After six weeks of work in Iraq, UN inspectors announced January 9 that they had yet to find a “smoking gun” indicating that Baghdad still has prohibited weapons programs, but they maintain that there are significant gaps in Iraq’s weapons declaration that leave many unresolved questions.
Inspections have generally gone smoothly and without Iraqi interference since they began November 27, according to Hans Blix, executive chairman of the United Nations Monitoring, Verification, and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC). In a briefing January 9 at the United Nations, Blix said that inspectors had found no direct evidence of chemical or biological weapons, although he did say Iraq had imported illegal missile components.
Mohamed ElBaradei, the director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), likewise said in a CNN interview January 7 that inspectors had found no “smoking gun” to prove Iraq is developing nuclear weapons.
Despite the lack of findings and Iraq’s relative cooperation, both Blix and ElBaradei have said—first to the Security Council in a December 19 briefing and then again in January—that significant questions remain. The inspectors, they say, cannot yet conclude that Iraq does not have weapons of mass destruction.
Central to the problem of proving Iraq’s disarmament is the insufficiency of Baghdad’s weapons declaration. UN Security Council Resolution 1441, adopted November 8, required Iraq to submit a “currently accurate, full, and complete declaration of all aspects of its [weapons of mass destruction] programmes.” Iraq turned over a 12,000-page declaration to UN officials in Baghdad on December 7.
Iraq submitted periodic declarations of information concerning its weapons programs between 1991 and 1998 while inspectors were working in the country, but Blix said in the December 19 briefing that those declarations had never provided an adequate accounting of Baghdad’s weapons programs or “confidence” that the weapons had been eliminated.
Unfortunately, according to Blix, Iraq’s most recent declaration consists largely of recycled versions of the declarations made between 1991 and 1998 and provides little new information or evidence about prohibited weapons programs. Blix said the declaration states that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction “when inspectors left at the end of 1998 and that none have been designed, procured, produced or stored…since then.”
Blix identified several parts of the declaration that “need clarification,” such as the omission of information about the importing of growth media for bacteria that could be used in biological weapons programs; the development of the al-Samoud missile, which has exceeded the permitted range in flight tests; and the “repairing and installing” of chemical manufacturing equipment that had previously been destroyed under the supervision of weapons inspectors.
Blix also indicated December 19 that UNMOVIC had information that contradicted some of Iraq’s declaration. Speaking to reporters after the briefing, he said UNMOVIC will ask Iraq for further evidence to address the declaration’s gaps.
ElBaradei’s assessment of the declaration regarding Iraq’s nuclear programs was similar. He stated that the declaration “contains no substantive changes” from the one submitted in 1998, adding that the agency cannot verify the “accuracy and completeness” of Iraq’s claim that it has not conducted nuclear activities since inspectors left. Iraq stated in its report to the IAEA that it has not conducted work on its nuclear program since 1991, according to ElBaradei.
ElBaradei also cited Iraq’s failure to address reports that it had attempted to import uranium, although Baghdad had denied these reports during a November meeting. The IAEA would pursue the issue with Iraq, he said in his report.
Mohammed Salmane, Iraq’s deputy ambassador to the United Nations, said in a December 19 press briefing that the declaration is “complete and comprehensive” and termed accusations that Iraq possesses prohibited weapons “baseless.”
Into the Breach
Secretary of State Colin Powell said after Blix and ElBaradei’s December 19 briefing that the Iraqi declaration contains a “pattern of systematic…gaps” that constitute “another material breach”—language that could be used to justify an invasion of Iraq. He suggested that the United Nations continue to evaluate the declaration and that inspectors “intensify their efforts.” Washington, however, decided not to submit the matter to the Security Council at that time.
Other permanent Security Council members were more measured in their assessments. French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin said that “it will be solely up to the Security Council to reach any and all conclusions” about instances of material breach, Agence France-Presse reported December 19.
Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov asserted that Iraq’s declaration is not “a violation” of the resolution and that council members should wait for the council to analyze information provided by the inspectors, Agence France-Presse reported December 20, citing the Russian news agency Interfax.
Chinese Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan argued in a December 20 interview with Xinhua News Agency that the inspectors should be the ones to assess weapons activities, adding that Beijing had not yet reached a conclusion about the declaration, he said, according to a December 20 Agence France-Presse report.
The United Kingdom’s position was closest to Washington’s view. Jeremy Greenstock, British ambassador to the United Nations, stated December 19 that the declaration did not address the outstanding issues with Iraq’s weapons programs and that “there is further work to do.” He would not say that Baghdad was in material breach but said that Iraq must provide “100 percent proactive cooperation” with the inspectors.
What actions actually constitute a material breach has been an ongoing controversy. (See ACT, December 2002.) The relevant portion of Resolution 1441, paragraph 4, reads: “False statements or omissions in the declarations submitted by Iraq…and failure by Iraq at any time to comply with…this resolution shall constitute a…further material breach…and will be reported to the Council for assessment in accordance with paragraphs 11 and 12.” Those paragraphs state that inspectors are to report “any” instances of Iraqi noncompliance and that the Security Council should meet to “consider the situation.”
