Coalition Forces Still Searching for WMD in Iraq

By Kerr, Paul | Arms Control Today, April 2003 | Go to article overview
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Coalition Forces Still Searching for WMD in Iraq

Kerr, Paul, Arms Control Today

AS COALITION TROOPS advance on Baghdad and special forces capture Iraqi sites suspected of housing weapons of mass destruction (WMD), the United States and its allies are still searching for Iraqi nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons-so far without any visible results. The United States and coalition members initiated military conflict against Iraq March 19, citing Iraq's failure to comply with its disarmament obligations as a chief justification for military action.

Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage cautioned that the process of finding and destroying weapons of mass destruction would be "quite time consuming" in a March 25 interview on the PBS "Newshour with Jim Lehrer."

UN weapons inspectors left Iraq March 18 after almost four months of work when the United States failed to gain support from Security Council members opposed to the immediate use of force against Iraq.

In a March 21 briefing, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld listed locating and destroying weapons of mass destruction as one of the most important U.S. military objectives. U.S. Central Command briefer General Victor Renuart said March 25 that coalition forces, consisting almost entirely of U.S. and British troops, are exploiting information gained from seized documents and interviews with captured Iraqi soldiers to find WMD facilities, although no weapons have yet been found.

Assistant Secretary of Defense Victoria Clarke said in a March 26 briefing that U.S. forces did discover 3,000 chemical protective suits, along with gas masks, nerve agent antidote, and antidote injectors in an Iraqi hospital March 25. The equipment was to protect Iraqi forces if Baghdad decides to use chemical weapons, Clarke claimed.

By month's end, no weapons of mass destruction have been used in the war, but Rumsfeld confirmed, in a March 23 briefing, the existence of intelligence reports that Iraq has dispersed chemical weapons among some of their forces and given "selected" commanders the authority to use them.

Diplomacy Fails

The final steps to war began March 7 when the United Kingdom formally introduced a draft resolution stating that Iraq had until March 17 to comply with its disarmament obligations-implying that the council members would take military action if Iraq failed to meet the deadline.

The resolution, co-sponsored by the United States and Spain, stated that, "Iraq will have failed to take the final opportunity afforded by resolution 1441 unless...Iraq has demonstrated full...and active cooperation in accordance with its disarmament obligations...and is yielding possession to UNMOVIC and the IAEA of all weapons, weapon delivery and support systems...and all information regarding prior destruction of such items."

Resolution 1441, adopted November 8, 2002, gave Iraq a "final opportunity to comply with its disarmament obligations" as set out by Security Council resolutions stretching back to the end of the Persian Gulf War in 1991. (See ACT, December 2002.) The resolution was an attempt at compromise. A similar resolution introduced by the three countries February 24 had said that Iraq had failed to comply with Resolution 1441 and did not give Iraq any further time to disarm. (See ACT, March 2003.)

Washington ultimately failed to persuade a majority of Security Council members to adopt the resolution. France, Russia, China, and Germany called for allowing inspectors more time and increasing their resources. France said it would veto any resolution that implicitly or explicitly authorized the use of force, and Russia backed the French position. Whether China would have vetoed the U.S.-U.K.-Spain resolution is unclear, but it supported France and Russia's stance. Various compromise proposals to outline specific disarmament tasks and give Iraq more time to comply also failed.

In a March 6 speech, Bush said the United States would push for a Security Council vote on the resolution, regardless of whether it would pass.

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