Iraq Blocks UNSCOM Monitoring; Security Council Calls for Review

ESCALATING ITS standoff with the UN Security Council, Iraq announced on October 31 that it would no longer allow inspectors from the UN Special Commission (UNSCOM) to monitor sites in Iraq for prohibited weapons activities. On August 5, Baghdad suspended inspections by UNSCOM, which oversees chemical and biological weapons and ballistic missile programs, and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which handles nuclear issues, into Iraq's past weapons activities. Iraq's announcement specified only UNSCOM's monitoring activities, but will likely affect IAEA's monitoring work as well, since the IAEA depends heavily on UNSCOM for logistical support. Iraq's action may have been prompted by the Security Council's approval on October 30 of a plan for a "comprehensive review" of Iraq's compliance with its disarmament obligations that was not to Baghdad's liking. The review, provided for in Security Council Resolution 1194 (approved September 9), can only proceed after Baghdad revokes its August 5 decision to suspend UNSCOM and IAEA investigations. Initially supported by states sympathetic to Iraq as means of narrowing the remaining disarmament issues and thus hastening the end of sanctions, the final review plan does not appear to provide Baghdad much leeway.

The Security Council issued a statement on October 31 condemning Iraq's action and demanding that Baghdad "rescind immediately and unconditionally" the bans on both monitoring and inspections. While the United States has taken a decidedly low-key approach to Iraq's August blockage of UNSCOM inspections, the latest interference with monitoring activities is likely to provoke a more robust response. (See ACT, August/September, 1998.) President Clinton termed the Iraqi decision "a clear violation of the UN Security Council Resolutions" and stated, "From my point of view we should keep all our options open."


UNSCOM & IAEA Reports Presented

Amid the Security Council's deliberations on the nature of the comprehensive review, UNSCOM and the IAEA presented their latest biannual reports on Iraq on October 6 and 7, respectively. The IAEA report stated—as did the previous IAEA report—that "no indication of prohibited materials, equipment or activities" had been found in the last six months, but cautioned that without inspections, the agency is unable "to ensure that prohibited activities are not being carried out in Iraq." The report also reiterated past concerns about missing information on Iraq's nuclear weaponization and centrifuge development efforts, offers of foreign assistance, and documents showing Baghdad has officially ended its nuclear weapons program.

Similarly, UNSCOM's report recalled previous submissions to the Security Council documenting significant gaps and discrepancies in Baghdad's declarations of its ballistic missile, biological and chemical weapons holdings and production capabilities. Highlighting the relatively small number of outstanding issues in the missile and chemical areas, UNSCOM concluded that its disarmament work in those areas "is possibly near its end" if Iraq chooses to cooperate.


BW Concerns Remain

Efforts to verify the destruction of Iraq's biological weapons program have been much less successful, and the UNSCOM report listed gaps in Iraq's declarations on biological weapons munitions, stocks of biological agents, and growth media. The report noted that a panel of international experts asked in July to verify Iraq's latest declarations recommended that no further "expert level" verification efforts be made "until Iraq commits itself to provide substantive, new information."

Another international group of experts assembled by UNSCOM reported to the Security Council on October 26 that Iraq had, contrary to its claims, weaponized the nerve agent VX for delivery by ballistic missiles. The VX panel confirmed the validity of tests (performed by a U.S. laboratory on missile warhead fragments unearthed in May at a warhead destruction site) that found degraded VX and a VX stabilizing agent. Other samples later analyzed by French, Swiss and American labs did not show VX, but revealed the presence of a chemical compound and a decontamination agent that should not have been present had Iraqi claims of the warheads' contents been accurate.


Review in Limbo

With the three reports in hand, and with Iraq continuing to refuse access for inspections, the Security Council adopted on October 30 a plan for the comprehensive review that is slightly at odds with Secretary-General Kofi Annan's original October 5 proposal. Instead of asking UNSCOM and the IAEA to provide evidence to demonstrate that Iraq has not complied with its disarmament obligations, the review plan calls on the two agencies to report on Iraqi compliance with the UN disarmament resolutions and to identify "any tasks which still need to be undertaken."

Pointing out that it cannot "prejudge the outcome of the review," the Security Council nevertheless suggested the process would conclude with the creation of a list of "remaining steps" to be taken by Iraq and a "likely time-frame for this purpose, assuming full Iraqi cooperation." The council also agreed that the review could only take place once the secretary-general has received reports from UNSCOM and the IAEA confirming that they are receiving "full cooperation from Iraq."