"I actually have a pretty good collection of Arms Control Today, which I have read throughout my career. It's one of the few really serious publications on arms control issues."
– Gary Samore
Former White House Coordinator for Arms Control and WMD Terrorism

Analysis and Resources on Iraq and Weapons of Mass Destruction



For Immediate Release: October 2, 2002

Contact: Daryl Kimball, (202) 463-8270 x107 or Paul Kerr, (202) 463-8270 x102

(Washington): From 1991 to 1998, United Nations weapons inspectors worked to rid Iraq of much of its weapons of mass destruction (WMD), which Baghdad pursued in violation of international nonproliferation agreements. But since the inspectors left in 1998, Iraq has been free to resume its WMD programs unchecked.

Now, Bush administration officials argue that renewed inspections cannot adequately address the threat of WMD in Iraq. They argue that the only viable option for solving the Iraqi WMD problem is pre-emptive military action to overthrow Saddam Hussein. But a growing number of world leaders, members of Congress, and former government officials oppose unilateral, U.S. military invasion because, they argue, it would further destabilize the Middle East and undermine international rule of law.

ACA Resources on Iraq

The September and October issues of Arms Control Today, the monthly journal of the Arms Control Association (ACA), include important new articles and analysis from leading experts on options and challenges for containing Iraq's WMD programs. Also, an online resource guide contains a series of authoritative Arms Control Today interviews with former weapons inspectors, as well as detailed news reports and commentaries dating back to 1997. These resources are available online at: http://www.armscontrol.org/country/iraq/.

  • ACA's special report, "Iraq: A Chronology of UN Inspections in Iraq and an Assessment of Their Accomplishments," is a comprehensive guide to the history of inspections in Iraq from the beginning of the Persian Gulf War to present.
  • In "Disarming Iraq: Nonmilitary Strategies and Options," David Cortright of the Fourth Freedom Forum and George Lopez of the University of Notre Dame call for a credible, coercive Iraq policy that consists of "continuing revenue controls, intensive diplomatic efforts to resume weapons inspections, and the creation of an enhanced containment system through strengthened border monitoring."
  • In "The Inevitable Failure of Inspections in Iraq," the former deputy executive chairman of UNSCOM, Charles Duelfer, outlines the limitations of past weapons inspection efforts. He writes "any weapons inspectors sent into Iraq under the existing UN Security Council resolutions are doomed to fail." He argues that "permanent disarmament goals imposed on Iraq were out of proportion with the inspectors' tools and the rewards and punishments the Security Council could practically impose."
  • Extensive Interviews by Arms Control Today with the current chief of the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission, Hans Blix; chairman of the UN Special Commission on Iraq (UNSCOM) from 1997-98, Ambassador Richard Butler; and the first chairman of UNSCOM, Ambassador Rolf Ekeus. Former UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter also provided his views on the past challenges and future prospects for successful inspections in Iraq in a June 2000 article.
  • Documents, fact sheets, and news reports from Arms Control Today on key developments.
  • Commentary from Association director, Daryl G. Kimball, on the case for focused U.S. diplomatic efforts "to secure Security Council reaffirmation and Iraqi acceptance of UN inspections under new, more effective rules."


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The Arms Control Association is an independent, nonprofit membership organization dedicated to promoting public understanding of and support for effective arms control policies. Established in 1971,the Association publishes the monthly journal, Arms Control Today.

Media Advisory

Country Resources:

Iraq To Accept UN Inspectors; U.S. Officials Skeptical

October 2002

By Paul Kerr

UN weapons inspectors can return to Iraq “without conditions,” Baghdad said September 16, reversing a stance that has barred inspectors from the country for almost four years. The announcement followed a September 12 speech by President George W. Bush before the UN General Assembly, calling on the United Nations to enforce its resolutions on Iraqi disarmament and suggesting that, if it did not, the United States would take unilateral action.

UN Security Council Resolution 687, passed in 1991, required Iraq to submit to UN weapons inspections and dismantle its weapons of mass destruction and long-range missile programs, but Iraq has refused entry to inspectors since they were withdrawn just prior to U.S. and British air strikes in December 1998. The Bush administration has repeatedly cited Iraqi noncompliance as a potential justification for military action against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

After Iraq and the United Nations failed several times to reach agreement earlier this summer, Iraq finally sent a letter to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan on September 16, four days after the Bush speech, saying it would allow inspectors to return. At first, Baghdad did not promise unfettered access to all sites, but on September 24 Amir al-Saadi, an adviser to Hussein, stated that UN inspectors “would have unfettered access and [can go] wherever they want to go,” according to a Reuters news report.

In addition, when asked during a September 23 press conference about the possibility that Iraq would restrict inspectors’ access, Annan replied that he viewed the Iraqi letter as “a commitment” for inspectors to work in “an unimpeded manner.” Annan had advised the Iraqis on the letter.

How much freedom inspectors will actually have in Iraq, however, remains unclear. Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri read a letter from Hussein before the United Nations September 19 asserting that Iraq “is clear” of weapons of mass destruction and stating that the inspectors are expected to “respect” Iraqi “national security and sovereignty.” Iraq has used these conditions to restrict inspectors’ access in the past. The letter also stated that Iraq wanted to discuss inspections “on a comprehensive basis,” echoing demands the country made in August.

A day after Iraq sent the letter to Annan, members of the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) met with an Iraqi delegation to hold “preliminary talks related to the resumption of inspections,” according to an UNMOVIC statement. UNMOVIC, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and Iraqi delegates are scheduled to meet again in Vienna from September 30 to October 1. UNMOVIC is responsible for verifying Iraq’s dismantlement of its chemical, biological, and prohibited missile programs, and the IAEA is responsible for Iraq’s nuclear program.

One of the items on the agenda for the Vienna meeting is Iraq’s backlog of semi-annual reports, which it was required to provide to inspectors, listing its holdings of dual-use equipment and materials related to weapons of mass destruction. The reports, which Baghdad has said it will deliver to UNMOVIC at the meeting, include information on the location and use of the equipment and materials since 1998.

According to an informal UNMOVIC paper circulated in the Security Council September 19, an advance party of inspectors could arrive in Baghdad as early as October 15. The paper estimates UNMOVIC will need two months to procure equipment and recruit inspectors, as well as conduct preliminary inspections of certain sites, before it can officially begin inspections and determine what key disarmament tasks remain.

Iraq’s announcement represents significant progress from recent diplomatic exchanges between the United Nations and Iraq. The last meeting between Iraqi officials, Annan, and UNMOVIC Executive Chairman Hans Blix took place in Vienna July 4-5 but failed to reach an agreement for returning inspectors. Annan also rejected an August invitation for UNMOVIC experts to visit Baghdad, saying it did not allow for the immediate admission of inspectors, as required by Security Council Resolution 1284. (See ACT, September 2002.) Annan met with Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz September 3 during the Johannesburg summit on sustainable development but again failed to make progress on an agreement.

As recently as August 15, Iraq had demanded a “comprehensive settlement” that would link discussing the return of weapons inspections to resolving a series of other issues, including economic sanctions, a nuclear-weapons-free-zone in the Middle East, the removal of the U.S.-and U.K.-enforced no-fly zones, and the U.S. policy of creating regime change in Iraq. The United States and the United Nations both considered this position unacceptable.

Bush Calls on UN to Act

The Iraqi decision to accept inspections came on the heels of President Bush’s September 12 UN address, in which he encouraged the United Nations to take action on Iraq’s continued refusal to obey Security Council resolutions.

During the speech, Bush presented the U.S. case for action and listed steps Iraq must take if it “wishes peace,” including eliminating its weapons of mass destruction programs, ending support for terrorism, ceasing its violations of the oil-for-food program, and respecting human rights. The inclusion of these issues represented a shift in the administration’s justification for its Iraq policy, which had previously focused on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction programs.

Bush added that the United States would work with the Security Council to “hold Iraq to account” and suggested that Washington might take unilateral action against Iraq if the United Nations did not enforce its resolutions. “The purposes of the United States should not be doubted. The Security Council resolutions will be enforced…or action will be unavoidable,” Bush said.

Earlier that day, Annan had made a speech stressing the importance of multilateralism, adding that “for any one state…choosing to follow or reject the multilateral path must not be a simple matter of political convenience,” signifying disagreement between the United Nations and the United States as to how best to proceed.

A September 12 White House background paper for the speech listed Iraqi violations of Security Council resolutions, including its pursuit of weapons programs and human rights violations. In addition, British Prime Minister Tony Blair released a dossier September 24 charging that Iraq is producing chemical and biological agents, trying to obtain uranium for weapons purposes, working to extend the range of its missiles, and conducting other activities prohibited under UN resolutions.

Despite Iraq’s promises, U.S. leaders expressed doubt that Iraq intends to actually provide complete access to inspectors. In September 19 testimony before the House International Relations Committee, Secretary of State Colin Powell said that “there is absolutely no reason at all to expect” that Iraq’s offer “is not another ploy,” citing Iraq’s past refusal to comply with inspectors. He also indicated in a interview with National Public Radio the same day that the administration reserves the option to take unilateral military action. Iraq’s subsequent offer of unfettered inspections did not change this stance, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said September 24.

It is unclear if Iraqi compliance with inspectors would affect the U.S. goal of removing Hussein from power. Washington expressed skepticism about the efficacy of inspections, and Fleischer said in a September 20 press briefing that “the inspection process is not the end result…. The end result is destruction of weapons.” In a September 25 interview with the British Broadcasting Corporation, Powell said that the best way to disarm Iraq was to effect regime change.

Meanwhile, the White House sent a resolution to Congress September 19 seeking authorization to take military action against Iraq. The resolution would give Bush broad power to “use all means that he determines to be appropriate, including force” in order to enforce UN Security Council resolutions and “defend the national security interests of the United States against the threat posed by Iraq.” Congress is divided over the measure because of its broad mandate and endorsement of unilateral action. It is uncertain when a vote will take place.

