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"Though we have acheived progress, our work is not over. That is why I support the mission of the Arms Control Association. It is, quite simply, the most effective and important organization working in the field today." 

– Larry Weiler
Former U.S.-Russian arms control negotiator
August 7, 2018
Iraq

Is There a New Chance for Arms Control in the Middle East?

June 2021
By Marc Finaud, Tony Robinson, and Mona Saleh

Regional rivalries have long bedeviled the Middle East, and as a result, true arms control and security negotiations have never taken place. Several recent developments offer hope that the momentum for regional progress on nonproliferation and disarmament can be revived, provided some conditions are met. 

Despite the recent fighting between Israel and Hamas, there are hopes that the Abraham Accords, signed at the White House last September by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, U.S. President Donald Trump, Bahrain Foreign Minister Abdullatif al-Zayani, and UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, could revive disarmament efforts. (Photo: Saul Loeb/Getty Images)The Abraham Accords formalized new relations between Israel and several Arab countries. Talks on restoring the Iran nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), are making headway while Iran and Saudi Arabia have resumed bilateral engagement thanks to mediation by Iraq. A return to full compliance with the JCPOA by the United States and Iran could be followed by broader discussions on regional security and missile programs. 

In fact, a historic window of opportunity could be opening, all centered around the decades-old effort to establish a zone free of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in the Middle East that was relaunched by a UN conference in 2019. Any optimism must be tempered by the latest surge in fighting between Israel and Hamas, but the diplomatic building blocks of future disarmament progress may be falling into place. 

The Abraham Accords 

The Abraham Accords,1 concluded in August 2020 by Israel, the United Arab Emirates, and the United States and followed by the normalization agreements extended to Bahrain, Sudan, and Morocco with the door open for other Arab and Islamic states to join, are a potential game changer in the future of the region. Even if the main incentives for such agreements appear to be the prospect of major U.S. arms sales and an emerging coalition against Iran and despite their rejection by the Palestinians, the accords break the long-standing Arab taboo on normalizing relations with Israel. 

Indeed, the accords dealt a heavy blow to the Arab consensus on the Saudi-led Arab Peace Initiative of 2002,2 which conditioned normalization with Israel on the establishment of a Palestinian state. They also upended the joint Arab position on the WMD-free zone, which required Israel to get rid of its nuclear weapons at an early stage in exchange for recognition and normalization under the “disarmament first” rubric. In that sense, the accords have divided Arab states due to their negative implications for the Palestinians and the two-state solution. The recent violence between Israel and the Palestinians put the Arab signatories of the accords in an embarrassing situation, underscoring the lack of support for normalization from the Arab “street” and the non-existent leverage of the Persian Gulf countries on Israel. In fact, the current situation demonstrates the centrality of the Palestinian issue that was recklessly ignored by the conclusion of the accords.

The accords are not as detailed as the peace treaties with Egypt from 1979 and Jordan from 1994 precisely because there is no history of direct armed conflict between the states-parties to the accords and Israel. Yet, they are a signal that the region is apparently moving beyond the old Arab-Israeli conflict and away from the refusal of most Arab states to recognize or engage openly in talks with Israel. Discreet trade relations between Israel and some Gulf countries had been laying the ground for normalization for years. The accords, particularly the agreement with the UAE3, list “spheres of mutual interests,” including investment, trade, science and technology, civil aviation, tourism, and energy, but their security dimension is the dominant one. They signal a willingness to enter into a new defense relationship and eventually possibly an alliance with Israel under U.S. auspices in order to counter “the Iranian threat.” This strategic ambition was reinforced when U.S. President Donald Trump shifted Israel out of the U.S. military’s European Command and to the U.S. Central Command, which includes other Middle Eastern countries.4

Rapprochement between Israelis and Arab countries, particularly the UAE, is in full swing on various levels from exchanging diplomatic missions to agreeing to visa-free travel and cooperating on maritime and civil aviation issues. The countries are collaborating on trade and banking matters and negotiating science and innovation deals. The UAE recently announced a $10 billion investment fund for strategic sectors in Israel.5 The accelerated collaborations, particularly in the maritime and aviation fronts, open the door to strengthening the security alliance between Israel and individual Gulf countries. The Israeli defense minister recently suggested that Israel intends to develop a “special security arrangement” with new Gulf allies who share common concerns about Iran.6 

