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"I want to thank the Arms Control Association … for being such effective advocates for sensible policies to stem the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and most importantly, reduce the risk of nuclear war."
– Senator Joe Biden
January 28, 2004
Unfinished Business in Iraq
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IAEA and UNMOVIC Outline Remaining Disarmament Tasks

Wade Boese

On March 19, the UN Monitoring, Verification, and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) submitted work programs to the UN Security Council detailing the status of their efforts to verify Iraq’s disarmament and future steps to realize that goal. UNMOVIC was charged with overseeing Iraq’s elimination of its proscribed biological, chemical, and missile programs, while the IAEA was responsible for the abolition of Baghdad’s nuclear weapons program.

The presentation of the work programs had a surreal quality. All of the arms inspectors had departed Iraq the day before under the prospect of a looming U.S.-led invasion of Baghdad, an action that U.S. and British officials said was intended to disarm Iraq. That attack began March 19. Backed by the United Kingdom and several smaller countries, the Bush administration argued force was needed to accomplish what it said the inspectors could not do. Many other countries, including China, France, Germany, and Russia, disagreed.

Although it appears that the UNMOVIC and IAEA work programs might have come to an end with the U.S.- led invasion, the inspectors’ lists of key remaining disarmament tasks may well serve as a starting point for any post-war effort to account fully for Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction programs.

The IAEA expressed confidence that it had a “coherent” picture of Iraq’s illegal nuclear weapons program and had succeeded in eliminating it by 1998 when inspectors first left Iraq—only days before Washington and London carried out military strikes against Baghdad for its failure to cooperate fully with inspectors. Upon resuming its Iraq inspection work in November 2002, the IAEA set out to determine whether Iraq had restarted its nuclear weapons program during the four-year absence of inspectors. This year, the IAEA has reported several times to the UN Security Council that it “found to date no evidence or plausible indication of the revival of a nuclear weapons programme in Iraq.” With that said, the IAEA still has some unresolved questions about Iraq’s past nuclear weapons efforts, which the IAEA’s work program was designed to answer.

UNMOVIC’s predecessor, the UN Special Commission (UNSCOM), had said it succeeded in dismantling the key facilities involved in Iraq’s efforts to acquire chemical and biological weapons and in supervising the destruction of significant quantities of proscribed weapons, including missiles. Yet, it had a much more difficult time than the IAEA in accounting for Iraq’s past weapons efforts. UNMOVIC inherited from UNSCOM a host of unresolved questions and most of those remain unanswered, which UNMOVIC’s much more extensive work program makes clear.

Summarized below is the IAEA’s list of actions Iraq needs to take with regard to its past and current nuclear activities as well as the dozen disarmament issues in the biological, chemical, and missile fields that UNMOVIC highlighted as remaining unresolved.

IAEA

Saying its main task—the elimination of the Iraqi nuclear weapons program—has been accomplished, the IAEA focused its work program on obtaining as complete a picture as possible of Iraq’s past nuclear efforts as well as a clear understanding of any current Iraqi activities or personnel that could be employed to reconstitute an illicit weapons program. To achieve these objectives, the IAEA said Iraq must provide full technical descriptions of its past nuclear weapons activities; turn over all documents related to nuclear activities; name and make available for interviews all personnel previously involved in Iraq’s nuclear weapons program; describe any industrial infrastructure improvements over the past four years; list and explain any procurement activities that could be related to a nuclear weapons program; and describe its current procurement system. The IAEA also called on Baghdad to institute laws and create administrative bodies for enforcing UN prohibitions against weapons of mass destruction.

UNMOVIC

1. Scud Missiles and Associated Biological and Chemical Warheads

Beginning in 1974, Iraq began importing Scud-B missiles, which are surface-to-surface ballistic missiles with an estimated range of 300 kilometers. Iraq claimed it imported a total of 819 Scud-B missiles, a matching number of conventional warheads, and liquid missile propellants. Iraq also initiated its own programs to develop similar capabilities. Those programs, according to Iraq, resulted in the production of seven “training” engines for its own missiles and 121 Scud-type warheads. It is uncertain whether they were biological, chemical, or conventional warheads. Iraq also imported turbo-pumps needed to produce its own missiles.