U.S., U.K. Seek New Resolution

The United States and the United Kingdom have drafted a resolution to present to the Security Council in an attempt to strengthen the inspection regime, igniting sharp debate among its members. They argue that Iraq has repeatedly violated its obligations under earlier resolutions and that the United Nations must pass a new resolution augmenting inspectors’ authority and identifying the consequences of noncompliance. It is uncertain when the draft resolution will be formally presented.

One of the top U.S. and British concerns is the status of “presidential sites” under existing resolutions. Resolution 1154 endorsed a February 23, 1998, memorandum of understanding (MOU) between Annan and Iraq, which placed special conditions on inspections of these sites. Although the MOU does not give Iraq the right to impede the inspectors, Iraq has used these sites to conceal potential weapons activities, according to some former UN inspectors. The terms of the MOU are still in force, according to a September 25 interview with a UN official.

In his September 19 testimony, Powell said that the United States would take a hard line on a new resolution, requesting that the Security Council find Iraq in “material breach” of existing resolutions and specifying that must comply with conditions called for in Bush’s September 12 speech. Powell said that inspectors would need a stronger resolution “that removes any weaknesses” of the previous inspections system. He added that the resolution must “produce disarmament, not just inspections,” and implied that it could call for the use of force, saying “[T]here must be hard consequences…. Iraq must comply…or there will be decisive action to compel compliance.”

Some Security Council members, however, have questioned the need for a such a resolution. “We favor a rapid resolution” based on existing resolutions, Russian President Vladimir Putin said, according to a September 26 Associated Press report. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Kong Quan also called on countries September 19 to resolve the situation “on the basis of relevant UN Security Council resolution.”

The French position is more ambiguous. A French Foreign Ministry spokesperson stated September 20 that Paris does not believe a stronger resolution to be necessary but that a “resolution that would firmly remind Iraq of its [disarmament] obligations…could be useful.” French President Jacques Chirac supports a two-step process in which one resolution would demand the return of inspectors and the second would authorize any action needed to be taken, according to a statement by French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin quoted on the ministry’s Web site.

Iraqi Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan said Iraq would not accept any new resolution regarding inspections, The Washington Post reported September 28, adding to the uncertainty of the degree of access inspectors will have.


Iraq To Accept UN Inspectors; U.S. Officials Skeptical

U.S. Says Ukrainian President Approved Arms Sale to Iraq

October 2002

By Wade Boese

The United States has concluded that Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma authorized an illegal arms sale to Iraq two years ago, the State Department announced September 24. In response, Washington is putting a hold on a portion of its aid to Ukraine and is reviewing U.S. policy toward the country.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher told reporters that the U.S. action stems from a recent determination that tapes recorded secretly by a former Kuchma bodyguard are authentic. On the tapes, Kuchma approves selling Kolchuga early-warning systems to Iraq, which was and is still banned by an August 1990 UN arms embargo from importing weapons and military equipment.

A passive system designed to pick up electronic signals sent out by potential targets, the Kolchuga system can reportedly detect aircraft, possibly including stealth fighters and bombers if they are transmitting signals, at reported distances of 600-800 kilometers. Boucher said it is unclear whether any Kolchuga systems were actually shipped to Iraq, but he stated, “There are some indications which suggest it may be there.”

Although the United States is concerned about whether the system is in Iraq, the focus at this time is on Kuchma approving the sale. “We have the smoking gun,” commented a State Department official in an interview September 27.

Allegations about Kuchma’s role in illegal arms sales to Iraq were first broached publicly less than a year ago by opposition Ukrainian lawmakers, and the former bodyguard, who now lives in the United States, testified in early April on the issue before a U.S. court. Both Iraq and Ukraine have repeatedly denied that the deal occurred although Ukrainian officials concede Kuchma might have approved it.

The U.S. aid suspension, according to Boucher, “doesn’t affect the bulk of our assistance to Ukraine” but applies only to funding going directly to the central government under the U.S. Freedom Support Act—a figure that totaled approximately $54 million over the past 12 months. U.S. assistance to Ukraine’s private sector, local and regional governments, nonproliferation projects, and military will not be halted.

The other State Department official emphasized that the suspension is only a “pause,” which could last a “matter of days or weeks” or much longer depending on the results of the review. It is uncertain when the review will be completed.

Claiming the United States lacked “any worthwhile evidence,” the Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs denied any delivery of arms to Iraq and labeled the aid suspension in a September 25 statement as “symbolic, yet totally negative.” The statement, however, ended on a conciliatory note, expressing Ukraine’s willingness to cooperate in proving that it had done nothing wrong.

The United States is sending Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs A. Elizabeth Jones to Ukraine October 1-2 to discuss the issue.

U.S. Says Ukrainian President Approved Arms Sale to Iraq

Relevant UN Security Council Resolutions

Relevant UN Security Council Resolutions

An ACT Update

687: Cease-Fire Terms (April 3, 1991)

Demanded that Iraq “unconditionally accept the destruction, removal, or rendering harmless” of its chemical and biological weapons; ballistic missiles with a range greater than 150 kilometers; and related components, research programs, and facilities. Required that Iraq pledge “not to use, develop, construct or acquire” chemical and biological weapons or the specified missiles.

Established the UN Special Commission (UNSCOM) to verify that Iraq complied with the resolution’s disarmament tasks.

Demanded that Iraq “unconditionally agree not to acquire or develop nuclear weapons” or weapons-grade material and to end related research and development programs. Called for placing all weapons-grade nuclear material under International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) control “for custody and removal” with UNSCOM assistance.

Required the UN secretary-general, with the cooperation of UNSCOM, and the IAEA to develop plans for the “future ongoing monitoring and verification of Iraq’s compliance” with the ban on weapons of mass destruction and prohibited missiles. The resolution did not specify an end to these monitoring activities.

Maintained the economic embargo against Iraq established in Resolution 661 in 1990 after Iraq invaded Kuwait. Specified that the UN Security Council would lift the embargo when the council agreed that Iraq had met all its disarmament obligations.

707: Condemning Iraqi Noncompliance (August 15, 1991)

Found Iraq in “material breach” of its disarmament commitments under Resolution 687. It was the first of several resolutions—including Resolutions 1060, 1115, 1134, 1137, 1194, and 1205—to condemn Iraq’s refusal to comply with weapons inspections.

Demanded that Iraq “provide full, final and complete disclosure” of its weapons of mass destruction programs and prohibited ballistic missiles, including the location of weapons components, production facilities, and civilian nuclear infrastructure.

Called upon Iraq to immediately grant inspections teams unconditional access to areas they wished to inspect and halt efforts to move or conceal weapons-related materials and equipment or “other nuclear activities.”

715: Ongoing Monitoring and Verification (October 11, 1991)

Approved the plans for ongoing monitoring and verification developed by UNSCOM and the IAEA, and submitted by the secretary-general to the Security Council, as required by Resolution 687. Demanded that Iraq “unconditionally” comply with the plan and “cooperate fully” with UNSCOM and the IAEA.

986: Creation of the Oil-for-Food Program (April 14, 1995)

Created a program allowing Iraq to sell up to $2 billion of oil every 180 days, although the Security Council later removed the limit on the amount of oil Iraq could sell. The UN holds proceeds from these sales in an escrow account, and the funds are reserved for buying medicine, health supplies, food, and other supplies “essential” for civilian needs. The rules governing the import of civilian goods were later changed by Resolution 1409.

1154: Addressing Inspections of Presidential Sites (March 2, 1998)

Endorsed the February 27, 1998, memorandum of understanding between UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and Iraq, in which Baghdad agreed to cooperate fully with the inspectors. The memorandum also established “special procedures” for inspecting eight “presidential sites,” to which Iraq had wanted to restrict access:
• At least two senior diplomats appointed by the UN secretary-general will accompany inspectors to presidential sites.
• The Iraqi government will be provided with information prior to the inspection of a presidential site, including the number of inspectors and the time of inspection.
• Inspectors must show respect for Iraqi sensitivities regarding presidential sites.

Called on Iraq to comply immediately and fully with its obligations under previous Security Council resolutions, including providing unfettered access to inspectors, warning that “any violation would have severest consequences for Iraq.”

1284: Creation of UNMOVIC (December 17, 1999)

Authorized the creation of the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) to replace UNSCOM and verify that Iraq has fulfilled its disarmament obligations under Resolution 687. Required UNMOVIC and the IAEA to develop a program for implementing a monitoring system and to create a list of remaining disarmament tasks within 60 days of beginning work in Iraq.

Said the Security Council intends to suspend sanctions for 120 days after it determines that Iraq is in compliance with its disarmament duties. Specified that “Iraq shall allow UNMOVIC teams immediate, unconditional and unrestricted access” to all areas the teams want to inspect and allow them to interview any Iraqi officials.

1409: Smart Sanctions (May 14, 2002)

Allowed Iraq to import most civilian goods through a streamlined review process, although sanctions on military items remain in effect. UNMOVIC and the IAEA will review proposed contracts with Iraq and send any items on a new “goods review list” to a UN committee for additional scrutiny. The list includes items with potential military applications, and the UN committee can block their export to Iraq. Items not on the list will be quickly approved.

Iraq: A Chronology of UN Inspections

An ACA Special Report

In April 1991, as part of the permanent cease-fire agreement ending the Persian Gulf War, the UN Security Council ordered Iraq to eliminate under international supervision its biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons programs, as well as its ballistic missiles with ranges greater than 150 kilometers. The Security Council declared that the comprehensive economic sanctions imposed in 1990 on Iraq after its invasion of Kuwait would remain in place until Baghdad had fully complied with its weapons requirements.

Baghdad agreed to these conditions but for eight years deceived, obstructed, and threatened international inspectors sent to dismantle and verify the destruction of its banned programs. This systematic Iraqi effort to conceal and obscure the true extent of its weapons of mass destruction programs began almost immediately, when Baghdad lied about the status of its programs in its initial declarations and obstructed an inspection team. Iraq continued to harass, hinder, and frustrate inspectors until late 1998, when the inspectors withdrew from Iraq just hours before the United States and the United Kingdom launched three days of military strikes against Iraq for its noncooperation. Since that time, Iraq has permitted only limited inspections of declared nuclear sites but has not yet allowed the return of intrusive inspections to verify that it has lived up to its commitment to get rid of its prohibited weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile programs.