These developments are enhanced even more by the al-Ula Reconciliation Declaration of January 2021, in which all Gulf states agreed to solve the dispute between the “Quartet” (Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE) and Qatar and to improve their “resistance” to Iran.7

Iran-Saudi Engagement

Recent reports about the first direct talks between Iran and Saudi Arabia since diplomatic ties were cut four years ago are extremely interesting and offer another glimpse of hope.8 They are a sign that an Iraqi mediation effort, initiated and brutally interrupted in January 2020 by the targeted killing by the United States of Major General Kassem Soleimani, the powerful Iranian commander, has regained momentum. After U.S. President Joe Biden announced the end of U.S. support for Saudi-led offensive operations in Yemen, Riyadh probably understood that, unlike during the Trump administration, it would not have everything its own way and might benefit from exploring a new political dynamic with Iran to stop a war it was not winning. 

In the last months of Trump’s presidency, there was a clear impetus, led by Washington’s Gulf allies, to form an alliance in the region, including with new “friend” Israel, against Iran. It is likely that the Biden administration will not allow that to happen if it interferes with rescuing the faltering Iran nuclear deal, a key priority for Washington with widespread security implications for the region. Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif’s visit to Qatar, Oman, and Kuwait in April 2021 and his announced visit to the UAE reinforce the perception of warming ties in the Gulf and the prospects, at a minimum, of a positive impact on the conflict in Yemen where Iran is backing Houthis fighting Saudi-led forces with UAE assistance.

The Zone Itself

The question now is whether the Abraham Accords can have a direct impact on the ongoing efforts at negotiating a WMD-free zone in the Middle East. Despite a boycott by Israel and the United States, this process gained traction in 2019 at a UN General Assembly conference after the cancellation of the conference planned in 2012.9 When the conference, tentatively set for November 2021, reconvenes, one could logically expect a rift among states that have recently normalized relations with Israel, implicitly accepting Israel as a nuclear-armed state, and those still vocally against it. It is likely, however, that the unity of language on the zone will be preserved by the Arab League and that the accords will be largely ignored, in part because of the Arabs’ inevitable return to a more vocal pro-Palestinian stance.

It is clear that the Israeli nuclear weapons program, estimated to include 80 to 90 nuclear warheads, and its long-held policy of opacity were not on the table while the Abraham Accords were negotiated. Yet, they remain the elephant in the room. Indeed, the accords open the door for a de facto military alliance or “security arrangement,” for which the Israeli defense minister advocated, with the only nuclear-armed state in the region. Will this possible alliance be perceived by Iran, Saudi Arabia, or Turkey as a pretext to join the nuclear arms race? Could such a military alliance cause Israel to risk its military and technological edge? Will the lucrative arms exports to Gulf countries that Israel is contemplating contribute to making those countries faithful clients, willing to ignore Israel’s nuclear capability?10 There are no easy answers at this stage.

In the 47 years since the zone project has been under discussion, the Arabs have been calling for disarmament first. In contrast, Israel has consistently advocated peace first and avoided any talk of nuclear disarmament, arguing that the regional states need to travel down a “long corridor” of concrete actions for Israel to be reassured by mutual recognition, normalization, peace, and the establishment of a regional security architecture.11 Of course, Israel can claim that threats from Iran still justify maintaining nuclear deterrence. Yet, the reality of normalization with the Gulf states, a restored JCPOA followed by regional security talks, and the prospect of Israeli negotiations with the Palestinians, which could be encouraged by Biden given the surge of Israeli-Palestinian violence, may cause Israel to feel that the long corridor has shortened after all. Such improvement in the way Israel views its threat environment is hypothetical at this point and could be significantly affected by the military exchanges between Israeli and Hamas forces, the worst violence in seven years.

The Way Forward

The new Arab-Israeli and Gulf-Iranian rapprochements should be viewed as a fresh opportunity to engage regional parties to pursue serious arms control negotiations. The moment has come to call out the Abraham Accords for what they do not say and urge their signatories to make the links among peace, recognition, and normalization with Israel more explicit and for Israel to make a serious commitment toward negotiations on a region free of weapons of mass destruction.