  • Although UNSCOM concluded that 817 of Iraq’s 819 imported Scud-B missiles had been “effectively” accounted for—meaning that inspectors verified each missile’s destruction or use—UNMOVIC reported, “It cannot be excluded that Iraq retained a certain number of the missiles.” In addition, UNMOVIC said Iraq had not provided evidence to support its claims that it had destroyed the seven training engines. Also unaccounted for were some 21 imported turbo-pumps and a significant amount of the liquid propellant. Iraq stated that the liquid propellant would no longer be usable even if it did exist, a contention UNMOVIC disputed. UNMOVIC further found it could not verify Iraq’s claim to have destroyed approximately 50 Scud-type warheads. Iraq could not account for a 50-ton trailer that it had imported to convert into a mobile missile launcher.

Some, perhaps all, of Iraq’s domestically produced Scud-type warheads were to be filled with chemical or biological agents. Baghdad repeatedly altered its claims as to how many “special warheads” it built and the ratio of chemical to biological warheads. The last Iraqi statement on the issue claimed that 50 chemical and 25 biological warheads were manufactured, although UNSCOM had received evidence suggesting that at least 100 total special warheads had been produced.

  • UNSCOM verified the destruction of 73-75 special warheads. Due to Iraq’s various claims, discrepancies in evidence, and its attempts to mislead UNSCOM about its biological weapons program in general, UNMOVIC assessed that “uncertainty remains concerning the types and numbers of chemical and biological agents [Iraq] filled into the special warheads.”

2. SA-2 Missile Technology

In the early 1970s, Iraq started importing SA-2 surface-to-air missiles, which are also called Volga missiles. Iraq launched a number of programs to modify or reverse engineer the SA-2 missiles into surface-to-surface missiles. Early projects were the Fahad-300 and Fahad-500 missiles. Later, when UNSCOM was in Iraq (1991-1998), Iraq initiated covert programs, G-1 and al Rafidain, based on the SA-2. Iraq subsequently claimed it had canceled these programs with few results, but it did not provide evidence to back up its assertion.

In a December 7, 2002 declaration to UNMOVIC, Baghdad admitted production of al Samoud-2 missiles, which were based on the SA-2. Iraq contended the new missile was legally compliant with the UN prohibition against any Iraqi missile capable of traveling 150 kilometers or more. But al Samoud-2 flight tests exceeded the limit, and UNMOVIC ordered Iraq to destroy its 76 al Samoud-2 missiles, 118 warheads, and 9 launchers. By the time UNMOVIC left Iraq in March, it had supervised Iraqi destruction of 72 missiles and 47 warheads.

Related to its al Samoud program, Iraq illicitly purchased an undetermined number of Volga engines. Iraq initially claimed importing 131 Volga engines, but UNMOVIC discovered 231 such engines, and one Iraqi engineer said a total of 567 Volga engines had been acquired all together.

  • UNSCOM oversaw the elimination of nine Fahad-300 missiles but said it could not confirm the total number of SA-2 missiles that Iraq modified or used in testing. UNMOVIC stated, “It cannot be excluded that some Fahad-300 missiles still remain in Iraq.” Overall, UNMOVIC remained concerned about the amount of uncertainty regarding how all the SA-2-based programs were interrelated and how much progress Iraq made on each. UNMOVIC noted, “Other missile systems with ranges in excess of 150 kilometers may possibly be under development or planned.” UNMOVIC supervised the destruction of solid propellant casting chambers that could be used to build proscribed missiles. As a result of this action, UNMOVIC described Iraq’s ability to produce large rocket motors as “diminished.”