The inspectors’ job was hampered not only by Iraq but also by key countries on the Security Council whose support for the inspections waned. As time passed, the combination of unending confrontations between weapons inspectors and Iraqi officials; the reported growing humanitarian toll of sanctions on Iraqi civilians; and the economic costs of forgoing exports, imports, and energy deals with a former trading partner, undermined the willingness of China, France, Russia, and others from enforcing the inspections and sanctions regimes against Iraq. Quarrels erupted between these countries, which were sympathetic to Iraq and claimed that it had sufficiently disarmed, and the United States and the United Kingdom, both of which repeatedly contended Baghdad had not fulfilled the obligations laid out in the cease-fire agreement.

Shortly after leaving Iraq in 1998, weapons inspectors of the UN Special Commission (UNSCOM), which was tasked with overseeing the destruction of Iraq’s chemical, biological, and missile programs, and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), responsible for uncovering and dismantling the Iraqi nuclear weapons program, described their work as unfinished. The IAEA made much more progress than UNSCOM, but both sets of inspectors left Iraq with unanswered questions about Baghdad’s proscribed weapons.

UNSCOM reported numerous discrepancies, particularly with regard to biological weapons, between what Iraq claimed it had and evidence discovered by weapons inspectors. For four years, Baghdad denied the very existence of its biological weapons program. When Iraq finally did acknowledge having such a program, UNSCOM officials judged its declarations so insufficient—an assessment shared by independent experts—that the UN team claimed it could not even form a baseline by which to measure its progress in revealing and abolishing Iraq’s germ warfare program. More headway was made in the chemical weapons and missile areas, but by 1998 UNSCOM contended that key issues remained unresolved. For example, Iraq had failed to account for thousands of chemical warheads that it claimed, without any proof, to have used, lost, or unilaterally destroyed.

Iraq also sought to mislead the IAEA, but IAEA inspectors were largely successful in obtaining a relatively complete picture of the Iraqi nuclear weapons program and dismantling it. The IAEA, which removed from Iraq all known fissile material that could be used to make weapons, reported in February 1999 that there were no indications that meaningful amounts of weapon-usable material remained in the country or that it possessed the physical capability to produce significant amounts of such material indigenously. But the IAEA cautioned that because nuclear weapons material or infrastructure could be hidden, it could not verify with absolute certainty that Iraq had no prohibited materials.

A UN panel of experts tasked in 1999 with reporting on the results of the UNSCOM and IAEA efforts concluded that “the bulk of Iraq’s proscribed weapons programmes has been eliminated,” but the experts emphasized that important issues remained unresolved. They further warned that, if weapons inspectors were kept outside Iraq, the risk that Iraq might reconstitute its programs would grow, and the initial assessments from which inspectors had been working would be jeopardized. The experts said the status quo was unacceptable, and they called for re-establishing an inspection regime in Iraq that was “effective, rigorous and credible.”

Following is a year-by-year summary of major events in Iraq and an assessment of what arms inspectors accomplished and what remains undone in Iraq.

A Chronology of UN Inspections

Pre-Persian Gulf War

Despite signing treaties forbidding the development or use of biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons, Iraq initiates programs to acquire such weapons. Iraq repeatedly violates the international norm against using chemical weapons during its eight-year war with Iran, which began with Iraq’s invasion of Iran in September 1980. Iraq also uses chemical weapons against some of its own villages, most notably against Halabja in a March 16, 1988, attack that kills an estimated 5,000 people. In addition to its chemical weapons program, Iraq is also suspected by some countries of pursuing nuclear weapons, prompting Israel in June 1981 to bomb and destroy Iraq’s Osiraq nuclear research reactor, which it acquired from France. The attack reportedly leads Iraq to intensify its illegal effort to acquire nuclear weapons.


On August 2, Iraq invades Kuwait and is immediately condemned by the UN Security Council. The Security Council calls for Iraqi forces to withdraw unconditionally from Kuwait and imposes an arms embargo and economic sanctions that cut off all trade with Iraq except for the import of foodstuffs in humanitarian circumstances and items with medical purposes. Within a week of the invasion, the United States begins deploying military forces to Saudi Arabia. Iraq continues to defy UN demands to withdraw its forces from Kuwait, and on November 29 the Security Council approves Resolution 678, authorizing countries to use “all necessary means” to force Iraqi compliance if its troops do not return to Iraq by January 15, 1991.


The January 15 deadline for the Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait passes without action by Baghdad. A U.S.-led coalition initiates an air offensive January 17 against Iraq and its forces in Kuwait, followed by a ground attack on February 24 that drives Iraqi forces out of Kuwait within four days. A cease-fire is declared February 28.

On April 3, the Security Council adopts Resolution 687, mandating that Iraq eliminate all of its biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons programs as well as all of its ballistic missiles capable of traveling more than 150 kilometers. The resolution requires that the United Nations establish a special commission, UNSCOM, to verify that Iraq’s biological, chemical, and proscribed missile programs are eliminated, and the IAEA is charged with doing the same for Iraq’s nuclear weapons program. Pledging to review the situation every 60 days, the Security Council declares that the sanctions imposed on Iraq after its invasion of Kuwait will remain in effect until the country complies with its disarmament obligations.

Iraq accepts the terms of this resolution three days later and provides initial declarations on the extent of its proscribed programs April 18, although it will revise all the declarations several times when confronted with evidence discovered by inspectors disproving its claims. UNSCOM later finds that Iraqi officials initially decided to report only their least modern weapons and to keep indigenous production capabilities and documentation secret so they could resume the programs.

Weapons inspections under the direction of Hans Blix, director-general of the IAEA, and Rolf Ekeus, executive chairman of UNSCOM, start in May and June and almost immediately face Iraqi obstructionism. Iraq is caught moving prohibited items away from inspection sites and denies access to other facilities. The Security Council responds August 15 with Resolution 707, the first of many resolutions condemning Iraqi noncooperation with weapons inspectors. In addition to describing Iraq as being in “material breach” of its commitments, the resolution further demands that Baghdad provide inspectors with “immediate, unconditional and unrestricted access” and supply new “full, final and complete disclosure” of all its weapons programs subject to elimination.

Iraq ignores the demands, and in September it temporarily blocks UNSCOM’s use of helicopters in the inspection process. A four-day standoff also ensues over the Iraqi confiscation of documents seized by inspectors, which are returned only after the Security Council threatens military action. The next month, the Security Council passes Resolution 715 demanding again that Iraq unconditionally carry out its obligations and “cooperate fully” with weapons inspections. This resolution also formally approves IAEA and UNSCOM plans for ongoing monitoring and verification to determine that once Iraq disarms, it does not reconstitute its weapons programs. Baghdad rejects the plans and does not accept them until November 1993.

Despite Iraq’s concerted efforts to thwart weapons inspectors, they succeed in starting destruction activities, and the IAEA begins shipping Iraq’s weapons-usable material out of the country.


Weapons inspections and destruction activities continue without Iraq’s full cooperation, leading the Security Council in February to charge Iraq again with being in material breach of its obligations. This is the first of three such statements during the year. Iraq subsequently admits to having had more ballistic missiles and chemical weapons than it had previously acknowledged but claims that it unilaterally destroyed most of these items—a violation of the requirement that the destruction process be supervised by independent inspectors. Weapons inspectors later determine that Iraq unilaterally destroyed weapons to make it more difficult for inspectors to establish a comprehensive picture of its arms programs.

While actively obstructing inspectors, Baghdad seeks to preserve a veneer of compliance between May and June by submitting separate “full, final and complete disclosures” on its relevant weapons programs. Each declaration is subsequently found to be incomplete, particularly the biological weapons disclosure, in which Baghdad claims to have had only a “defensive” program. Iraq will eventually revise all disclosures several times.

Iraq refuses for three weeks in July to allow weapons inspectors inside the Iraqi Ministry of Agriculture, which is suspected of housing documents detailing Iraq’s ballistic missile programs. A deal is eventually brokered allowing inspectors into the building, but no British, French, or U.S. inspectors are permitted to participate in the inspection, creating what some consider a bad precedent that allows Iraq to dictate the composition of inspection teams. During the standoff, the United States threatens to use force to gain entry, but the Security Council does not, revealing growing differences among Security Council members about enforcing Iraq’s disarmament.

Weapons inspectors make additional headway during the year, destroying key nuclear facilities, as well as chemical weapons and related production capabilities. The year, however, concludes with Iraqi officials verbally threatening the lives of the weapons inspectors.


At the beginning of the year, Iraq refuses to allow UNSCOM aircraft to fly into the country, an action the Security Council deems a material breach and threatens might result in “serious consequences” for Baghdad. Iraq also steps up military activities along the Kuwaiti border and in the two no-fly zones in northern and southern Iraq that the United States and its allies imposed on Iraq after the Persian Gulf War.

U.S.-led coalition forces carry out air strikes against Iraqi air defenses, radar and communication facilities, and nuclear-related sites in January, prompting Baghdad to temper its military activities and rescind its decision to block UNSCOM aircraft. Iraq soon resumes its belligerent behavior, however, aiming anti-aircraft weapons at UN helicopters and then initially rejecting inspectors’ efforts in June to install monitoring cameras at missile launch sites.

Also in June, the United States launches a limited cruise missile attack against Iraq in response to an alleged plot to assassinate former President George H. W. Bush.

Near the end of the year, Iraq permits the monitoring cameras to be installed and makes additional conciliatory steps, naming previous foreign suppliers of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction programs and formally agreeing to the IAEA and UNSCOM monitoring and verification plans originally approved in October 1991 by the Security Council.