Although the arms deals that come with the Abraham Accords may contribute to an aggravation of instability in an already overarmed region, they do have one silver lining: they test the validity and credibility of Israel’s commitment to the long corridor approach. The international community and civil society are now in a position to challenge Israel, as the accords show that the Arabs have taken several strides down the long corridor and it is Israel’s turn to take serious steps toward disarmament given that it has already accepted, since 1980, the long-term goal of a Middle Eastern WMD-free zone.

The wider regional security concerns, such as ballistic missiles and the involvement of some regional states in military conflicts beyond their borders, can be discussed within the framework of the zone negotiations given that Israel and its new Arab allies share the need to enhance their own security. Israel, despite its technological advantage, nuclear capability, and alliance with the United States, still feels threatened and in need of recognition by regional states. Some Arab states feel threatened by Iran and its nuclear and ballistic missile programs and need the United States as a security guarantor.

Any serious negotiations on wider regional security issues should not exclude or single out Iran. Tehran has hinted that such an inclusive framework would be acceptable once the nuclear deal is restored.12 The JCPOA is the best guarantee to restrain Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Given long-standing complaints by Israel and key Arab states that the deal does not address wider regional security issues, such as ballistic missiles or regional conflicts, they should be eager to use the UN General Assembly-mandated zone process to start multilateral negotiations on those contentious issues. 

All stakeholders have decisive roles to play. The United States must ensure that recent Israel-Palestinian violence is stopped and that the JCPOA is restored; more actively support engagement and reconciliation between parties still in conflict, such as Iran and the Arab countries, Israel and the Palestinians, and eventually Iran and Israel, in order to reduce external intervention in regional disputes; and provide security guarantees to the countries that seek them. Iran can only benefit from reintegration into a regional security framework if it does its part to restore the JCPOA. The other parties to the JCPOA—China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the European Union—should not only facilitate full compliance with the Iran nuclear deal but also actively support regional security talks. Israel should seize this opportunity to invest in and advance the regional security architecture it says it wants. That should at some point include peace negotiations with the Palestinians. The Arab states should seek security assurances from the United States and Israel that could avoid a nuclear arms race in the region. Finally, civil society should take advantage of this fragile rapprochement to convince their governments that the region needs less armaments and more human security.

 

Endnotes

1. See Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, U.S. Department of State, “The Abraham Accords,” n.d., https://www.state.gov/the-abraham-accords/ (accessed May 19, 2021).

2. “Arab Peace Initiative: Full Text,” March 28, 2002, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2002/mar/28/israel7.

3. U.S. Department of State, “Abraham Accords Peace Agreement: Treaty of Peace, Diplomatic Relations and Full Normalization between the United Arab Emirates and the State of Israel,” https://www.state.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/UAE_Israel-treaty-signed-FINAL-15-Sept-2020-508.pdf.

4. Brian W. Everstine, “Pentagon Shifts Israel to CENTCOM Responsibility,” Air Force Magazine, January 15, 2021.

5. “UAE Announces $10 Billion Fund for Israel Investments,” The Arab Weekly, March 12, 2021. 

6. Dan Williams, “Israeli Defense Chief Sees ‘Special Security Arrangement’ With Gulf States,” Reuters, March 2, 2021.

7. Tuqa Khalid, “Full Transcript of the AlUla GCC Summit Declaration: Bolstering Gulf Unity,” Al Arabiya English, January 6, 2021.

8. “Saudi and Iran Held Talks Aimed at Easing Tensions, Say Sources,” Reuters, April 18, 2021. 

9. Conference on the Establishment of a Middle East Zone Free of Nuclear Weapons and Other Weapons of Mass Destruction, Report of the first session, A/CONF.236/6, November 22, 2019]

10. Arie Egozi, “Israeli Defense Minister Goes Slow on Arab Weapon Sales,” Breaking Defense, April 2, 2021.

11. Eitan Barak, “The Beginning of the End of the Nuclear Age,” Haaretz, January 26, 2021.

12. Negar Mortazavi, “What It Will Take to Break the U.S.-Iran Impasse: A Q&A With Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif,” Politico, March 17, 2021.