A UN official said in a December 16 interview that a false declaration is sufficient for Iraq to be in material breach of the resolution. Greenstock, however, referred to the “second part” of that paragraph when he called for Iraqi cooperation to resolve outstanding arms issues, apparently implying that further cooperation with the inspectors would avoid a declaration of material breach.
Inspections and Controversy
By many measures, inspections in Iraq have proceeded smoothly. According to Blix’s January 9 statement, 150 inspections of 127 sites have taken place. A January 7 UN press release indicated that there are 105 inspectors in Iraq—16 based in Mosul and the rest in Baghdad.
Inspectors have incorporated a variety of tactics to increase their effectiveness. Blix stated in his December 19 briefing that inspectors avoid acting in “patterns” to decrease their predictability. He also said they plan to use overhead surveillance flights from a variety of aircraft.
Inspectors began using helicopters in early January to increase their ability to access sites quickly. In a January 8 interview, a UN official said inspectors are using a total of eight helicopters.
Inspectors also visited presidential palaces, starting December 3. Such sites had been subject to special conditions, but Resolution 1441 removed those conditions to allow the inspectors more freedom to inspect the sites.
There have been some tensions between UNMOVIC and Washington, however. Blix said in a December 20 interview with the BBC that the United States was not supplying inspectors with enough intelligence for them to be effective. Resolution 1441 encourages governments to provide “any information related to prohibited programmes or other aspects of their mandates.”
State Department spokesman Philip Reeker said December 30 that the United States was “giving intelligence” to inspectors, adding that UNMOVIC has implemented means to protect intelligence sources and methods, one of Washington’s chief concerns. Powell, however, told The Washington Post January 9 that Washington was still withholding some information, waiting to determine whether the inspectors can use it.
The question of interviewing scientists has also been contentious. Resolution 1441 gives inspectors the right to interview anyone they choose, without Iraqi officials present, in any location they wish, including outside Iraq. Powell said December 19 that inspectors should “give high priority” to conducting interviews with Iraqi scientists outside the country. However, during a December 19 interview on The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, Blix expressed doubts as to whether this would be feasible. Reeker stated December 23 that the United States has been working with inspectors to put “interview modalities in place.”
Blix requested December 12 that Iraq provide the inspectors with the required list of scientists involved in its weapons programs, according to a December 16 UN press report. IAEA inspectors interviewed two scientists in Iraq—one December 24 and one December 27. The United Nations received the list December 28, but Blix said in his January 9 briefing that it was incomplete. He said the inspectors would press Iraq for more information about the scientists. ElBaradei told reporters after the briefing that Iraq was not allowing inspectors to conduct private interviews.
Iraq has also expressed dissatisfaction with aspects of the inspections process. In an interview on state television aired January 2, Vice President Taha Ramadan described inspectors’ behavior as “tactless” and accused them of harassing Iraqis and demanding information irrelevant to their mission. Iraqi President Saddam Hussein also accused inspectors of carrying out “intelligence work” for hostile governments in a January 6 speech.
Blix and ElBaradei are to provide the council with another update January 27, and they are scheduled to meet with Iraqi leaders in Baghdad January 19-20, according to the UN official interviewed January 8.
The Bush administration has demonstrated frustration with the inspection process but has not yet committed to using military force against Iraq. Bush said in a January 2 statement that he is “hopeful we won’t have to go to war” but that Saddam Hussein’s “day of reckoning is coming,” adding that Iraq has not yet shown its willingness to disarm.
The Bush administration’s policy on regime change remains unclear. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said in a January 2 press briefing that “Iraq has to disarm,” adding that Hussein could do this voluntarily or abandon his country. The United States will use force if necessary, he said.
The administration has previously indicated that Iraq’s compliance with the UN resolution would be sufficient to meet Washington’s standard for regime change. Washington has also suggested, however, that issues unrelated to weapons inspections could still be grounds for regime change and that Hussein could be tried for war crimes, even if he complies with Resolution 1441. In addition, the 1998 Iraq Liberation Act, which the administration has cited in its discussions of regime change, says it is U.S. policy to replace the current government in Iraq.
The administration has emphasized that Iraq has to be forthcoming with evidence about its weapons programs, rather than simply allowing the inspectors access to suspected weapons sites. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said in a December 4 interview with various Arab media that “it is up to Iraq to demonstrate that they do not have weapons of mass destruction.” White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer indicated in a January 6 statement that Washington will not let inspections continue indefinitely without Iraq’s compliance, adding that compliance is essential for inspections to succeed.
Rumsfeld also indicated in a December 23 press briefing that Baghdad’s continued attempts to shoot down U.S. aircraft patrolling the no-fly zones over Iraq signified lack of cooperation with the resolution. The administration has previously said that Iraqi violations of the no-fly zones constitute a material breach of the resolution.