In February, the IAEA ships Iraq’s last quantities of highly enriched uranium, which can be used to produce nuclear weapons, to Russia. The first half of the year is marked by relative cooperation from Iraq and statements of progress by weapons inspectors. But in September, Iraq sets an October 10 deadline for sanctions to be lifted, warns that it will cease cooperation with weapons inspectors if the Security Council does not drop sanctions, and moves its military forces toward Kuwait. The Security Council deems Iraq’s ultimatum unacceptable and approves Resolution 949, demanding that all Iraqi forces return to their original positions and that Iraq fully cooperate with UNSCOM. Iraq withdraws its forces, and weapons inspections continue.


Under increasing pressure from some countries, particularly China, France, and Russia, to ease the sanctions imposed on Iraq to address worsening humanitarian problems in the country, the Security Council on April 14 unanimously approves the so-called oil-for-food program, which permits Iraq to sell up to $1 billion of oil every 90 days to buy food, medicine, and other civilian goods. The revenue from the sale of oil is kept in an escrow account controlled by the United Nations to prevent Iraq from purchasing items with potential military uses. Despite its significant economic hardship Iraq does not embrace the plan for more than a year, accepting it only in November 1996.

Confronted by evidence uncovered by weapons inspectors, Iraq admits for the first time on July 1 that it had an offensive biological weapons research and development program, but it denies having ever produced actual weapons. That same month, Baghdad issues another ultimatum, saying that it will end all cooperation with weapons inspectors if sanctions are not lifted by the close of August.

Iraq changes its tack, however, after the August 8 defection of Hussein Kamel, Saddam Hussein’s son-in-law, who directed Iraq’s illicit weapons programs. In the following weeks, Iraqi officials take inspectors to Kamel’s farm, revealing hundreds of thousands of pages of documents that detail Iraqi weapons efforts. Iraq claims Kamel was pursuing the weapons on his own initiative. Kamel returns to Iraq months later and is killed.

Through a combination of Iraqi declarations and analysis of the recovered documents, weapons inspectors learn that Iraq had weaponized biological agents, had a more advanced indigenous ballistic missile program than previously believed, had produced more chemical weapons than disclosed earlier, and had initiated a crash program in 1990 to try to acquire a nuclear weapon in less than a year. In addition, an ongoing covert Iraqi operation to obtain banned missile gyroscopes is exposed in November.


In March, Iraq delays weapons inspectors’ visits to five different sites, drawing condemnation from the Security Council. Three months later, Iraq again denies weapons inspectors access to sites they want to inspect. The Security Council responds June 12 by passing Resolution 1060, which demands yet again that Iraq provide inspectors unhindered access but which stops short of authorizing or threatening the use of force to support the inspectors. Iraq blocks another inspection the following day, leading the Security Council to criticize Iraqi cooperation again, even though some Security Council members are beginning to voice reservations about what they consider UNSCOM’s confrontational tactics.

UNSCOM Executive Chairman Rolf Ekeus travels to Baghdad June 19-22 to work out how inspections of “sensitive” Iraqi sites will be conducted, but within weeks Iraq prevents weapons inspectors from searching several such sites. The Security Council again tells Iraq in August that it is violating its obligations. Before the year closes, Iraq rejects efforts by weapons inspectors to remove remnants of destroyed missiles for outside, independent analysis, resulting in yet more Security Council criticism of Iraq’s behavior.


After a three-month standoff, Iraq allows UNSCOM to remove destroyed missile parts from the country for outside analysis in March. The following month, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright asserts that the United States opposes automatically lifting the sanctions on Iraq once it has been disarmed of its weapons of mass destruction. She clearly implies that the United States will work to keep sanctions in place until Saddam Hussein no longer rules Iraq, effectively removing the only inducement for Iraqi cooperation with weapons inspections. Albright’s declaration contradicts Resolution 687, which states that the sanctions will be reviewed every 60 days and lifted once Iraq disarms.

Baghdad soon steps up its obstructionist activities. Iraqi officials in June jeopardize the safety of weapons inspectors by grabbing at the controls of UNSCOM helicopters while they are airborne, and Iraq blocks access to several sites. The Security Council responds June 21 by adopting Resolution 1115, which condemns Iraqi actions. In order to punish Iraq, the resolution also suspends the council’s usual 60-day review of sanctions. Australian Ambassador Richard Butler becomes UNSCOM executive chairman July 1, replacing Swedish Ambassador Rolf Ekeus.

Another round of Iraqi noncooperation begins in September, highlighted by Iraq barring weapons inspections at locations it describes as “presidential sites.” The Security Council responds October 23 with Resolution 1134, which again demands that Iraq cooperate with weapons inspectors, but the message sent is significantly weakened by the fact that five Security Council members—most notably China, France, and Russia—abstain from the vote.

Days later, Iraq, perhaps bolstered by the evident rift in the Security Council, announces it will not deal at all with U.S. weapons inspectors, orders them to leave the country, and then blocks inspection teams including US inspectors. UNSCOM and the IAEA withdraw most of their inspectors in response, and the Security Council calls on Iraq November 12 to rescind its decision and refrain from imposing any conditions on inspectors.

The United States builds up its military forces in the region and threatens action, but its aggressive stance is not backed by the Security Council. Averting a possible US attack, Russia negotiates the return of all inspectors to Iraq November 20. In spite of its pledge to cooperate with inspectors, Baghdad informs UNSCOM in mid-December that the so-called “presidential sites” are still off-limits to inspections. The Security Council replies that Iraq’s declaration is unacceptable.


Iraq continues to block inspections at the eight locations it labels as presidential sites and refuses another inspection elsewhere, charging that too many US and British inspectors are on the team. In February, as Iraq stands firm on barring visits to presidential sites and a U.S.-led military buildup continues in the region, both the United States and Britain release reports detailing what weapons and equipment they believe Iraq is still hiding. With the prospect of renewed hostilities looming, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan travels to Iraq and reaches an agreement February 23, which reiterates that weapons inspectors are to have unfettered access in Iraq but which also spells out special procedures for inspecting presidential sites. At the end of the same month, Security Council members agree to increase the amount of oil Iraq can export to a little more than $5.2 billion every six months.

Inspectors visit the presidential sites in March and April without incident, and the Security Council issues a May statement expressing satisfaction with Iraq’s recent cooperation. Some Security Council members want to officially declare Iraq disarmed of its nuclear weapons and relax IAEA inspections, but the United States and Britain resist, claiming there are still unanswered questions. At the same time, UNSCOM holds that there has been little recent progress in resolving outstanding issues in the biological, chemical, and missile areas.

To Iraq’s dissatisfaction—as well as to that of its supporters on the Security Council—the IAEA reports at the end of July that it cannot close Iraq’s nuclear file, and on July 29 the council rejects a Russian proposal to stop investigating Iraq’s nuclear program. A few days later, UNSCOM Executive Chairman Richard Butler tells a top Iraqi official that UNSCOM’s inspections also need to continue.

On August 5, Iraq announces that it is suspending cooperation with UNSCOM and IAEA inspections. The Security Council condemns Iraq’s decision the next day and one month later passes Resolution 1194, calling for Iraq to resume cooperation with the weapons inspectors. The resolution does not brandish a stick but a carrot, holding out the possibility of a comprehensive review of Iraq’s disarmament progress—a condition Iraq had long demanded—after it readmitted inspectors. On October 30, the Security Council approves a plan to conduct the review, but Baghdad declares the next day that in addition to not allowing inspections, it would no longer permit UNSCOM and IAEA activities to conduct less intrusive monitoring activities intended to determine Iraq’s continued compliance with its disarmament obligations. The Security Council condemns the move November 5 amid US and British preparations to punish Iraq with military strikes.

With a U.S.-British attack imminent, Iraq announces November 14 that it will cooperate with inspectors. Baghdad’s cooperation is short-lived, however, and the IAEA and UNSCOM withdraw their personnel from Iraq December 16, just hours before the United States and the United Kingdom begin three days of air strikes, during which Baghdad declares that weapons inspections are finished. The attacks surprise other Security Council members, some of whom condemn the action.


Amid news reports and allegations that the United States used UNSCOM weapons inspections to collect intelligence for its own purposes, the Security Council authorizes a review of UN policy toward Iraq, including the status of Iraq’s disarmament. The panel charged with assessing Iraq’s disarmament reports at the end of March that “the bulk of Iraq’s proscribed weapons programmes has been eliminated,” but it also notes that “important elements still have to be resolved.” The panel acknowledges that reaching absolute certainty that Iraq has completely disarmed is unattainable and recommends focusing on resolving a few key outstanding issues. To achieve this objective, the panel calls for a reinforced monitoring and verification system that should, “if anything,” be more intrusive than the previous system. The panel also cautions that the longer weapons inspectors are kept out of Iraq, the greater the risk that Iraq might reconstitute its programs.

Months of debate ensue among Security Council members over how to resolve the Iraq situation. While the United States and the United Kingdom insist that Iraq fully disarm before sanctions are relaxed, China, France, and Russia contend that Iraq has already fulfilled the bulk of its disarmament commitments and that sanctions should be eased to induce Iraq to complete its final obligations. For its part, Iraq insists that sanctions must be lifted before inspectors can return.

The Security Council passes Resolution 1284 on December 17, creating a successor to UNSCOM—the UN Monitoring, Verification, and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC). China, France, and Russia abstain from the vote, revealing that divisions between Security Council members on Iraq still exist. The resolution erases the limit on the amount of oil Iraq can sell under the oil-for-food program and holds out the possibility that sanctions could be suspended for 120-day increments if Iraq cooperates with the new UN team, which is to be given unconditional and unrestricted access. The resolution also demands that within 60 days of their entry into Iraq, UNMOVIC and the IAEA draw up a list of key remaining disarmament tasks so that Iraq knows exactly what it must do to comply fully. Iraq rejects Resolution 1284.


An IAEA team returns to Iraq in January but only to conduct a regular inspection at a declared Iraqi nuclear site. As a state-party to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), Iraq is obliged to allow IAEA inspectors to visit declared sites at least every 14 months. The IAEA makes clear, however, that the limited inspections under the NPT are no substitute for its intrusive inspections in years past and that it cannot give assurances that Baghdad is not covertly seeking nuclear weapons.

