WITH UN DISARMAMENT activities in Iraq suspended and the credibility of the UN Special Commission (UNSCOM) under attack, the Security Council on January 30 approved the creation of a new panel to review the status of Iraq's disarmament and recommend how to "re-establish an effective disarmament/ongoing monitoring and verification regime." First proposed by Canada earlier in January, the disarmament panel held its initial meeting February 23–27 and is scheduled to submit its recommendations to the Security Council by April 15.
The Security Council simultaneously ordered the creation of two other panels to study humanitarian issues in Iraq and missing Kuwaiti property and POWs. Together, the three UN panels effectively constitute the "comprehensive review" of Iraq's compliance with its UN obligations that the Security Council promised in September 1998, though Baghdad has failed to meet the Security Council's demand that it first resume cooperation with UN weapons inspectors. (See ACT, November/December 1998.)
Despite the presence on the 20-member panel of 11 representatives from UNSCOM and three others from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the formation of the new body may also signal the end of the UN's active investigation of Iraq's past weapons programs to verify the complete destruction of its weapons of mass destruction capabilities. The United States and Britain continue to insist that Iraq be fully disarmed of its proscribed weapons before sanctions are lifted. Russia, France and China, however, have called for sanctions to be lifted and Iraqi rearmament prevented by monitoring.
Iraq banned UNSCOM and IAEA weapons inspections on August 5 and banned monitoring activities October 31. UNSCOM and IAEA personnel were withdrawn from Baghdad immediately before the December air strikes by the United States and Britain. Iraq said following the strikes that any discussion of allowing international monitors back into Iraq could only begin once sanctions had been lifted.
The disarmament panel, which along with the other two panels is chaired by Brazilian Ambassador Celso Amorim, began its work with reports and briefings by UNSCOM on Iraq's chemical, biological and ballistic missile programs and by the IAEA on Iraq's nuclear weapons potential. Both UNSCOM and the IAEA emphasized the significant gaps in information about Iraq's past weapons programs, as well as the critical importance to any monitoring or verification regime of unfettered access to Iraqi information and sites of concern. Iraq initially refused to cooperate with the disarmament panel but later offered a series of reports to counter the UNSCOM and IAEA presentations.
Still unclear is whether the panel's report to the Security Council will present a consensus of the panel or Ambassador Amorim's personal views. Amorim is considering an invitation by Baghdad to visit Iraq, but according to a UN official, he would not be empowered on such a visit to negotiate on behalf of the Security Council.
UNSCOM Said to Aid U.S. Spying
UNSCOM's credibility, already the subject of accusations of U.S. interference (see ACT, August/September 1998), may have been fatally undermined by a series of reports in January and February concerning U.S. intelligence agencies' involvement in UNSCOM activities. Based on sources in the office of UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, The Washington Post and The Boston Globe reported on January 6 that the United States used UNSCOM efforts to uncover Iraq's methods of concealing its proscribed weapons capabilities to obtain information on Saddam Hussein's special security services. According to the reports, this information helped Washington target the Iraqi regime during its December attacks.
The Clinton administration, confirming that—at UNSCOM's request—it had provided photo reconnaissance and had installed equipment in Iraq to intercept coded radio transmissions by Iraq's security services, noted that assisting UNSCOM with intelligence information was explicitly called for by UN resolutions. According to the January 8 Washington Post, the United States gave UNSCOM Executive Chairman Richard Butler and his U.S. deputy, Charles Duelfer, the portion of the intercepted communications relevant to their disarmament work while retaining other material. The United States obtained this latter material in the course of aiding UNSCOM, said administration officials, who argued that Iraq is to blame for the fact that the same institutions guarding Iraq's illicit weapons were also guarding the regime.
Compounding the January reports were fresh allegations in February from former UNSCOM inspector Scott Ritter that the CIA had worked closely with UNSCOM as early as 1992. UNSCOM's awareness of the extent and types of U.S. involvement in its activities, however, was not immediately clear.
On February 4 UNSCOM Chairman Butler, under fire within the Security Council even before the spying allegations surfaced, announced that he will not request reappointment when his current term of office ends in June. UNSCOM's future is likely to be taken up by the Security Council in April, together with the recommendations from the three Amorim-led panels.
While the Security Council waits for the disarmament panel's report, U.S. and British forces continue to strike air-defense-related targets in Iraq as part of their maintenance of the northern and southern no-fly zones.
Baghdad, which has never recognized the no-fly zones, vowed repeatedly in December to continue violating the zones and to fire on coalition aircraft enforcing them. According to the Defense Department, the low-level assault has destroyed 20 percent of Iraq's integrated air defense.
In response, Baghdad has threatened strikes on Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Turkey, which host the coalition aircraft, and is alleged to be dealing with Russia to rebuild its surface-to-air missile capability and stocks of fighter aircraft. The London Sunday Telegraph reported on February 14 that Russian Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov had approved arms sales negotiations with Iraq during a meeting with Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz last December. A completed deal was reportedly signed in January. Moscow, however, has denied the report, calling it a provocation and Cold War-style misinformation.