3. R&D on Missiles Capable of Proscribed Ranges

Around the mid-1980s, Iraq began researching the development of medium-range ballistic missiles capable of traveling 1,000-3,000 kilometers. Iraq also said it looked into development of a space-launch vehicle. Baghdad further explored technology to enable warheads to separate from their boosters and imported a different fuel than what was needed for Scud-B missiles. UNSCOM uncovered Iraqi efforts initiated after 1991 to develop turbo-pumps for a proscribed missile as well as a computer disk with missile flight simulation information for illegal missiles.

  • UNMOVIC said it would be unlikely that Iraq could build proscribed missiles based on the computer simulations. The inspectors declared, however, “What is of concern is the apparent intent behind such activities and, in particular, the conscious decision to act in contravention” of UN prohibitions. UNMOVIC also stated that Iraq could use its past prohibited research and development to make headway on “less ambitious and less complex proscribed missile systems.”

4. Munitions for Chemical and Biological Agent Fill

Iraq began domestically producing a low-altitude bomb that could be filled with chemical or biological agents for use by combat aircraft in 1990. Iraq designated this bomb the R-400. Iraq initially claimed in 1992 that it had produced 1,200 R-400 bombs for chemicals but amended the figure to 1,550 following revelations about its biological weapons program in 1995. Iraq provided various figures on how many R-400 bombs had been filled with what type of agent.

  • UNSCOM could not account for at least 300-350 R-400 bombs. (Two UN reports in 1999 put this figure at 500.) Claiming that it is “impossible” to confirm production or destruction tallies for R-400 bombs, UNMOVIC stated that it “cannot discount the possibility that some [chemical] and [biological] filled R-400 bombs remain in Iraq.” UNMOVIC further noted that Iraq possesses the knowledge and resources to produce R-400-type bombs “easily.”

Iraq made or acquired more than 30,000 “major aerial bombs” for delivering chemical or biological agents between 1983 and 1990. An Iraqi Air Force document seen by UNSCOM—later handed over to UNMOVIC—suggested that Iraq used roughly 6,500 fewer chemical bombs during its eight-year war with Iran than Baghdad claimed, casting doubt on Iraq’s declarations. Iraq explained that the air force document was incomplete.

  • UNSCOM could not confirm Baghdad’s assertion that it destroyed some 2,000 empty bombs. Nor could UNSCOM verify that some 450 bombs filled with mustard, a chemical blistering agent, were destroyed in a fire. UNMOVIC noted that, although much of Iraq’s chemical and biological aerial bomb arsenal was “presumably eliminated, its ability to reconstitute that inventory remains largely intact.”

Before 1991, Iraq declared it filled some 70,000 155-millimeter artillery shells and more than 100,000 122-millimeter rocket warheads with chemical agents.

  • UNSCOM could not account for 550 155-millimeter artillery shells or some 15,000 empty 122-millimeter rocket warheads that Iraq said it had destroyed. UNMOVIC inspectors found a total of 14 empty 122-millimeter rocket warheads in January 2003, and Iraq handed over another four. UNMOVIC expressed concern about the inability to account for the 550 155-millimeter artillery shells because it determined that the mustard in the shells would still be potent. UNMOVIC further noted that Iraq possesses “significant stocks” of conventional 155-millimeter artillery shells and 122-millimeter rocket warheads that Iraqi industry could modify for chemical agents.

Starting in the 1980s, Iraq explored using cluster munitions to deliver chemical agents but denied it ever made much progress. Iraq also claimed it never investigated using cluster munitions for biological agents. UNSCOM, however, noted that Iraq’s main chemical production facility, the Muthanna State Establishment, was involved in testing sub-munitions that could be useful for cluster-type weapons. A high-ranking Iraqi official, who recanted in front of his superiors, also linked cluster bombs and biological weapons together in an interview.