The Security Council remains divided throughout the year on relaxing sanctions. Despite disagreements among Security Council members about the new inspection regime, Hans Blix, who previously served as head of the IAEA, is named to run UNMOVIC following a contentious appointment process. The council approves a UNMOVIC work plan, but no UNMOVIC inspector sets foot inside Iraq, which still opposes the return of weapons inspectors.


Seeking to bolster the Iraq sanctions regime, which has been weakened as countries and companies illegally buy oil from Iraq and export prohibited goods to the country, the United States and the United Kingdom suggest overhauling the sanctions to focus more on military and dual-use goods and less on civilian trade. The aim of the “smart sanctions” is to help insulate the sanctions regime from the charges that it has caused widespread humanitarian suffering in Iraq. Other Security Council members, however, are skeptical and favor a more general easing or elimination of sanctions.

A heated debate lasts until November 29 when all Security Council members approve Resolution 1382, which establishes a Goods Review List that is subsequently adopted in May 2002. The list includes items with potential military use that must receive UN approval before Iraq can import them; civilian goods are exempted. Under the new sanctions, UNMOVIC and the IAEA will review all proposed contracts with Iraq to search for items included on the Goods Review List. According to the plan, items not on the list with no military application will be approved, while items on the list will go to the sanctions committee for further review. Items that would likely be used for military purposes will be denied.


In his January State of the Union address, President George W. Bush labels Iraq a member of an “axis of evil,” along with Iran and North Korea. The president’s speech is the first of many statements by top US officials on the dangers posed by Iraq, many of which question the ultimate worth of arms inspections and advocate the overthrow of Saddam Hussein as the only way to guarantee that Iraq will not develop weapons of mass destruction in the future.

Less than two months after Bush’s speech, Iraqi officials meet with Secretary-general Annan and UNMOVIC Executive Chairman Blix to discuss arms inspections for the first time since 1998. UN officials fail to win the return of inspectors at this meeting or two subsequent ones that occur in May and July.

On September 12, amid increasing speculation that the United States is preparing to invade Iraq to oust Saddam Hussein, President Bush delivers a speech to the United Nations calling on the organization to enforce its resolutions for disarming Iraq. Bush strongly implies that if the United Nations does not act, the United States will—a message that US officials make more explicit the following week.

Four days later, Baghdad announces that it will allow arms inspectors to return “without conditions.” Iraqi and UN officials meet September 17 to discuss the logistical arrangements for the return of inspectors and announce that final arrangements will be made at a meeting scheduled for the end of the month. The United States contends that there is nothing to talk about and warns that the Iraqis are simply stalling. The Bush administration continues to press the Security Council to approve a new UN resolution calling for Iraq to give weapons inspectors unfettered access and authorizing the use of force if Iraq does not comply.

An Assessment of UN Accomplishments in Iraq


Biological Weapons

Iraqi Claims

  • Baghdad initially stated in April 1991 that it did not have biological weapons (BW) or related items. Over the next four years, Iraq held that its germ warfare research had been for defensive purposes only, not for an offensive capability.
  • On July 1, 1995, Iraq admitted for the first time that it had had an offensive biological weapons program, but it denied ever producing germ weapons.
  • After the August 1995 defection of Hussein Kamel, who directed Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction programs, Iraq acknowledged for the first time that it had weaponized biological agents.
  • Iraqi officials gave conflicting accounts on how many and what types of biological weapons the country actually produced, although they say no more than 25 Al-Hussein missile warheads and 157
    R-400 aerial bombs were filled with biological agents.
UNSCOM Accomplishments
  • UNSCOM supervised destruction of Iraq’s key biological weapons production facility at Al-Hakam and destroyed some 60 pieces of equipment from three other facilities.
  • UNSCOM destroyed some 22 tonnes of growth media for biological weapons.
UNSCOM Findings and Assessments
  • UNSCOM reported that it could not confirm the number of biological weapons Iraq produced, but the inspectors asserted that evidence suggested that more than 200 R-400 aerial bombs had been available for germ weapons.
  • UNSCOM estimated that Iraq had understated its imports of growth media by at least 600 kilograms. UNSCOM assessed that at a total of at least 2,160 kilograms of key growth-media types had not been accounted for.
  • Iraq claimed to have produced four drop-tank weapons to be used with aircraft to deliver biological agents, but UNSCOM only accounted for three and no evidence was offered that only four had been manufactured.
  • UNSCOM could not account for 12 helicopter-borne aerosol generators that Iraq claimed to have made and then unilaterally destroyed.
  • Few documents related to the biological weapons program were recovered by UNSCOM, and noticeably absent were any documents on planning and production.
  • UNSCOM contended that the amount of biological agents produced by Iraq could be “far greater than those declared.”
  • In a final January 1999 report, UNSCOM concluded it had “no confidence that all bulk agents have been destroyed; that no BW munitions or weapons remain in Iraq; and that a BW capability does not still exist in Iraq.”
  • UNSCOM further added, “[I]t needs to be recognised that Iraq possesses an industrial capability and knowledge base, through which biological warfare agents could be produced quickly and in volume, if the Government of Iraq decided to do so.”
Key Outstanding Issues
  • Citing the lack of documentation and Iraq’s past incomplete and inadequate declarations on its biological weapons program, UNSCOM identified the key outstanding issue as nothing less than obtaining a full understanding of the scope of Iraq’s germ warfare efforts. This would require Iraq submitting a complete disclosure of its program and then having it verified by outside experts.
What the United States and the United Kingdom Charge
  • Both countries charge that Iraq has an active biological weapons program, citing its continued production of biological warfare agents, efforts to refurbish previous biological production sites, and attempts to procure dual-use equipment and materials that could be used in a weapons program.
  • In his September 12 speech to the UN General Assembly, President George W. Bush said, “Iraq is expanding and improving facilities that were used for the production of biological weapons.”
  • In a September 12 White House report, the administration further charged that Iraq is trying to get mobile biological weapons laboratories, and a September 24 report by the British government asserts that “recent intelligence confirms that the Iraqi military have developed mobile facilities.”
  • CIA Director George Tenet has said that Iraq possesses “an active and capable” biological weapons program.
  • A January 2002 CIA report also noted that Iraq is continuing work on its L-29 unmanned aerial vehicle program, which Baghdad is believed to have modified for delivery of chemical or biological agents.
  • The September British report described Iraq as having a “useable” biological weapons capability that could be deployed within 45 minutes.


Chemical Weapons

Iraqi Claims

  • Following the Persian Gulf War, Baghdad initially declared it had 11,131 chemical weapons and warheads and 1,005 tonnes of stockpiled sarin, tabun, and mustard agents.
  • Iraq initially reported that there were 553 pieces of chemical weapons production equipment located at its 15 chemical weapons facilities.
  • Iraq claimed it had never successfully produced or weaponized the nerve agent VX.
UNSCOM Accomplishments
  • UNSCOM destroyed more than 38,000 filled and unfilled chemical munitions.
  • UNSCOM also oversaw the destruction of 690 tonnes of chemical warfare agents, more than 3,000 tonnes of precursor chemicals, and roughly 600 pieces of production equipment.
  • With varying degrees of confidence, UNSCOM further certified that another 34,000 special munitions and 823 tonnes of key precursors had been destroyed during the Gulf War and that Iraq had unilaterally destroyed another 13,660 special munitions and about 200 additional tonnes of key precursors after the war. UNSCOM also verified that more than 600 additional pieces of production and analytical instruments were no longer operational.
  • Inspectors also succeeded in uncovering Iraq’s VX program, which Baghdad had tried to conceal, as well as additional chemical weapons research and development projects on which Iraq had not volunteered information.
  • UNSCOM supervised the dismantlement of Iraq’s top chemical weapons complex, the al-Muthanna State Establishment, and put other sites under monitoring.
UNSCOM Findings and Assessments
  • UNSCOM admitted it could not verify that Iraq’s declarations about its total past procurement and production of chemical precursors and agents were true because of a lack of documentation and information on these activities from both Iraq and its foreign suppliers.
  • UNSCOM could not verify Iraq’s claim that it had unilaterally destroyed some 16,000 unfilled munitions.
  • Through its inspections process, UNSCOM believed it had developed a “good understanding of the extent” of Iraq’s chemical weapons projects that moved beyond the research and development stage and into production, but it admitted it did not have as clear of a picture on other, less advanced research and development programs.
  • UNSCOM also noted it had little information on actual Iraqi military plans, deployment, and use of its chemical weapons, making it difficult to say with certainty what types of and how many chemical weapons Iraq still had.
  • Inspectors also had little success in obtaining production manuals for precursors and weapons.
  • UNSCOM cautioned that the material balances it had developed with regard to Iraq’s chemical weapons program were based on Iraqi declarations, which could not be fully verified.
Key Outstanding Issues
  • Iraqi officials confiscated a document from inspectors that indicated Iraq had used 6,000 fewer chemical munitions than it had previously stated. UNSCOM identified the handover of this document, as well as an explanation for the discrepancy, as essential for determining the accuracy and validity of Iraq’s initial declarations on its chemical weapons.
  • Iraq claimed it lost 550 shells filled with mustard gas, but no evidence was found of these weapons.
  • About 500 R-400 aerial bombs, including 157 filled with biological agents, have not been accounted for.
  • Samples of warhead remnants left over from unilateral Iraqi destruction activities suggest that Iraq, despite its claims to the contrary, may have weaponized VX. Iraq admits to producing 3.9 tonnes of VX, but it has not accounted for its alleged unilateral destruction of 1.5 tonnes. UNSCOM declared Iraq must provide evidence to support its claims.
  • Iraq has not provided enough evidence to give UNSCOM confidence that all chemical weapons production equipment has been accounted for, particularly since Iraq successfully hid nearly 200 pieces of equipment for five years before UNSCOM discovered them.
What the United States and the United Kingdom Charge
  • President Bush charged in his September 12 UN speech that Iraq is “rebuilding and expanding facilities capable of producing chemical weapons.”
  • The White House added in its September 12 report that Iraq is “seeking to purchase chemical weapons agent precursors and applicable production equipment, and is making an effort to hide activities at the Fallujah plant, which was one of Iraq’s chemical weapons production facilities before the Gulf War.”
  • The White House further claims that Iraq’s current production capacity for chlorine is in excess of civilian needs and that some chlorine imports are going toward military purposes.
  • In its September 24 report, the United Kingdom said its intelligence community believes that Iraq “retained some chemical warfare agents, precursors, production equipment and weapons from before the Gulf War. These stocks would enable Iraq to produce significant quantities of mustard gas within weeks and of nerve agent within months.”
  • London also said Iraq has built new chemical facilities that are “probably fully operational or ready for production.”
  • As with its biological weapons capability, Iraq also has “useable” chemical weapons that could be readied for use in 45 minutes, according to the British report.

