ANALYSIS: IRAQ ARMS INSPECTORS - Saddam's Arsenal: From Chemical Weapons to Nuclear Programme ; lUN Experts, Now Barred from Baghdad, Previously Uncovered a Terrifying Arsenal Which, If Reactivated, Could Engulf the Entire Region
Penketh, Anne, The Independent (London, England)
TWO HOURS after American warplanes struck Iraqi targets at the beginning of the Gulf War in 1991, President George Bush went on national television to report that a main war goal was to "knock out Saddam Hussein's nuclear bomb potential".
Forget liberating Kuwait. Eleven years later, his son, President George Bush Jnr, is using remarkably similar language about weapons of mass destruction to justify a new military intervention to topple the Iraqi leader.
In 1991, the United States was well aware of the risk to the Gulf region from President Saddam's chemical and biological weapons, long- range missiles and clandestine attempt to build a nuclear bomb. After all, he had already gassed to death some 5,000 Iraqi Kurds while putting down a Kurdish uprising. "When you've got an insect problem, you use insecticide," was how an Iraqi general shrugged off the event to the former chief UN weapons inspector Richard Butler.
President Saddam's military had earlier killed an estimated 5,000 Iranians with chemical bombs dropped on troop concentrations during the Iran- Iraq war. But the extent of Iraq's success in acquiring a vast arsenal of weapons of mass destruction only became apparent when the UN weapons inspectors were sent into the country to confirm the elimination of Iraq's suspected illegal arms programmes.
Since 1991, leading experts in these weapons - ranging from Russia to Australia - have braved a hostile environment to track down and destroy the weapons in an extraordinary cat-and-mouse game. They have supervised the destruction of hundreds of missiles and rockets modified to carry poison gases and their launchers - weapons the Iraqis claimed had never existed or had already been destroyed. They certified the destruction of 68,000 chemical munitions, and rendered harmless 600 tons of chemical weapons agents. The same goes for about 1,000 instrument parts that were used or intended to be used for chemical warfare.
The Iraqis' main chemical development and production complex at al-Muthanna, largely destroyed by the allies in the Gulf War, was dismantled and closed, still reeking with the fumes of mustard gas. The inspectors also oversaw the destruction of Iraq's biological weapons plant at al-Akam in 1996, one year after Iraqi officials finally admitted, after four years of strenuous denials, that they even had an offensive germ warfare programme.
Several gyroscopes - the main component of a missile's guidance system - fished out of the river Tigris on the Jordanian border in 1995 demonstrated that the Iraqis were attempting illegally to increase the range of their missiles.
Inspectors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna, working with the New York-based experts, accounted for Iraq's secret nuclear programme. But worrying aspects of Iraq's arsenal remain to be fully detailed: the inspectors pulled out in 1998 before they could determine the exact quantities of lethal VX nerve gas still held by President Saddam. And although the UN inspectors uncovered much about Iraqi germ warfare programmes, the Baghdad government never provided a full account. The inspectors have outstanding questions about tons of deadly anthrax and of botulinum toxin - which causes death from acute muscular paralysis - which could still be in Iraq. The Iraqis were also known to be working on other deadly agents. Iraq, from day one, set out to conceal its weapons from the inspectors, who have been barred from the country for almost four years. As the 1990s wore on, its concealment was more and more ingenious, including mobile germ warfare units, which were kept on the move to confuse the UN monitors. Part of the deception involved lorries painted with the markings of the Tip Top ice cream factory.
"Cheat, retreat. Cheat, retreat," was the inspectors' description of the Iraqi tactics, intended to avoid punitive military strikes by America. …