  • UNMOVIC discovered a 122-millimeter cluster sub-munition component for either chemical or biological agents at the warehouse of a cluster bomb factory in February 2003. UNMOVIC concluded, “Iraq’s interest in cluster munitions, and the developments it did make, may have progressed well beyond what it had declared.”
    Iraq claimed that it explored, but abandoned in 1988, developing a warhead to deliver chemical agents for a short-range battlefield rocket known as FROG. Documents dated March 1989 and August 1990, however, were found that suggested such work was still ongoing at those times.
  • UNMOVIC assessed that no evidence exists that Iraq continued work on a chemical warhead for the FROG beyond 1990, but added that “the possibility cannot be ruled out.”

5. Spray Devices and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs)

Iraq researched two types of devices for spraying chemical and biological weapons from the air: modified auxiliary fuel tanks and modified agricultural sprayers. Iraq provided conflicting accounts of when it tested these systems and for what purposes. Baghdad said its plans to modify 12 auxiliary fuel tanks for use with a Mirage F-1 combat aircraft were frustrated by a shortage of valves. Iraq claimed it only managed to build three modified fuel tanks and one prototype. Baghdad said the prototype and the Mirage jet were destroyed during the 1991 Persian Gulf War and that it destroyed the three other tanks.

The other serious Iraqi research program on a spray device entailed developing biological weapon aerosol generators for a modified crop-dusting helicopter. This system was called the “Zubaidy” device. Iraq described field tests of the helicopter system as inconclusive. Iraq also separately explored using a MiG-21 fighter and a L-29 training jet as remotely piloted vehicles (RPVs) for delivering various payloads.

  • Arms inspectors were never able to confirm that the Mirage F-1 combat aircraft and prototype fuel tank were destroyed. In addition, a document was found suggesting that Iraq had an excess, not a shortage, of valves for modifying fuel tanks. UNSCOM also found an Iraqi report indicating the helicopter field tests went well. None of the components of that system were ever accounted for. UNMOVIC asserted, “Spraying devices modified for [chemical and biological weapon] purposes may still exist in Iraq” and reported that Iraq possesses many agricultural aircraft spray systems identical to the ones converted to disseminate biological weapons. UNMOVIC found modified fuel tanks in December 2002, which Iraq explained as being part of an air force agricultural spray system. With regard to Iraqi RPV/UAV programs, UNMOVIC said more investigations must be done.

6. VX and Its Precursors

Iraq initiated laboratory research into VX, a potentially lethal nerve agent, as early as 1975 and intensified its work in 1985. Iraq explored four different methods for producing VX. Initially, Iraq denied that it ever produced more than a few grams of VX, but it started changing its story in 1995. Iraq eventually admitted to producing 3.9 tonnes of VX. Baghdad claimed it used or destroyed its entire stockpile. Iraq further denied ever weaponizing VX, but samples of warhead remnants revealed traces of VX.

  • Although arms inspectors found the presence of VX at the sites where Iraq contended it destroyed the chemical, no determination could be made about the actual quantities destroyed. The absence of complete production records, including for all of 1990, have frustrated inspectors’ efforts to conclude how much VX Iraq made. UNMOVIC stated, “Given Iraq’s history of concealment with respect to its VX programme it cannot be excluded that it has retained some capability with regard to VX.” UNMOVIC further highlighted that there are “significant discrepancies in the accounting for all the key precursors…required to produce VX.”

7. Mustard Gas and Its Precursors

The largest quantity of illegally produced chemical agent acknowledged by Iraq was mustard. Between 1982 and 1990, Iraq churned out 2,850 tonnes of mustard agent. However, Iraq did not provide arms inspectors with a complete accounting of its production, weaponization, and use of mustard gas, raising questions about the accuracy of its declarations.

  • As stated above, arms inspectors have been unable to verify Iraq’s claims of destroying 550 155-millimeter artillery shells and 450 major aerial bombs filled with mustard. In addition, the Iraqi air force document suggesting that Iraq used roughly 6,500 fewer chemical bombs in its war against Iran raises doubts that all of Iraq’s mustard weapons have been accounted for. UNMOVIC declared, “It is possible that viable Mustard filled artillery shells and aerial bombs still remain in Iraq.” UNMOVIC reported that Iraq is not currently capable of producing new mustard because it lacks a dedicated facility. UNMOVIC added, however, that Iraq does have the necessary equipment spread throughout the country to assemble such a facility and it has the necessary starting materials, making mustard the “easiest agent for Iraq to produce indigenously.”