Nuclear Weapons

Iraqi Claims

  • In its initial 1991 declaration, Iraq claimed that it had no nuclear weapons and no nuclear-weapon-usable material.
IAEA Accomplishments
  • Despite Iraqi concealment efforts, weapons inspectors developed what they claimed was a “technically coherent picture” of Iraq’s entire nuclear weapons program.
  • By February 1994, the IAEA finished a complete accounting of and removal of all weapon-usable nuclear material from Iraq, including the nearly 50 kilograms of highly enriched uranium that the IAEA reported Iraq had imported from France and the former Soviet Union.
  • The IAEA supervised or verified the destruction of all known facilities and specialized equipment used in Iraq’s nuclear weapons program.
IAEA Findings and Assessments
  • In a February 1999 report after leaving Iraq in December 1998, the IAEA declared that no evidence suggested Iraq had succeeded in producing nuclear weapons.
  • The same report concluded that IAEA activities “have revealed no indication that Iraq possesses nuclear weapons or any meaningful amounts of weapon-usable nuclear material, or that Iraq has retained any practical capability (facilities or hardware) for the production of such material.”
  • At the same time, the IAEA cautioned, “[A] statement by the IAEA that it has found ‘no indication’ of prohibited equipment, materials or activities in Iraq is not the same as a statement of their ‘non-existence.’”
  • The IAEA further noted it could not give absolute assurances that Iraq’s revised declarations about the past extent and state of its nuclear weapons effort were accurate.
Key Outstanding Issues
  • Iraq has failed to provide key technical documents, such as nuclear-weapon and gas-centrifuge design drawings.
  • Iraq has not provided the name or location of a foreign individual who allegedly offered to assist Iraq’s nuclear weapons program.
  • No evidence or documentation has been submitted by Baghdad to prove it abandoned its nuclear weapons program.
What the United States and the United Kingdom Charge
  • In his September 12 speech to the UN General Assembly, President Bush detailed a host of concerns about the status of Iraq’s nuclear weapons program, including that Baghdad retains the physical infrastructure as well as the personnel to build nuclear weapons. Bush said that Iraqi media has reported on “numerous meetings between Saddam Hussein and his nuclear scientists, leaving little doubt about his continued appetite for these weapons.”
  • Bush asserted that if Iraq succeeded in acquiring fissile material, the essential element for a working nuclear weapon, it could build a nuclear weapon “within a year.” The United Kingdom offered a slightly longer estimate of between one and two years.
  • If Iraq was unable to acquire fissile material from abroad but was able to subvert sanctions successfully, London projected that it would take Iraq at least five years to produce enough fissile material to make a nuclear weapon indigenously.
  • In its September 12 report, the White House declares, “Iraq has stepped up its quest for nuclear weapons and has embarked on a worldwide hunt for materials to make an atomic bomb.” As evidence, the Bush administration cites Iraq’s attempts to purchase thousands of specially designed aluminum tubes, which some US officials contend were going to be used in centrifuges to enrich uranium.
  • The United Kingdom further charged in its September 24 report that Iraq has sought to get “significant quantities” of uranium from Africa.
  • In addition to trying to procure technologies and materials that could be used in a nuclear weapons program, Iraq is “almost certainly seeking an indigenous ability to enrich uranium to the level needed for a nuclear weapon,” according to British intelligence.

Ballistic Missiles With a Range of 150 Kilometers
Or More

Iraqi Claims

  • Iraq initially declared that it possessed only 52 ballistic missiles with a range of more than 150 kilometers remaining after the Gulf War.
  • Iraq did not admit to having any forbidden indigenous missile programs.
UNSCOM Accomplishments
  • UNSCOM supervised or accounted for the destruction of 817 out of 819 proscribed ballistic missiles imported by Iraq before the start of its ordered disarmament.
  • All of Iraq’s 15 declared operational mobile missile launchers were destroyed or verified as destroyed by weapons inspectors.
  • A total of 56 fixed launch sites, including those under construction, were dismantled or certified as no longer operable by UNSCOM.
  • UNSCOM supervised the destruction of 50 missile warheads, including 30 chemical ones.
  • UNSCOM oversaw the destruction of 20 tonnes of main missile fuel and 52 tonnes of oxidizer.
  • UNSCOM further destroyed various facilities, equipment, materials, and components associated with Iraq’s indigenous efforts to produce two different types of ballistic missiles, named Al-Hussein and BADR-2000, and two different “superguns” designed to launch rocket-assisted projectiles more than 150 kilometers.
UNSCOM Findings and Assessments
  • Baghdad initially attempted to mislead UNSCOM substantially about its ballistic missile programs. Iraq decided to keep secret two-thirds of its operational missile inventory and to conceal its capabilities to produce outlawed missiles.
  • Iraq continued to work on its proscribed programs and even initiated new projects while inspectors were in the country. Most notably, Iraq attempted to import missile gyroscopes.
  • Iraq did not provide any information on how many surface-to-air missiles it converted to surface-to-surface missiles, even though UNSCOM destroyed nine such missiles.
  • Iraq did not turn over any records or documents on its missile warhead purchases or production and it has offered conflicting statements about its numbers of chemical and biological missile warheads.
  • Despite evidence that Baghdad ordered missile factories in 1988 to plan for the production of 1,000 Al Hussein missiles, it contended that not a single missile had been produced by January 1991.
  • UNSCOM asserted in its final assessment of January 1999 that it could not verify that Iraq had unilaterally destroyed all of the components and capabilities it had claimed to.
Key Outstanding Issues
  • The actual number of missile warheads produced for carrying chemical and biological agents has not been determined. Iraq claimed that none of the warheads it destroyed unilaterally had been filled with chemical agents, but sampling of the warhead remnants suggest otherwise, casting doubt on Iraq’s statements about how many “special” warheads it produced.
  • Iraq needs to provide evidence on where it hid special warheads before destroying them.
  • Iraq has not accounted for 50 conventional warheads it claimed to have unilaterally destroyed.
  • Baghdad has not supported its claim to have unilaterally destroyed more than 500 tonnes of liquid missile propellants.
  • No evidence has been provided by Iraq to verify that seven indigenously produced missiles were destroyed. It is also unclear how many more missiles Iraq made domestically.
  • Iraq has not accounted for its reported unilateral destruction of key components for indigenously produced ballistic missiles.
What the United States and the United Kingdom Charge
  • President Bush charged in his September 12 speech to the UN General Assembly that Iraq possesses a “force” of missiles capable of striking targets 150 kilometers away and that it is “building more long-range missiles [so] that it can inflict mass death throughout the region.”
  • The White House’s September 12 report on Iraq’s prohibited capabilities further contended that Iraq is enhancing a missile engine test site for use in testing proscribed missile engines and rebuilding a facility previously used to build motors for one of Iraq’s indigenous ballistic missile efforts.
  • The United Kingdom claimed in its September 24 report that Iraq is working illegally to extend the range of its ballistic missiles to over 1,000 kilometers, an effort at which London believes Iraq could succeed within five years even if sanctions remained in force and were effective.
  • Iraq is also illicitly seeking to buy chemical propellants for its ballistic missiles abroad, according to the British report.
  • London asserts Iraq has rebuilt “much” of its missile production infrastructure.
  • The United Kingdom further believes that Iraq retained up to 20 proscribed Al-Hussein missiles.


An ACA Special Report on UN Inspections of Iraq

Prevention, Not Pre-emption

Daryl G. Kimball

Yielding to pressure from members of Congress and major U.S. allies, President George W. Bush made the common sense decision to appeal to the United Nations to address the chronic problem of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction programs. As a result of the renewed international focus on its unfulfilled obligations to comply with UN Security Council disarmament resolutions, Baghdad agreed to allow UN inspectors back in the country “without conditions.”

But this is only the beginning of a difficult process. Now, all the key players must give the weapons inspectors the time, authority, and support necessary to allow them to freely operate in a manner that can eliminate and prevent the re-emergence of Iraq’s proscribed weapons programs. Over the course of the next few weeks, the sincerity of Bush’s appeal to the United Nations, the will of the Security Council to uphold nonproliferation norms, and Iraq’s willingness to cooperate will be tested.

Despite Iraq’s past history of deceit and obstruction, in 1999 the United Nations assessed that “the bulk of Iraq’s proscribed weapons programmes has been eliminated” by the previous inspections regime. But Iraq’s past behavior makes it clear that the Security Council should deliver a new resolution outlining more effective conditions for Iraqi compliance.

The Security Council should insist that Iraq provide, in a timely manner, a full and accurate declaration of its current and past weapons activities, that inspections rules should be changed to allow for a freer exchange of intelligence on prohibited weapons, and that interviews with Iraqi scientists be free of intimidation. UN inspectors must be also allowed to conduct inspections anytime and anywhere, including “presidential sites.”

In addition, the Security Council should clarify that the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)—not Washington—should determine whether and when Iraq fails to meet the requirements of a strengthened inspections regime. If Iraq repeats its past pattern of blatant noncooperation, the council should authorize the use of force only to ensure the safety of the inspectors and the completion of their mission. Furthermore, because the work of the inspectors will take time to complete properly, the Security Council (and Iraq) must not set arbitrary deadlines for the inspection process.