Marc Finaud is head of arms proliferation at the Geneva Centre for Security Policy. Tony Robinson is director of the Middle East Treaty Organization. Mona Saleh is a doctoral research fellow at the German Institute for Global and Area Studies.

Any optimism must be tempered by the recent fighting between Israel and Hamas, but the diplomatic building blocks of future disarmament progress may be falling in place.

UN: Biological, Chemical Agents Tested on Iraqi Prisoners

June 2021

The Islamic State group tested biological and chemical agents on Iraqi prisoners, some of whom died, according to a May 2021 UN report.

Although the existence of the extremist group’s rudimentary chemical weapons program has been known for several years, the report by the UN Investigation Team to Promote Accountability for Crimes Committed by Da’esh/Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (UNITAD) revealed previously unknown experiments on human subjects.

Evidence collected by the investigation team showed that the Islamic State group “tested biological and chemical agents and conducted experiments on prisoners…causing death,” the report said. It added that “[w]eaponized vesicants, nerve agents and toxic industrial compounds are suspected to have been considered under the programme.”

A UN press release said thallium and nicotine were identified as two of the toxic lethal compounds that proved fatal when used on live prisoners in the tests, which took place after the Islamic State group seized control of Mosul in 2014. 

UNITAD obtained evidence from Islamic State electronic devices that led to the opening of the new investigation into the development, testing, and deployment of the group’s indigenous chemical and biological weapons program, said Karim Asad Ahmad Khan, who heads the team, at a UN Security Council briefing on May 10. 

Preliminary findings of that investigation, which is still ongoing, were published in the May report and “confirmed the repeated deployment of chemical weapons by [the Islamic State group] against civilian populations in Iraq between 2014 and 2016, as well as the testing of biological agents on prisoners.”

The investigation is centered on the 2014 Islamic State takeover of the University of Mosul, the 2016 attack against the Mishraq sulfur field and processing facility, and the 2016 attack on the town of Taza Khurmatu. After the university takeover, the Islamic State group repurposed the university’s laboratories for its chemical weapons program. According to Khan, domestic and international scientists and medical professionals initially worked to weaponize chlorine from water treatment plants seized by the militants. 

Islamic State laboratories also developed a “sulfur mustard production system that was deployed in March 2016 through the firing of 40 rockets at the Turkman Shia town of Taza Khurmatu,” Khan said. According to the report, these attacks “resulted in civilian deaths and injuries, including by asphyxiation and other chemical and biological weapons-related symptoms.” 

In 2017, Iraqi security forces regained control of the university, driving the Islamic State group from the campus. 

The investigation team is relying on a range of evidence from battlefield records, detainee and victim testimonies, satellite imagery, remote sensing techniques, and analysis of other related materials and videos. Since 2017, UNITAD has worked with Iraq on efforts to hold the Islamic State group accountable and deliver justice for the victims and survivors of its crimes. 

The report was published against the backdrop of the increasing use of chemical weapons worldwide. From assassination attempts in Malaysia, Russia, and the United Kingdom to repeated chemical weapons attacks in Syria, the global norm against chemical weapons use is eroding. Much has been done to eliminate declared national stockpiles, but experts say preventing the reemergence of chemical weapons as a tool of war by state and nonstate actors is becoming more challenging.—LEANNE QUINN

The Islamic State group tested biological and chemical agents on Iraqi prisoners, some of whom died, according to a May 2021 UN report.

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Compliance with Nuclear Arms Control and Nonproliferation Norms Is Eroding, New Study Finds

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All nuclear weapons possessor states failed to make progress to reduce their nuclear arsenals; Key states’ records in nine of 10 nonproliferation & disarmament categories have deteriorated.

For Immediate Release: July 10, 2019

Media Contacts: Daryl G. Kimball, executive director, (202) 463-8270 ext. 107

(Washington, DC)—A new, 80-page study published by the Arms Control Association evaluates the recent records of all the world’s nuclear-armed states, as well as several states of proliferation concern and finds that respect for key nuclear nonproliferation norms and internationally-recognized obligations and commitments is eroding.

The report, "Assessing Progress on Nuclear Nonproliferation and Disarmament, 2016-2019," is the fourth in a series that assesses the extent to which 11 key states are fulfilling, promoting, or undermining 10 standards identified as critical elements of the nonproliferation and disarmament regime.

