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June 2, 2022
Nuclear Inspectors Return to Iraq, Pentagon Balks
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Paul Kerr

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors have returned to Iraq to account for and secure nuclear material that had been under IAEA safeguards. Meanwhile, coalition forces have yet to turn up any weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in Iraq, and the CIA has tapped a former IAEA inspector to help them in the search.

The IAEA announced June 6 that it is conducting an inventory of nuclear material at a storage site near the Tuwaitha Nuclear Research Center, following reports that nuclear material had been looted there during the recent invasion.

The nuclear material stored at Tuwaitha had been under IAEA safeguards from 1991 until just before the recent conflict. The IAEA is responsible for monitoring safeguards agreements undertaken by states-parties to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. IAEA inspectors last visited the site in February.

IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei stated that “the initial report [from inspectors] is that most of the material is accounted for,” according to a June 22 Reuters article.

But Pentagon officials emphasized in a June 5 press briefing that these inspections do “not set any precedent for future IAEA involvement in Iraq” and are only for securing the site at Tuwaitha as per the IAEA’s safeguards agreement. Such inspections of a declared installation are separate from those the IAEA conducted to enforce UN Security Council resolutions requiring Iraq to dismantle its suspected nuclear weapons and related facilities.

The officials emphasized that the inspection is a “cooperative effort” and that coalition forces are providing logistics support and security.

A knowledgeable U.S. official said in a June 20 interview that Washington will “revisit” UN weapons inspectors’ mandates, as per UN Security Council Resolution 1483, and has not ruled out readmitting the inspectors. The resolution, adopted in May, “reaffirms that Iraq must meet its disarmament obligations...and underlines the intention of the Council to revisit the mandates” of the United Nations Monitoring, Verification, and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) and the IAEA. UNMOVIC was charged with verifying that Iraq had dismantled its arsenal of chemical and biological weapons and destroyed its missiles with a range of more than 150 kilometers.

The United States, however, has indicated little interest in allowing the inspectors to return to Iraq. Pentagon officials said June 5 that Washington is concerned for the inspectors’ security. U.S. officials have also said that there is no need for UN inspectors because coalition forces are already performing disarmament tasks.

Hans Blix, who retired July 1 as executive chairman of UNMOVIC, told Arms Control Today June 16 that UN inspectors should verify that Iraq is free of WMD because that process “would have greater international credibility.” He added that UN inspectors could also perform a long-term monitoring function to ensure that Iraq does not reconstitute its prohibited weapons programs. (See ACT, July/August 2003.)

The UN inspectors left Iraq March 18, the day before the coalition invasion started and after almost four months of work. Their departure followed U.S. failure to gain support from Security Council members opposed to the immediate use of force against Iraq.

Although coalition forces have discovered two trailers that U.S. officials believe were components of mobile facilities designed to produce biological weapons agents, no actual weapons have been discovered. (See ACT, July/August 2003.)

Washington Augments Inspections

The Pentagon also provided new details about the Iraq Survey Group (ISG), formed in May to ferret out Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. Major General Keith Dayton, currently with the Defense Intelligence Agency, has been assigned to head the group. The ISG will have between 1,300 and 1,400 personnel, with 200-300 devoted to searching for weapons on the ground.

During a May 30 press briefing, Dayton contrasted the ISG’s methods with the current coalition search. Rather than selecting sites for weapons searches from an existing list of possible sites, the ISG will consolidate intelligence capabilities in order to exploit new intelligence and identify sites where weapons are likely to be found. Undersecretary of Defense Stephen Cambone stated during the same briefing that forces first assigned to locate weapons were supposed “to support the combat forces…[and] weren’t prepared…to do the kind of wide-scale analytic work” that the ISG will perform.

The CIA announced June 11 that George Tenet, director of Central Intelligence, has appointed former IAEA inspector David Kay as special adviser for strategy regarding Iraqi WMD programs. Kay’s task is “refining the overall approach for the search for Iraq’s” WMD while working with the ISG, the agency said.

Administration officials continue to assert that coalition forces will locate prohibited weapons in Iraq, attributing the lack of discoveries to Iraq’s skill at concealing weapons, the need to interview scientists knowledgeable about Iraq’s weapons programs, the looting and burning of evidence at suspected weapons sites, the need to review relevant documents, and the possibility that Iraq might have destroyed or moved prohibited weapons. (See ACT, May and June 2003.)