Quick action is needed, but the evidence presented thus far does not suggest that Iraqi weapons capabilities pose an imminent threat that warrants immediate military action. Though Iraq apparently possesses dangerous chemical and biological weapons capabilities, the British government estimates that even if Iraq could obtain fissile material and other essential components from foreign sources, it would still need at least 1-2 years to build a nuclear device. Clearly, there is the time and the need to commence inspections.

Because Russia, France, and China eroded vital support for earlier UN inspections, they now have a special responsibility to help craft a resolution calling for inspections under new and more effective rules. In light of recent Bush administration statements, however, they are right to be concerned that Washington is seeking a resolution that is cynically designed to trigger and justify a pre-emptive invasion aimed at “regime change” in Baghdad.

Since the president’s UN speech, administration officials have said that disarming Iraq is only a part of their aim, which is ultimately to remove Saddam Hussein from power. The White House initially asked Congress to give the president authorization “to use all means that he determines to be appropriate, including force,” to enforce UN resolutions and “restore international peace and security in the region.”

Such language would amount to a blank check for US military adventurism well beyond the core issue of getting rid of Iraq’s prohibited weapons programs. In light of Bush administration nuclear-use policy, it could also leave the door open to US nuclear strikes in retaliation for Iraqi chemical or biological attack or to the preemptive destruction of suspected weapons caches. Two weapons of mass destruction wrongs do not make a right.

Given the likely human toll of an all-out war and the current status of Iraq’s weapons programs, for now the most prudent and feasible means to deny Saddam Hussein access to weapons of mass destruction is a strategy of multilateral prevention through effective UN weapons inspections. If, on the other hand, President Bush is really seeking UN approval for regime change through a preemptive unilateral attack, he will have undermined the very institutions and the norms against weapons of mass destruction he seeks to enforce. In the long run, such an approach will increase, not decrease, global weapons threats.

UN-Iraq Talks Fail to Yield Progress on Inspections

September 2002

By Paul Kerr

As Washington debated taking military action against Iraq, representatives from the United Nations and Baghdad exchanged views during July and August over the return of weapons inspectors to Iraq but were unable to resolve their differences.

Following up their previous meetings in March and May, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and Hans Blix, executive chairman of the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC), met with an Iraqi delegation in Vienna July 4 and 5. UNMOVIC is the organization charged with overseeing Iraq’s compliance with its disarmament obligations. The officials discussed remaining disarmament issues, as Iraq had requested, and logistical arrangements for inspections, at UNMOVIC’s request, but the meeting ended without agreement.

The crux of the dispute is Iraq’s wish to discuss weapons inspections in conjunction with what it terms a “comprehensive settlement,” which would address other issues, such as the no-fly zones enforced by the United States and the United Kingdom, and compensation payments related to the Persian Gulf War. The UN, however, insists that inspections begin before other issues can be discussed, as required by Security Council resolutions.

After the July meetings failed to reach a resolution, the Iraqi foreign minister, Naji Sabri, sent a letter August 1 to Annan inviting Blix and UNMOVIC experts to Baghdad to review the results of weapons inspections conducted between 1991 and 1998 and to discuss how to resolve outstanding issues. “We cannot think of starting a new stage without solving the pending issues of the previous stage,” Sabri said in the letter.

In an August 6 letter, Annan welcomed Iraq’s “desire to continue our dialogue” but rejected its proposal because it did not allow for inspections to begin immediately. Resolution 1284, passed in 1999, mandates that inspectors start work in Iraq prior to drawing up a list of remaining disarmament tasks, in order to first determine what those tasks should be.

Iraq replied to Annan in an August 15 letter that reiterated its previous proposal and addressed the terms of the “comprehensive settlement” it envisions. Iraq wants an agreement that will link inspections to such issues as economic sanctions, a nuclear-weapon-free-zone in the Middle East, the no-fly zones, and the U.S. policy of regime change. The letter stated that these issues and Iraq’s compensation payments should be addressed before discussing inspections.

Iraq disputes the United Nations’ contention that Resolution 1284 clearly requires inspections to begin before other issues are discussed. According to Baghdad, Resolution 1382, passed in 2001, states that Resolution 1284 is vague and calls for a comprehensive settlement. The relevant portion of Resolution 1382 states that the Security Council “reaffirms its commitment to a comprehensive settlement on the basis of the relevant resolutions of the Security Council, including any clarification necessary for the implementation of resolution 1284.”

U.S. Ambassador to the UN John Negroponte characterized Annan’s rejection of Iraq’s August 15 invitation as consistent with the views of Security Council members and said that the council would not take up Iraq’s proposals. The United States held the presidency of the Security Council in August.
Secretary of State Colin Powell said August 3 that the requirements for Iraq to come into compliance with UN resolutions are clear and that “there is no need for further clarification or discussion of a comprehensive approach.”

Iraq also extended an invitation August 5 for members of the U.S. Congress to conduct a fact-finding mission in Iraq and inspect suspected weapons facilities, but no member of Congress accepted.

Debate in Washington

The exchange between Iraq and the United Nations occurred against a backdrop of vigorous debate over whether, when, and how the United States should use military force to counter a potential threat from Iraq, the need for U.S. allies’ support for military action, and the utility of weapons inspections.
The debate was propelled by Senate Committee on Foreign Relations hearings about Iraq July 31 and August 1, as well as comments from Brent Scowcroft, Lawrence Eagleburger, and James Baker—all of whom held high-level positions in the administration of George H. W. Bush—expressing concern about possible plans the current administration has for attacking Iraq.

Several prominent administration officials have issued statements that are widely regarded as supporting pre-emptive use of military force to overthrow Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. Vice President Dick Cheney said in an August 26 speech regarding Iraq that “the risks of inaction are far greater than the risk of action. If the United States could have pre-empted 9/11, we would have, no question. Should we be able to prevent another…attack, we will.”

The widespread discussion of invasion signifies a change in emphasis in the Bush administration’s Iraq policy. During its first year, the administration stressed “smart sanctions” and the importance of Iraqi compliance with weapons inspections. As recently as July 31, White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer stated that the Bush administration is working with the United Nations, citing efforts to return inspectors to Iraq and earlier work to implement smart sanctions. (See ACT, June 2002.)

The administration maintains that its policy on Iraq is to effect “regime change” in Baghdad while supporting efforts to enforce UN Security Council resolutions. “We continue to leave all our options available regarding Iraq. Saddam Hussein’s regime remains a serious threat…. So we are going to continue working to secure Iraq’s full compliance with all UN Security Council resolutions,” State Department spokesman Philip Reeker stated August 8.

Some administration officials, including Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, have expressed doubt that UNMOVIC would be effective in disarming Iraq, even if inspectors were allowed back into the country. Cheney said in his August 26 speech that the “return of inspectors would provide no assurance whatsoever of [Saddam Hussein’s] compliance with UN resolutions…. There is a great danger that it would provide false comfort.”

Blix expressed concern that a U.S. policy committed to invasion could discourage Iraq from accepting inspectors. In an August 23 interview with the British Broadcasting Corporation, Blix said, “If the Iraqis conclude that an invasion by someone is…inevitable, then they might conclude that it’s not very meaningful to have inspections.”

UN-Iraq Talks Fail to Yield Progress on Inspections

Relevant UN Security Council Resolutions

(Also available as PDF file, requires Adobe Acrobat Reader)

687: Cease-Fire Terms (1991)

Demanded that Iraq “unconditionally accept the destruction, removal, or rendering harmless” of its chemical and biological weapons; ballistic missiles with a range greater than 150 kilometers; and related components, research programs, and facilities. Required that Iraq pledge “not to use, develop, construct or acquire” chemical and biological weapons or the specified missiles.

Established the UN Special Commission (UNSCOM) to verify that Iraq complied with the resolution’s disarmament tasks.

Demanded that Iraq “unconditionally agree not to acquire or develop nuclear weapons” or weapons-grade material and to end related research and development programs. Called for placing all weapons-grade nuclear material under International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) control “for custody and removal” with UNSCOM assistance.

Maintained the economic embargo against Iraq established in Resolution 661 in 1990 after Iraq invaded Kuwait. Specified that the UN Security Council would lift the embargo when the council agreed that Iraq had met all its disarmament obligations.

986: Creation of the Oil-for-Food Program (1995)

Created a program allowing Iraq to sell up to $2 billion of oil every 180 days, although the Security Council later removed the limit on the amount of oil Iraq could sell. The UN holds proceeds from these sales in an escrow account, and the funds are reserved for buying medicine, health supplies, food, and other supplies “essential” for civilian needs. The rules governing the import of civilian goods were later changed by Resolution 1409.

1284: Creation of UNMOVIC (1999)

Authorized the creation of the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) to replace UNSCOM and verify that Iraq has fulfilled its disarmament obligations under Resolution 687. Required UNMOVIC and the IAEA to develop a program for implementing a monitoring system and to create a list of remaining disarmament tasks within 60 days of beginning work in Iraq.

Said the Security Council intends to suspend sanctions for 120 days after it determines that Iraq is in compliance with its disarmament duties. Specified that “Iraq shall allow UNMOVIC teams immediate, unconditional and unrestricted access” to all areas the teams want to inspect and allow them to interview any Iraqi officials.

1409: Smart Sanctions (2002)

Allows Iraq to import most civilian goods through a streamlined review process, although sanctions on military items remain in effect. UNMOVIC and the IAEA will review proposed contracts with Iraq and send any items on a new “goods review list” to a UN committee for additional scrutiny. The list includes items with potential military applications, and the UN committee can block their export to Iraq. Items not on the list will be quickly approved.

