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"No one can solve this problem alone, but together we can change things for the better." 

– Setsuko Thurlow
Hiroshima Survivor
June 6, 2016
Security Council Remains Divided Over Iraqi Arms Regime, Sanctions

Howard Diamond

AFTER NEARLY SIX months without UN weapons inspections in Iraq, the UN Security Council remains divided on how to implement Resolution 687, which requires Iraq to eliminate its proscribed weapons before economic sanctions can be lifted. Russia, China and France have sought to induce Iraqi compliance with its disarmament obligations through concessions on sanctions and inspections, while the United States and Britain have insisted that Baghdad comply with the Security Council's mandates before sanctions are lifted. Since the U.S.-British air strikes in December 1998, Baghdad has maintained that international inspectors will not be allowed back into the country without prior relief from sanctions.

In April and May, diplomatic activity in the council centered around two competing draft resolutions seeking to build on the March report of Brazilian Ambassador Celso Amorim. (See ACT, March 1999.) Three Amorim-led panels reviewed the status of Iraq's disarmament, the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Iraq, and missing Kuwaiti POWs and property. The disarmament panel's report confirmed that Baghdad had not met the Security Council's requirements for lifting sanctions, but concluded that outstanding issues in Iraq's disarmament, previously addressed by weapons inspections, could be included in a "reinforced ongoing monitoring and verification regime." Such a regime, the panel noted, would have to be, "if anything, more intrusive than the [monitoring regime] so far practiced."

The two proposals currently under review—one offered by Britain and The Netherlands, the other by Russia—take considerably different approaches in reorienting the Security Council's dealings with Iraq. The British-Dutch proposal calls for the UN Special Commission (UNSCOM), which has had responsibility for the chemical, biological and ballistic missile elements of Iraq's disarmament, to be replaced by a new UN Commission on Investigation, Inspection and Monitoring (UNCIIM). The plan would also allow unlimited Iraqi petroleum exports through a UN escrow account and permit foreign investment in Iraq's oil sector in order to increase the amount of money available for humanitarian needs.

As described in the draft resolution, UNCIIM would "take over all assets, liabilities, staff and archives" of UNSCOM, and would be run by an independent executive director appointed by the UN secretary-general. The current executive chairman of UNSCOM, Australian Ambassador Richard Butler, announced in February that he would not request reappointment when his term of office expires at the end of June.

Like UNSCOM, UNCIIM would be entitled to "immediate, unconditional and unrestricted access to any and all areas, facilities, equipment, records and means of transportation which they wish to inspect." As is the case with UNSCOM, UNCIIM's work would be overseen by a body of international commissioners and its executive director would report to the Security Council every six months.

Long the subject of Iraqi accusations, UNSCOM's credibility with some members of the Security Council suffered greatly following March reports that U.S. intelligence had not only benefited from cooperation with UN inspectors, but had used UNSCOM to "piggyback" independent intelligence gathering operations in Iraq. In light of explicit calls for UNSCOM's demise from France, Russia and China, the British-Dutch proposal provides for the elimination of UNSCOM while continuing its existence under a different name. Replacing UNSCOM with UNCIIM, however, would provide opportunities for Security Council members to haggle over the membership of the commission, UNCIIM's organization and reporting lines, the extent of its administrative, procedural and technical inheritance from UNSCOM and the specifics of its mandate.

The Russian Initiative

Though discredited in Russian eyes, UNSCOM would apparently continue operating under Russia's draft proposal, which does not mention UNSCOM by name. It states that Iraq's disarmament obligations "have been completed in such a way" that further investigation of its past weapons activities can be conducted through a "reinforced" ongoing monitoring and verification (OMV) system, which UNSCOM has already established. Under the Russian proposal, UN sanctions on Iraq would be lifted once the OMV system is back in place, and Iraqi assets would remain frozen until the secretary-general reported to the Security Council that Iraq's disarmament obligations had been fulfilled. UNSCOM and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which is responsible for the nuclear portion of Iraq's disarmament, would jointly implement the OMV system.

While China has indicated its support for the Russian proposal, France's position remains unclear. Paris has supported lifting sanctions on Iraq, but French diplomats may be looking for a "third way" between the Russian and British-Dutch proposals. Informal consultations among Security Council members are expected to continue through June.

U.S. Pursues Regime Change

While the Security Council attempts to reach a new consensus, the Clinton administration is moving ahead with its policy of "containment plus regime change." On May 24, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright met with leaders of the Iraqi National Congress (INC), the political umbrella for Iraqi opposition groups. The same day, State Department spokesman James Rubin announced that the administration was preparing to release non-lethal forms of aid to INC groups to help them create a headquarters, begin training in "civil affairs" for a post-Saddam Iraq, and initiate public advocacy activities. When asked about providing the U.S. military assistance contemplated by the October 1998 Iraq Liberation Act, Rubin said, "We're not prepared to take action that is premature or that puts people's lives needlessly at risk. There are a number of steps that have to be taken before we're in a position to provide lethal assistance." The United States, together with Britian, continues to patrol the two "no-fly" zones over northern and southern Iraq and has conducted periodic air strikes in response to Iraqi attacks on the patrols.

Mindful of international concerns about the effect of sanctions on Iraqi civilians, Washington has indicated its interest in the British-Dutch proposal, which would improve the output from Iraq's oil sector and remove the cap on allowable Iraqi oil sales, while retaining UN control of the proceeds. On May 21, the Security Council reauthorized the oil-for-food program, which allows Iraq to sell $5.2 billion worth of oil every six months. Recognizing improvements in Iraq's export capacity and the rise in the price of oil, the Security Council's resolution provides for a review of the export cap if Iraq reaches the sales limit by November 20.