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UN Panel on Iraq Recommends 'Reinforced' Monitoring Regime

John Springer

IN A MARCH 27 report to the UN Security Council, a UN panel formed to review the status of Iraqi disarmament concluded that inspections and monitoring remain necessary to prevent the reconstitution of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction programs. The panel, 14 of whose 20 members came from the two bodies overseeing Iraq's UN-imposed disarmament—the UN Special Commission (UNSCOM) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)—recommended a "reinforced ongoing monitoring and verification" system that would be, "if anything, more intrusive than the one so far practiced."

Chaired by Brazilian Ambassador Celso Amorim, the panel is one of three called for by the Security Council on January 30 to review UN policy toward Iraq. (The other panels are examining humanitarian issues in Iraq and missing Kuwaiti property and POWs.) Iraq's refusal to cooperate has effectively killed the UN inspection and monitoring program, and Russia has called for UNSCOM's elimination.

The disarmament panel's conclusions, however, are generally supportive of the beleaguered commission.

The report noted that "the bulk of Iraq's proscribed weapons programs has been eliminated," but stated that continued inspections remain necessary because of outstanding issues in most major weapons categories, especially biological weapons, where "critical gaps need to be filled." With Iraq continuing to block all international inspections, the panel urged that "in one way or another, Iraq will have to be engaged by the Security Council, sooner rather than later." Yet it left to the Security Council the task of devising new means of eliciting Iraqi cooperation.

The panel did recommend that UNSCOM use UN employees as inspectors wherever possible, rather than relying on experts loaned by various governments; it also stressed that monitoring and verification activities should be used only to fulfill Security Council resolutions. Such statements reflect recent reports that the United States used UNSCOM to spy on Iraqi security and military services.

On March 2 The Washington Post published an extensive report that U.S. intelligence services secretly rigged UNSCOM equipment and offices to eavesdrop on Iraqi military communications. The equipment was installed in 1996 to enable images from UNSCOM cameras in Iraqi installations to be transmitted to UNSCOM's Baghdad headquarters. Yet according to The Washington Post report, which cited "knowledgeable U.S. officials," the U.S. technicians who installed and operated the equipment also hid antennas in it to intercept microwave transmissions between Iraqi commanders and their units.

The Clinton administration had confirmed previous reports that it had installed equipment in Iraq to intercept coded radio transmissions by Iraqi security services. (See ACT, January/February 1999.) The eavesdropping operation described in The Washington Post, however, differed from that separate operation in two critical respects: It was conducted without UNSCOM's knowledge and was designed to gather information unrelated to UNSCOM's mandate of uncovering Baghdad's proscribed weapons capabilities.

Spokesmen at the White House and the State Department, citing intelligence considerations, refused to comment directly on the March 2 report. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, UNSCOM Executive Chairman Richard Butler and former UNSCOM head Rolf Ekeus all denied knowledge of a such an operation.

Annan, Butler and Ekeus expressed concern that charges of U.S. exploitation of UN monitoring and inspection efforts could hamper efforts at verifying future arms control agreements.

More immediately, the charges could also shape future Security Council debates over Iraq, bolstering calls for UNSCOM's elimination. Butler has already announced that he will not request reappointment when his current term of office ends in June.

Airstrikes Continue

Meanwhile, U.S. and British aircraft continued to strike air-defense-related targets in Iraq while enforcing the no-fly zones in the northern and southern parts of the country. At a March 11 press conference in Cairo, Defense Secretary William Cohen said that "we would not be striking anything if Iraq was not trying to shoot down our pilots." According to Cohen, Iraq has committed approximately 100 violations of the no-fly zone and fired more than 20 surface-to-air missiles at U.S. and British warplanes.