8. Sarin, Cyclosarin, and Their Precursors

Sarin and cyclosarin, two related nerve agents, constituted about 20 percent of Iraq’s chemical arsenal. Iraq claims that from 1984-1990 it produced 795 tonnes of sarin-type agents using two methods. UNSCOM assessed Iraq’s sarin-type agents as being of relatively low quality.

  • UNMOVIC cited discrepancies in Iraq’s claims about the status of nearly 4,800 rocket warheads and 12 aerial bombs filled with sarin-type agents. That would be proportionate to about 40 tonnes of the chemical agent. Due to the low quality of Iraqi sarin-type agents, however, UNMOVIC asserted that it would be “unlikely that [past sarin-filled munitions] would still be viable today.” UNMOVIC noted that uncertainties remain about the amount of precursors Iraq acquired for making sarin-type agents and whether Iraq ever instituted large-scale production of binary artillery shells and rockets for use with sarin-type agents. Unless Iraq retained the right precursors after the 1991 conflict or smuggled them into the country afterward, UNMOVIC concluded Iraq would not be able to produce sarin or cyclosarin. UNMOVIC noted that its inspections had not uncovered any evidence of precursors.

9. Anthrax and Its Drying

After denying the existence of a biological weapons program up until 1995, Iraq subsequently admitted producing, over a two-year period, 8,445 litres of anthrax—a bacteria commonly found in the soil that causes diseases in animals and can be very lethal to humans in certain forms. Iraq claimed to have limited its production of anthrax to two sites, but evidence of it was also found at a third. Iraqi officials several times revised their accounts of how many bombs and warheads they filled with anthrax. Iraq’s last statement was that it had filled 50 R-400 aerial bombs and five al Hussein warheads with anthrax. Iraq contends it destroyed all of its stored anthrax in 1991.

  • UNMOVIC cited several findings by UNSCOM that cast doubt on Iraq’s declarations. UNSCOM determined that, based on Iraq’s production capabilities, it could have produced 22,000-39,000 litres of anthrax. Iraq’s unaccounted for growth media could have contributed to the production of anthrax in the range of 15,000-25,000 litres. UNSCOM further determined that at least seven, not five, al Hussein warheads had been filled with anthrax. UNMOVIC described Iraq’s claim to have ended anthrax production in 1990 as not plausible. UNMOVIC further estimated that the total amount of biological agent—the majority of it suspected to be anthrax—in bombs, warheads, and storage at the time of the 1991 Gulf War as being at least 7,000 litres more than Iraq contended. UNMOVIC concluded, “Based on all the available evidence, the strong presumption is that about 10,000 litres of anthrax was not destroyed and may still exist.” Moreover, UNMOVIC assessed that Iraq “currently possesses the technology and materials, including fermenters, bacterial growth media and seed stock, to enable it to produce anthrax.”

In general, biological agents are produced in a way that results in a liquid product. Converting an agent into a dry form typically means it can be stored for longer periods of time. Iraq reported that it did not conduct any bulk drying of biological agents.

  • UNMOVIC said it did not have evidence to dispute Iraq’s claim, “but given Iraq’s interest in drying, the existence of large quantities of liquid bulk agent in 1991, the availability of suitable dryers and the expertise that Iraq had developed, UNMOVIC cannot be certain that Iraq did not dry agent.”

10. Botulinum Toxin

Iraq began researching botulinum toxin, a lethal bacteria that can be 15,000 times stronger than VX, in the 1970s, but it did not commence dedicated research and development work until 1986. Iraq said it produced a total of 19,000 litres of botulinum toxin and estimated that it filled 100 R-400 aerial bombs and 16 al Hussein warheads with the agent. These munitions and some 7,500 litres of botulinum toxin were destroyed in 1991, according to Iraq.

