led to a withdrawal of all monitors for several weeks. Iraqi officials have also said in interviews that it takes a crisis to attract the attention of Washington and the United Nations to Iraq's complaints that eight years of sanctions have destroyed its economy, caused civilians to suffer and produced no proof of prohibited arms.

Commission officials counter that while the phase of destruction of arms stockpiles may be over, inspectors still have much documentation to complete on the scale of past programs, so that everything has been accounted for. In the last year, Mr. Hussein has evidently been emboldened in his resistance to inspections by two developments: the failure of the United States to gain much support for other military confrontation wit Iraq and the visit of Secretary General Annan to Baghdad in February That visit was followed by the opening of new diplomatic links between his office and the Iraqi Government that bypassed the Security Council and reduced the arms comission's influence.

Backed by Russia, France and to some degree China, as well as some rotating Council members, Mr. Hussein has pushed for a lifting of sanctions, in particular the oil embargo When the United States, backed b Britain, Japan and others, prove capable of blocking those move Iraq reacted in August by halting o site inspections, and soon began interfering with monitoring activities In September, a unified Security Council decided, to Baghdad's dismay, to end regular sanctions r views, in effect keeping Iraq under an embargo indefinitely.

Iraq then shifted to demands for wide-ranging review of all its relations with the United Nations, c ducted by the Secretary General, a another way of getting sanctions lifted. On Friday that move also failed when the Security Council, again unanimously, said that it would supervise the review. but that first inspections had to be operating normally. And there were no promises about lifting sanctions.

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