Collectively, states fared worse on the majority of criteria when compared with the prior edition of the Arms Control Association’s Nuclear Nonproliferation and Disarmament Report Card covering the 2013–2016 period.

The study comprehensively evaluates the records of China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States, India, Israel, Pakistan, and North Korea—each of which possesses nuclear weapons—as well as Iran and Syria, which are states of proliferation concern, from 2016 through March 2019.

“Each of the states that possess nuclear weapons is taking steps to invest in new delivery systems and several are expanding the role of nuclear weapons in their security doctrines," noted Alicia Sanders-Zakre, a co-author of the report. "These trends increase the risk of nuclear weapons use,” she warned.

“Our review of actions—and inactions—by these 11 states suggest a worrisome trend away from long-standing, effective arms control and nonproliferation efforts," warned Kelsey Davenport, director for nonproliferation policy at the Arms Control Association and co-author of the report. "By documenting the policies of these states over the last decade, we hope this report will demonstrate that support for critical nonproliferation and disarmament norms is eroding.”  

Several of the key findings include:

  • The United States and Russia: The overall grades for both the United States (C+) and Russia (C+) dropped, due partly to Russia’s violation of a key bilateral arms control treaty and the U.S. decision to withdraw from that treaty in response. Both states also expanded the circumstances under which they would use nuclear weapons and are investing in new, destabilizing delivery systems.
     
  • France and the United Kingdom: These two states received the highest overall grades (B) of the 11 states assessed, but neither country has taken steps during the period covered in this report to make additional nuclear force reductions.
     
  • China, India, and Pakistan: All three of these states are increasing the size of their nuclear arsenals and are investing in new nuclear-capable delivery systems. New missiles being developed and fielded by all three suggest that these countries are now storing warheads mated with certain missiles or moving toward that step, which increases the risk of use. China’s overall grade was a C+; India and Pakistan both scored C.
     
  • North Korea: North Korea scored the worst of the states assessed in this report with an overall grade of F. Pyongyang continues to expand the country’s nuclear arsenal and is the only state to have tested a nuclear weapon during the timeframe covered. However, North Korea continues to abide by a voluntary nuclear and missile testing moratorium declared in April 2018 and appears willing to negotiate with the United States over its nuclear weapons program.
     
  • Iran: Through the period covered by this report and until June 2019, Tehran continued to adhere to the restrictions on its nuclear activities put in place by the 2015 multilateral nuclear deal over the course of this report, despite the United States’ withdrawal from the agreement last year and its decision to reimpose sanctions in violation of U.S. commitments. Iran, however, has transferred ballistic missile components in violation of international norms and Security Council restrictions, causing its overall grade to drop to C-.
     
  • Israel: Israeli actions over the past several years in support of ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty earned it a higher grade on the nuclear testing criteria, but its inaction on the Middle East Nuclear Weapons Free Zone and backsliding on negative security assurances caused its overall grade to drop to a C-.

The report reviews implementation and compliance with existing internationally-recognized obligations and commitments.

“The standards and benchmarks in our report do not necessarily represent our ideal strategy for addressing the nuclear weapons threat,” noted Davenport. “New and more ambitious multilateral nonproliferation and disarmament strategies will be needed to meet to future nuclear challenges,” she remarked.

Last week, the U.S. State Department convened a meeting involving more than three-dozen countries, including the five original nuclear weapon states, to discuss steps to improve the environment for nuclear disarmament.

“We hope this report card can serve as a tool to help hold states accountable to their existing commitments and encourage effective action needed to strengthen efforts to prevent the spread and use of the world’s most dangerous weapons,” noted Daryl G. Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association. 

“We encourage all states who are serious about strengthening the global nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament enterprise to commit themselves to meet and exceed the existing goals and objectives to reduce and eliminate the nuclear danger,” he urged.

The full report can be accessed at www.armscontrol.org/reports

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A new report details the extent to which 11 key states are fulfilling, promoting, or undermining 10 standards identified as critical elements of the nonproliferation and disarmament regime. 

