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"In my home there are few publications that we actually get hard copies of, but [Arms Control Today] is one and it's the only one my husband and I fight over who gets to read it first."

– Suzanne DiMaggio
Senior Fellow, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
April 15, 2019
Iraq Strives to Join Chemical Weapons Pact
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Paul Kerr

More than three years after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, Baghdad is apparently making progress in its efforts to accede to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC). But the fate of the UN organization charged with dismantling Iraq’s chemical weapons program has yet to be determined.

On May 30, the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) provided Iraq with documentation about the country’s past chemical weapons programs in order to help the country accede to the CWC. Countries who wish to accede to the convention are required to provide documentation of any past chemical weapons programs within 30 days after the convention enters into force for that country. Iraq had chemical weapons prior to the 1991 Persian Gulf War but later destroyed them and did not revive the program. (See ACT, November 2004.)

Iraq has not yet signed the convention, but in 2004 it declared its intention to do so and accede once a permanent government was in place. The convention prohibits the production and stockpiling of chemical weapons. To advance their efforts, Iraqi officials have been working with the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), participating in two implementation training workshops during the past year. The OPCW verifies compliance with the CWC.

After the 1991 Persian Gulf War, the UN Security Council tasked the UN Special Commission (UNSCOM), which UNMOVIC later succeeded, with verifying and supervising the destruction of Iraq’s chemical and biological weapons, as well as missiles exceeding UN-permitted ranges. As part of its disarmament requirements, Iraq was required to provide the inspectors with complete disclosures of its illicit weapons programs. The United Nations withdrew the inspectors in December 1998, but they returned in November 2002 with Iraq’s consent. (See ACT, December 2002.)

According to a May 30 UNMOVIC report, Samir Al-Sumaida’ie, Iraq’s permanent representative to the Security Council, requested UNMOVIC’s assistance in an April 7 letter to acting Executive Chairman Demetrius Perricos. Al-Sumaida’ie asked the commission to provide Baghdad with the “full, final and complete disclosure” of its chemical weapons program. UNMOVIC did so based on an “updated” version of the declaration, which Iraq had submitted to the United Nations in December 2002.

UNMOVIC Sits Tight

As Iraq seeks to accede to the CWC, it is trying to persuade the Security Council to end UNMOVIC’s role in Iraq. Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari stated during a June 15 Security Council meeting that the United Nations should “review” UNMOVIC’s mandate.

Radio Free Europe reported in May that, according to a statement from Iraq’s Foreign Ministry, Baghdad is willing to allow UNMOVIC to “confirm” that Iraq does not have illicit weapons or related programs. Yet, Iraq would not allow the inspectors to work indefinitely, the statement said.

The Security Council, however, appears no closer to determining the commission’s fate.

A UNMOVIC official told Arms Control Today June 20 that some council members have still not resolved their differences over what, if any, role UNMOVIC should play in the future. (See ACT, April 2006.)

The inspectors left Iraq just before the U.S.-led March 2003 invasion and have not since been able to conduct in-country inspections.

Although the council adopted a resolution shortly after the invasion stating its intention to “revisit” UNMOVIC’s mandate, it has not yet done so.

Lingering Uncertainties

The May 30 UNMOVIC report also contains a detailed description of Iraq’s previous chemical weapons program and observes that “a number of issues…remain unresolved.” The report states that although “there is a high degree of confidence” that Iraq’s chemical weapons were destroyed, it is possible that some weapons remain in the country.

The inspectors successfully dismantled the program, but they were not able to account fully for the chemical weapons agents and munitions that Iraq claimed to have produced. This uncertainty resulted from several factors, including the insufficient records provided by the Iraqi regime, the regime’s decision to destroy some of its weapons without the presence of UN inspectors, and the Iraqi military’s inadvertent mixing of chemical munitions with conventional munitions during the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war. (See ACT, April 2004.)

Charles Duelfer, the special adviser to the Iraq Survey Group (ISG), reported in 2005 that Iraqi and U.S.-led coalition forces will likely continue to discover chemical weapons left over from Iraq’s pre-1991 stocks. Such weapons, however, “do not pose a militarily significant threat” because the chemical agents and munitions have degraded, he added. The ISG was the task force charged with coordinating the U.S.-led search for prohibited Iraqi weapons. (See ACT, June 2005.)

A National Ground Intelligence Center report made public June 21 states that coalition forces have recovered approximately 500 munitions containing degraded chemical weapons agents. The report cautions that chemical weapons agents remain hazardous and potentially lethal.

A recently released CIA report notes that terrorists and insurgents had been attempting to acquire or develop chemical weapons agents for use against coalition troops in Iraq. None of these attempts were successful, says the report, which analyzed 2004 data.

Duelfer’s report said that since 2003, coalition forces in Iraq have been attacked twice with chemical weapons. But the report generally downplayed the risk of such attacks.