Iraq: A Chronology of UN Inspections and an Assessment of Their Accomplishments

Article excerpt

In April 1991, as part of the permanent cease-fire agreement ending the Persian Gulf War, the UN Security Council ordered Iraq to eliminate under international supervision its biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons programs, as well as its ballistic missiles with ranges greater than 150 kilometers. The Security Council declared that the comprehensive economic sanctions imposed in 1990 on Iraq after its invasion of Kuwait would remain in place until Baghdad had fully complied with its weapons requirements.

Baghdad agreed to these conditions but for eight years deceived, obstructed, and threatened international inspectors sent to dismantle and verify the destruction of its banned programs. This systematic Iraqi effort to conceal and obscure the true extent of its weapons of mass destruction programs began almost immediately, when Baghdad lied about the status of its programs in its initial declarations and obstructed an inspection team. Iraq continued to harass, hinder, and frustrate inspectors until late 1998, when the inspectors withdrew from Iraq just hours before the United States and the United Kingdom launched three days of military strikes against Iraq for its noncooperation. Since that time, Iraq has permitted only limited inspections of declared nuclear sites but has not yet allowed the return of intrusive inspections to verify that it has lived up to its commitment to get rid of its prohibited weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile programs.

The inspectors' job was hampered not only by Iraq but also by key countries on the Security Council whose support for the inspections waned. As time passed, the combination of unending confrontations between weapons inspectors and Iraqi officials; the reported growing humanitarian toll of sanctions on Iraqi civilians; and the economic costs of forgoing exports, imports, and energy deals with a former trading partner, undermined the willingness of China, France, Russia, and others from enforcing the inspections and sanctions regimes against Iraq. Quarrels erupted between these countries, which were sympathetic to Iraq and claimed that it had sufficiently disarmed, and the United States and the United Kingdom, both of which repeatedly contended Baghdad had not fulfilled the obligations laid out in the cease-fire agreement.

Shortly after leaving Iraq in 1998, weapons inspectors of the UN Special Commission (UNSCOM), which was tasked with overseeing the destruction of Iraq's chemical, biological, and missile programs, and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), responsible for uncovering and dismantling the Iraqi nuclear weapons program, described their work as unfinished. The IAEA made much more progress than UNSCOM, but both sets of inspectors left Iraq with unanswered questions about Baghdad's proscribed weapons.

UNSCOM reported numerous discrepancies, particularly with regard to biological weapons, between what Iraq claimed it had and evidence discovered by weapons inspectors. For four years, Baghdad denied the very existence of its biological weapons program. When Iraq finally did acknowledge having such a program, UNSCOM officials judged its declarations so insufficient-an assessment shared by independent experts-that the UN team claimed it could not even form a baseline by which to measure its progress in revealing and abolishing Iraq's germ warfare program. More headway was made in the chemical weapons and missile areas, but by 1998 UNSCOM contended that key issues remained unresolved. For example, Iraq had failed to account for thousands of chemical warheads that it claimed, without any proof, to have used, lost, or unilaterally destroyed.

Iraq also sought to mislead the IAEA, but IAEA inspectors were largely successful in obtaining a relatively complete picture of the Iraqi nuclear weapons program and dismantling it. The IAEA, which removed from Iraq all known fissile material that could be used to make weapons, reported in February 1999 that there were no indications that meaningful amounts of weapon-- usable material remained in the country or that it possessed the physical capability to produce significant amounts of such material indigenously But the IAEA cautioned that because nuclear weapons material or infrastructure could be hidden, it could not verify with absolute certainty that Iraq had no prohibited materials. …