Closing the Loop: Iraq and the Additional Protocol

Iraq's Ambassador to the IAEA, Surood Rashid Hajib, submits to IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano a letter announcing Iraq's ratification and entry into force of the Additional Protocol in Vienna, Austria on October 23, 2012.

By Greg Thielmann

It was encouraging, and more than a little ironic, when the government of Iraq recently ratified the Additional Protocol to its comprehensive safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Iraqi deception was the principal impetus for creating the Additional Protocol in 1997. The absence of Additional Protocol powers for the IAEA in Iraq contributed to the inaccurate assessment of the U.S. Intelligence Community's Iraq WMD estimate in 2002, and the U.S. Administration's ability to distort the facts prior to the US/UK invasion in 2003. Iraq's endorsement of the Additional Protocol can have a beneficial impact now on six power negotiations with Tehran over Iran's nuclear program.

Iraq: Not so long ago, a nuclear-weapons-state aspirant

Iraq's earlier success at cloaking the extent of its non-peaceful nuclear program from IAEA inspectors in the late 1980s was exposed when the IAEA gained full access to the Iraqi facilities and personnel dedicated to nuclear weapons development, following the international coalition's 1991 liberation of Kuwait. The IAEA's previous failure to adequately understand the scope of Baghdad's deception demonstrated that the agency could not confine its inspection and monitoring activities to facilities or materials explicitly declared in a safeguards agreement. The Iraqi example led to a determination by IAEA member states to make major reforms in agency safeguards procedures.

As a first step, under its own existing authority, the IAEA added new monitoring measures, such as environmental sampling, no-notice inspections at key measurement points within declared facilities, and remote monitoring and analysis.

The second step was to secure an expansion of its legal authority in the form of an additional protocol to be voluntarily adopted by each NPT member state to supplement its existing IAEA safeguards agreement. This protocol was designed to strengthen and expand IAEA safeguards for verifying that non-nuclear weapon states-parties to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) only use nuclear materials and facilities for peaceful purposes. The agency would thereby be given authority to visit any facility, declared or not, to investigate questions about a state's nuclear declarations.

If the Additional Protocol had been functioning in Iraq during the decade leading up the Second Gulf War, the U.S. Intelligence Community would have been less likely to judge erroneously in 2002 that Iraq had reconstituted its nuclear weapons program. It would have also been more difficult for the George W. Bush Administration to distort the nature of the Iraqi threat.

Today, Iraq's nuclear proliferation potential is far down on the ample list of concerns about the country's future. In light of its reviving petroleum sector and less acute threats of external intervention, near- and medium-term incentives for nuclear power or nuclear weapons are minimal. However, considering where Iraq has been with its previous pursuit of nuclear weapons, Baghdad's acceptance of the Additional Protocol bodes well for long-term monitoring of Iraq's compliance with its NPT obligations.

Iran: Are you watching?

The impact of Iraq's acceptance of the Additional Protocol may be most important initially with respect to Iran. Although the NPT is the most widely subscribed treaty in the history of arms control, only 140 of its 189 members have ratified the Additional Protocol and only 119 have brought it into force. The most consequential holdout is Iran. Although Tehran signed the Additional Protocol (and suspended uranium enrichment) in December 2003 in negotiations with the Europeans, it announced in October 2005 that Iran would not be subject to the procedures.

Any successful solution to the Iran nuclear crisis will have to include Iran's agreement to again abide by the terms of the Additional Protocol, if not to grant even wider access to IAEA inspectors. As former IAEA Deputy Director General Olli Heinonen stated in an October 31 email exchange with the author, "[the Additional Protocol] will be indispensable in understanding [Iran's] enrichment and heavy water programs..."

Various Iranian officials have suggested a willingness to accept the Additional Protocol if Iran's right to enrichment is made clear. Endorsement of the Additional Protocol by Iraq, one of Iran's few friendly neighbors, should help to increase pressure on Iran to do likewise.

Middle East WMD-Free Zone "Deliverable"

The timing of Iraq's action is also propitious with respect to the Middle East WMD-Free Zone conference scheduled to be held in Helsinki next month. Participants in this event, which may include both Iran and Israel, have varying relationships to the NPT and the Additional Protocol. Since only seven of some 18 possible participants have signed and put into force the Additional Protocol, attracting additional adherents is a logical conference objective. Egypt and Saudi Arabia would be particularly influential converts, but any country either signing up to the NPT or to the Additional Protocol for NPT members would help fulfill the nonproliferation objectives of the conference, giving momentum to regional arms control efforts in the Middle East.

Iraq's acceptance of the Additional Protocol would have seemed improbable when it was first drawn up in 1997 and even more difficult to imagine one decade ago as the international community geared up to force Saddam Hussein to receive the UN inspectors he had expelled in 1998. In a neighborhood where good news is so scarce, last week's achievement is well worth celebrating.