Global Policy Forum

Iraq Increasingly Defiant on Arms Inspections


By Barbara Crossette

New York Times
August 13, 1998

Iraq is not only freezing all current U.N. weapons inspections but is also threatening the long-term monitoring that is crucial to preventing the country from producing weapons of mass destruction in the future, U.N. officials said Wednesday.

Iraq, which announced last week that it would no longer cooperate with arms inspectors but would let video and other technical surveillance continue, now says U.N. inspectors will not be allowed to act on any violations that they discover. As a result, the two chief inspectors said Wednesday in a letter to the Security Council, they can no longer feel confident that Iraq is not restarting prohibited weapons programs.

The Council will hold a preliminary meeting on Thursday to confront this latest, unexpected problem in what has been a string of confrontations. Not since the disarmament of Iraq began after the Persian Gulf war in 1991 has President Saddam Hussein taken such a clear step to block long-term surveillance that he would have to accept in return for the lifting of sanctions.

The disarmament was planned to fall into two phases, the first involving teams on the ground physically seeking and destroying prohibited weapons, ammunition and production plants. The second phase, which was to have begun when all of the weapons were accounted for, was based on the use of state-of-the-art surveillance equipment, monitored from the inspectors' headquarters in Baghdad.

Much of that monitoring is done by cameras and sampling devices for air, soil and water. The equipment has been installed on sites that the inspectors say they need to watch indefinitely. The crux of making this system work is the inspectors' right to return to the field to inspect anything that looks suspicious.

Independent arms-control experts have suspected that the long-term monitoring would face problems.

"If you can't check something that you discover by monitoring, then there's no point in monitoring," said Gary Milhollin, director of the Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control. "If Iraq is saying you can't do any more inspections, even if the monitoring indicates something suspicious, then you might as well not be there."

The two chief U.N. arms inspectors -- Richard Butler for biological, chemical and missile systems and Mohammed el-Baradei for the clandestine nuclear program -- said Wednesday that Iraq was not only blocking follow-up searches in cases when monitoring raised questions but had frozen technical talks regarding the history of Iraq's weapons production.

In letters to the Security Council, Butler, executive chairman of the U.N. Special Commission, and Baradei, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said Iraq's refusal to cooperate with active inspections was already weakening what they called "ongoing monitoring and verification."

"This denies the right of the commission to inspect additional, nondeclared sites, where the capabilities for conducting proscribed or monitorable activities may exist," Butler wrote. "Such conditions significantly reduce the effectiveness of monitoring."

U.N. officials and independent experts have also feared the possibility that Iraq might destroy the monitoring equipment.

David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security in Washington and a former expert for the atomic energy agency who has worked in Iraq, said Wednesday that he was "a little surprised" that this Iraqi action had happened so quickly. "Clearly they want to weaken the inspection effort," he said. "It's quite serious if the Iraqis do not roll this one back."

It is very important for inspectors to go where they want at short notice, Albright said. "Sometimes they are just blind shots in the dark," he said. "Sometimes they may have intelligence information. Some of these searches have turned up important things. Without these searches the monitoring is useless."

Arms-control experts say it is important that the Security Council, and above all the United States, act firmly and quickly if Iraq is to be deterred from further undoing disarmament requirements.

At the Wisconsin Project in Washington, Milhollin said Iraq had "made a cynical judgment that the United States is not willing to force Iraq to accept meaningful inspections." "From the response so far of the Clinton administration," he said, "Iraq appears to be correct. "The entire history of these inspections shows that unless the United States actively backs the inspection teams with the threat of force, that Iraq will not comply."

Members of the Security Council appeared Wednesday to be taking a cautious approach to the new challenge from Saddam. Some diplomats said the Iraqi leader was only making the situation worse for himself by alienating his supporters in Council debates.

Iraq must be certified free of nuclear, biological, chemical and prohibited missile programs or the means to restart them in order to have the ban on Iraqi oil sales lifted. The lifting of that embargo has been the focus of Iraq's single-minded campaign. But as Iraqi violations of Council resolutions and of the agreement signed with Secretary-General Kofi Annan in February mount, chances of sanctions being lifted in October during the next review fade significantly.

On the other hand, Iraq has always responded to threats, most of all military threats, and there are none this time.

In the absence of warnings of retaliation, the Iraqis have been steadily rolling back restrictions on themselves and opening new diplomatic links within the Middle East and in the United Nations. Some experts say it will be harder to turn back this progress away from restrictions by the Iraqis as time goes by.

More Information on Sanctions Against Iraq

More Information on the Iraq Crisis


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