UN Security Council Resolution 1540 At a Glance

February 2021

Contact: Kelsey Davenport, Director for Nonproliferation Policy, (202) 463-8270 x102

On April 28, 2004, the UN Security Council unanimously voted to adopt Resolution 1540, a measure aimed at preventing non-state actors from acquiring nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons, their means of delivery, and related materials. The resolution filled a gap in international law by addressing the risk that terrorists might obtain, proliferate, or use weapons of mass destruction.

Adopted under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, UNSCR 1540 formally establishes the proliferation and possession of WMD by non-state actors as “a threat to international peace and security.” The resolution mirrors the approach taken under UNSCR 1373 in 2001, which required all countries to adopt national counter-terrorism laws, and imposes legally binding obligations on all states to adopt "appropriate effective" measures to prevent the proliferation of WMD to non-state actors.

The resolution includes three primary obligations:

  1. All States are prohibited from providing any form of support to non-state actors seeking to acquire weapons of mass destruction, related materials, or their means of delivery.
  2. All States must adopt and enforce laws criminalizing the possession and acquisition of such items by non-state actors, as well as efforts to assist or finance their acquisition.
  3. All States must adopt and enforce domestic controls over nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons, their means of delivery, and related materials, in order to prevent their proliferation.

UNSCR 1540 also emphasizes the importance of maintaining and promoting existing non-proliferation multilateral agreements and acknowledges that the resolution does not interfere with state obligations under such treaties.

It further recognizes that some countries may require assistance to meet the national implementation obligations of the resolution. As such, the resolution calls on states to make assistance available to countries in need if they are in a position to do so.

The council established a committee to oversee the implementation of the resolution, initially for a period of two years. Comprised of the council’s 15 members and assisted by a panel of experts, the 1540 Committee is tasked with providing awareness of the resolution and its requirements, matching assistance requests with offers, and assessing the status of implementation. States were required to report to the Committee on the actions they have taken or plan to take in order to implement the resolution within 6 months of UNSCR 1540’s adoption, and the council has encouraged subsequent reports to provide additional information.

Despite its aim of preventing nuclear, chemical, and biological terrorism, resolution 1540 initially met with some resistance within the UN Security Council, with critics stressing that the resolution focused solely on nonproliferation without adequate emphasis on disarmament.  There was additional concern that the UN might use UNSCR 1540 to justify sanctions and other forms of coercion for countries that did not adequately comply with the resolution.

These worries were generally alleviated, as evidenced by the UN Security Council's unanimous vote to extend UNSCR 1540’s mandate, first for two years in 2006 under resolution 1673, then for another three years in 2008 under resolution 1810. In April 2011, the UN Security Council passed resolution 1977, extending the mandate a third time, for a period of ten years. UNSCR 1977 reaffirmed the Security Council’s commitment to resolution 1540, and further emphasized cooperation with international, regional, and sub-regional organizations. It also addressed existing concerns among Council members regarding equal regional representation within the 1540 Committee. In December 2016, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 2325 encouraging states to strengthen their implementation of Resolution 1540. 

 In addition to annual reviews, the 1540 committee conducts comprehensive reviews every five years on the implementation of Resolution 1540. So far, two comprehensive reviews have been completed, one in 2009 and another in 2016. The 2016 comprehensive final review found that while the number of implementation measures states have taken since 2011 has increased, for many states, gaps in the securing of relevant materials remain. The report also noted that the risk of proliferation to non-state actors is increasing due to rapid advances in science, technology, and international commerce. 

While the committee was scheduled to produce another comprehensive review in December 2020, this process was delayed due to COVID-19. Open consultations with member states, international organizations, and civil society groups are scheduled to resume in 2021 ahead of the renewal of the committee’s mandate on April 25, 2021.

Strategic Arms Control and Policy

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Iraqi Forces Take Chemical Weapons Site

March 2017

Iraqi pharmaceutics student Abdesatar al-Hamdany, 21, carries his books in front of the destroyed buildings of Mosul University on January 22, a week after Iraqi government forces retook the campus from the Islamic State fighters. (Photo credit: Dimitar Dilkoff/AFP/Getty Images)

Iraqi forces retook the University of Mosul, where the Islamic State group reportedly produced chemical weapons. The terrorist organization produced sulfur mustard agent at the university, which also served as the group’s Mosul headquarters, a Pentagon official said Feb 7. The intended use of so-called mustard gas by the group was “primarily as [a skin] irritant and something to scare people,” not as a lethal weapon, according to U.S. Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman.