  • UNSCOM estimated that Iraq could have produced double the amount of botulinum toxin claimed. UNMOVIC assessed that it was unlikely that any remaining or stored botulinum toxin would be very potent. UNMOVIC reported that it was important to obtain a clear understanding of the amount of botulinum toxin produced because that would affect estimates on the quantities of other biological agents, particularly anthrax, that Iraq could have produced. Essentially, this is an issue of fermenter availability. UNMOVIC concluded that Iraq could “rapidly” recommence botulinum toxin production because it has the necessary expertise, equipment, and materials.

11. Undeclared Agents, Including Smallpox

In addition to its major research and development of anthrax, botulinum toxin, and aflatoxin, Iraq said it investigated a variety of other agents for biological weapons purposes. These efforts, according to Iraq, yielded little.

  • UNMOVIC noted that its predecessor did not find any “substantial evidence” that any of the biological agents, apart from those identified by Iraq as part of its biological weapons program, was produced for weapons purposes. Yet, UNMOVIC reported that Iraq’s failure to account for certain types of growth media raised questions because that growth media is suited for biological agents Iraq declared it did not produce. “Accounting for the outstanding media…would greatly reduce the uncertainty surrounding this issue,” UNMOVIC stated.

Iraq also briefly set up a viral research program, which Baghdad claimed looked at three incapacitating but not necessarily deadly agents (enterovirus 70, rotavirus, and camel pox). Baghdad says its biological weapons virus research lasted only 47 days.

  • Although it assessed Iraq’s viral research as probably being “short-lived,” UNMOVIC noted that the scope of the research “remains unclear.” UNMOVIC further reported, “There is no evidence that Iraq had possessed seed stocks for smallpox or had been actively engaged in smallpox research.” UNMOVIC concluded that it was unlikely Iraq accomplished much through its viral research program, but it added that “these areas of research identify the possible future directions of a [biological weapons] programme and should be followed up.”

12. Any Proscribed Activities Post-1998

UNSCOM left Iraq in December 1998. Iraq contends that, during the intervening period prior to UNMOVIC’s arrival in November 2002, it did not undertake any proscribed activities. UNMOVIC warned that, given the history of Iraq’s illicit weapons programs, Baghdad “could have made considerable advancements in that time, particularly in the biological and chemical fields.” UNMOVIC also noted it had received many reports contradicting Iraq’s claim.

  • According to some governments, Iraq has mobile biological weapons facilities, namely trucks mounted with production equipment, such as fermenters. UNMOVIC noted that Iraq did seriously consider such an option in the late 1980s, but Iraqi officials said the concept was abandoned as impractical. Investigating whether Iraq does have mobile biological facilities would be “inherently difficult,” according to UNMOVIC.
  • Governments have also charged that Iraq has underground facilities for producing chemical and biological weapons. When UNMOVIC was provided with sufficiently specific information, it looked into the charges. UNMOVIC reported that “no underground facility of special interest has been found,” although it added it does not “dismiss the possibility that such facilities exist.”
  • UNMOVIC reported it had not been able to substantiate allegations that Iraq is moving proscribed items around the country deliberately to thwart arms inspectors.
  • In reviewing Iraq’s legal chemical and biological activities, UNMOVIC reported that it detected “no proscribed activities,” although it cautioned, “There are a number of chemical and biological facilities or production units that could be used for both proscribed and non-proscribed purposes.”
  • Iraq’s “largest failing” in its semi-annual declarations, according to UNMOVIC, was in providing adequate information on suppliers of its illicit programs. Iraq failed to provide sufficient information in roughly 40 biological, 70 chemical, and 500 missile cases.
  • UNMOVIC further reported that Iraq had not been forthcoming in providing names of individuals involved with its proscribed weapons programs.