Since 2014, the group has used chemical weapons, including chlorine and sulfur mustard agents, at least 52 times in Iraq and Syria, the IHS Conflict Monitor said in November 2016. Many of those attacks were in and around Mosul. In August 2016, a joint investigative panel of the United Nations and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons found that the Islamic State group used sulfur mustard in an August 2015 attack in the northern Syrian town of Marea. The Syrian regime used chlorine gas in multiple attacks in 2014 and 2015. (See ACT, November 2016.)

Iraqi forces retook the University of Mosul, where the Islamic State group reportedly produced chemical weapons. 

Iridium in Iraq: Wake Up Call on Radioactive Source Security

Luckily, radioactive material that went missing near Basra, Iraq in November was found intact on Sunday ten miles from the city at a gas station in Zubair, allaying fears that it was intended for an explosive device designed to disperse radioactive material, a so-called dirty bomb. It is important not to over-hype the threat posed by a dirty bomb: weaponizing radioactive materials is difficult and dangerous. But given the prevalence of radioactive sources, the international community can and must do more to ensure that these materials are securely stored, because detonation of a dirty bomb...

Syria, the Iraq-Iran War, and the CW Taboo

By Greg Thielmann BAGHDAD, IRAQ - (VIDEO STILL) U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Iraqi President Saddam Hussein shake hands December 20, 1983 in Baghdad. Rumsfeld met with Hussein during the war between Iran and Iraq as an envoy for former U.S. President Ronald Reagan. Rumsfeld made no reference to Iraq's use of chemical weapons, according to detailed official notes on the meeting. (Photo by Getty Images) As the international community seeks to craft an appropriate response to the Syrian government's August 21 use of chemical weapons (CW), ghosts from the Iran-Iraq War haunt the...

Lessons for Handling Iran From the Sad Saga of Iraq

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By Greg Thielmann and Alexandra Schmitt
March 2013

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Ten years ago today, President George W. Bush said in a radio address to the nation: "It is clear that Saddam Hussein is still violating the demands of the United Nations by refusing to disarm." Eleven days later, he announced the invasion of Iraq to remove the weapons of mass destruction (WMD) allegedly possessed by Hussein's brutal regime and to prevent their use by or transfer to terrorist networks such as al Qaeda. That no such weapons existed was less a symptom of flawed intelligence than the U.S. leaders' obsession with achieving regime change in Baghdad and their consequent willingness to distort evidence on WMD toward that end.

This distortion, along with failures by the press and Congress to exercise due diligence in evaluating the assertions of the executive branch, blinded the public to contravening information on Iraqi WMD that was readily available during the six weeks preceding the attack.

Ironically, the most important sources of this ignored information were the very inspectors that the international community had forced Iraq to readmit the previous fall. There are lessons here for current efforts to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.

Description: 

Ten years ago today, President George W. Bush said in a radio address to the nation: "It is clear that Saddam Hussein is still violating the demands of the United Nations by refusing to disarm." Eleven days later, he announced the invasion of Iraq to remove the weapons of mass destruction (WMD) allegedly possessed by Hussein's brutal regime and to prevent their use by or transfer to terrorist networks such as al Qaeda. That no such weapons existed was less a symptom of flawed intelligence than the U.S. leaders' obsession with achieving regime change in Baghdad and their consequent willingness to distort evidence on WMD toward that end.

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The Cost of Ignoring UN Inspectors: An Unnecessary War with Iraq

IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei (L) and UNMOVIC Executive Chairman Hans Blix (R) brief the UN Security Council on Iraq inspections March 7, 2003 By Greg Thielmann On March 7, ten years ago, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the UN Special Commission on Iraq (UNMOVIC) reported to the UN Security Council on the latest results of their inspections in Iraq, monitoring enforcement of the Council's demand that Saddam Hussein eliminate his weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and related programs. The IAEA's Director General, Mohamed ElBaradei, and UNMOVIC's Executive Chairman,...

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