Relevant UN Security Council Resolutions

Disarming Iraq: Nonmilitary Strategies and Options

David Cortright and George A. Lopez

The uncertainty regarding Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction, which has increased since United Nations weapons inspectors left Iraq almost four years ago, appears to be approaching a crisis point. Concerned that Baghdad is rebuilding its programs to produce nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons, the Bush administration has strengthened its call for regime change in Iraq and spurred an increasingly vocal debate about the possibility of forcibly overthrowing the Iraqi dictator.

Whatever the merits of regime change in Iraq, discourse in Washington has focused on military options for dealing with Baghdad’s weapons of mass destruction without due consideration for the progress that UN weapons inspectors could make if they were readmitted to the country. In a world where the war on terrorism may take on new contours at any moment and challenges to U.S. policy mount daily in the Middle East, it is essential to explore scenarios that do not carry the diplomatic and strategic risks of military action. If U.S. officials determine that the costs of war against Iraq are too great, policy-makers must understand that there are alternative, viable options for achieving U.S. nonproliferation objectives.

Indeed, recent press reports indicate that military action may not get the domestic and international support it requires. The Europeans, never particularly supportive of a second Persian Gulf War, have become increasingly concerned that military action will interfere with the possibilities for brokering peace between Israel and the Palestinians.1 Middle Eastern governments, like that of Saudi Arabia, have outright opposed an attack, and the Iraqi Kurds, who figure in some planners’ vision of regime change, are wary of U.S. military action.2 In the United States, the Joint Chiefs of Staff have reportedly expressed reticence about invading Iraq; and most recently Brent Scowcroft, who served as national security adviser to former President George H. W. Bush and was a chief architect of the Gulf War, wrote an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal in which he argued, “An attack on Iraq at this time would seriously jeopardize, if not destroy, the global counterterrorist campaign that we have undertaken.”3

UN inspectors were remarkably successful in their efforts to disarm Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction, and although Saddam Hussein is likely reconstituting certain programs, evidence suggests that he does not pose an immediate threat to the United States. The past success of inspectors indicates that a high level of confidence in Iraq’s disarmament could be achieved if they were allowed to resume their work. The United States should push for the resumption of inspections in Iraq and also establish an “enhanced containment” system to monitor Iraq’s borders and prevent illicit materiel from entering the country.

Although a program of inspections and enhanced containment would not effect regime change and might not achieve the level of certainty of weapons control that would come with U.S. troops occupying Baghdad, it also is free of the costs and uncertainties that accompany those scenarios. Instead, a combination of resumed weapons inspections and enhanced containment addresses U.S. nonproliferation objectives and provides a viable, robust option for preventing Iraq from developing weapons of mass destruction.

A Continuing Danger

Saddam Hussein poses a significant threat to regional and international security. His regime has initiated two wars and has developed and used chemical weapons and ballistic missiles against neighboring states and its own citizens. UN inspectors discovered after the Gulf War that Iraq had vast stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons as well as a major program to develop nuclear weapons. In fact, U.S. analyst David Albright and former Iraqi nuclear engineer Khidhir Hamza estimated in 1998 that Iraq had been only a few months from building a nuclear explosive when the Gulf War began.4

But after Iraq’s defeat in 1991, UN weapons inspections were an effective tool that largely disarmed Iraq and prevented it from reconstituting its weapons programs. According to reports by the United Nations Special Commission on Iraq (UNSCOM) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which were charged with overseeing Iraq’s disarmament, weapons inspections during the 1990s neutralized a substantial portion of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. An independent panel of experts established by the Security Council in 1999 to evaluate the results of UN weapons inspections came to the following conclusion: “In spite of well-known difficult circumstances, UNSCOM and [the] IAEA have been effective in uncovering and destroying many elements of Iraq’s proscribed weapons programmes…. The bulk of Iraq’s proscribed weapons programmes has been eliminated.”5

The IAEA concluded in 1998 that “there is no indication that Iraq possesses nuclear weapons or any meaningful amounts of weapon-useable nuclear material.”6 According to UN reports, UNSCOM achieved “significant progress” in destroying Iraq’s chemical weapons stockpiles and production facilities. UNSCOM was able to account for all but two of the 819 Scud missiles known to have existed at the start of the Gulf War. There is no evidence of successful long-range missile development since then. Former UNSCOM inspector Scott Ritter concluded in a June 2000 article in Arms Control Today:

It was possible as early as 1997 to determine that, from a qualitative standpoint, Iraq had been disarmed. Iraq no longer possessed any meaningful quantities of chemical or biological agent…and the industrial means to produce these agents had either been eliminated or were subject to stringent monitoring. The same was true of Iraq’s nuclear and ballistic missile capabilities.7

Sanctions constrained Iraq’s ability to rebuild its conventional forces and further handicapped its nuclear, chemical, biological, and missile programs. Sanctions have loosened considerably in the past year, but the most important restriction, UN control over Iraq’s oil revenues, remains firmly in place. Because of these continuing financial restrictions, the Baghdad government has been denied control over more than $150 billion in oil revenues.8 As a result, Iraq has been unable to rebuild and modernize its armed forces. Iraq’s annual military expenditures dropped from an average of nearly $19 billion in the 1980s to an estimated $1.4 billion annually since the imposition of sanctions.9 Thus, UN financial controls have curtailed Iraq’s conventional rearmament and its ability to produce weapons of mass destruction and the means to deliver them.

Nevertheless, despite past successes of inspections and the retarding effect of sanctions, UN officials have been unable to determine the status of Iraq’s weapons programs since UNSCOM’s departure from Iraq in 1998. U.S. and other intelligence services have continued to gather information on suspected weapons activities using national technical means and reports from Iraqi defectors, but clearly the lack of sources on the ground in Iraq represents a serious intelligence gap. Hearings this July on Iraq before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee produced a range of estimates and warnings about Baghdad’s continuing or renewed weapons activity, especially in the area of chemical and biological weapons.

Most experts agree that Iraq has maintained stockpiles of chemical weapons materials and still possesses considerable biological weapons potential. Of greatest concern is VX, the most lethal and persistent of the chemical weapons Iraq produced. More than 150 tons of VX precursor elements remain unaccounted for.10 It is also possible that Iraq retains the means to deliver chemical and biological weapons short distances. The United Nations reported in January 1999 that 50 conventional missile warheads Iraq claimed to have destroyed could not be accounted for.11

Estimates of Iraq’s potential for developing nuclear weapons vary. According to a January 2001 report from the U.S. Department of Defense, “Iraq would need five or more years and key foreign assistance to rebuild the infrastructure to enrich enough material for a nuclear weapon.”12 In the summer of 2001, former U.S. assistant secretary of state for nonproliferation Robert Einhorn agreed that Iraq was five years away from being able to produce a nuclear explosive.13 But the head of the German intelligence agency, August Hanning, told The New Yorker, “It is our estimate that Iraq will have an atomic bomb in three years.”14

Hans Blix, the head of the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC), the successor agency to UNSCOM, confirmed recently that he has been briefed on possible weapons construction sites in Iraq and has received tips about other potential weapons activities. Blix noted that nothing has been proven, but in light of the accumulating evidence and Iraq’s past behavior, it is prudent to assume that the Baghdad government has been attempting to rebuild its weapons capacity.

Assuring the Return of Inspectors

The picture that emerges from this assessment is of a regime likely committed to the redevelopment of weapons of mass destruction, but constrained by diminished resources and the successes of UNSCOM’s efforts. Saddam Hussein’s Iraq is clearly dangerous, but there is time to thwart Iraq’s reacquisition of weapons material and technology without resorting to war, provided that weapons inspections are allowed to begin soon.

Of course, getting UN inspectors back into the country is easier said than done, as demonstrated by Iraq’s intransigence over the last four years. Although the Security Council has recently demonstrated a new consensus on the need for weapons inspections, Iraq has refused to budge in its meetings with UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. UN and U.S. officials have correctly insisted on the right of free and unfettered access for UNMOVIC inspectors. There can be no backing away from the right of no-notice, intrusive inspection that was key to the success of UNSCOM, and the monitors must have access to so-called presidential sites and other suspected weapons locations. However, Saddam Hussein does need some incentive to cooperate with the United States and the United Nations.

The sanctions imposed on Iraq shortly after its 1990 invasion of Kuwait and the prospect of their relief have been the primary carrot and stick used to coerce Baghdad into complying with inspections. Resolution 687 stipulated that once UNSCOM determined that Iraq had been fully disarmed of its weapons of mass destruction, the sanctions would be lifted. Although UN Security Council Resolution 1409 loosened the sanctions regime this May, allowing Iraq to import civilian goods more freely, its most important element—UN control of Iraqi oil revenues—remains in place.

Despite smuggling and kickback schemes, the UN escrow account still captures approximately 85 percent of Iraq’s oil income.15 Baghdad urgently wishes to regain control of these revenues, which at a production rate of 2 million barrels a day comes to nearly $20 billion a year. In fact, Iraq could dramatically increase oil production, but UN sanctions have prevented Iraq from attracting the necessary foreign investment to develop its potential further. Iraq possesses some of the largest, most easily accessible oil reserves in the world, and oil industry executives have described Iraq as the “Klondike of the 21st century.”16 With adequate investment in exploration and production, Iraq could significantly increase its rate of oil export to perhaps as high as 6 million barrels a day, tripling its current rate of production and raising potential oil revenues to a staggering $60 billion a year.

That revenue is enormously important to Iraq and is crucial to rebuilding its shattered economy, but such an economic windfall remains out of reach as long as sanctions are in place. The lure of these vast oil revenues is a powerful inducement that can be used to gain Baghdad’s cooperation. It should be possible for the United States and the United Nations to use this Iraqi objective to their advantage by structuring an inducement plan that offers the prize of oil revenues in exchange for full compliance with UN mandates.

That, of course, was the deal offered by Resolution 687, but the rules of the game were changed by Resolution 1284, passed in December 1999, which created UNMOVIC. Instead of promising to lift the sanctions once Iraq had fully cooperated, Resolution 1284 said only that the Security Council would provisionally suspend the sanctions for 120 days once Iraq had come into compliance with its disarmament obligations. After 120 days, the council would have to vote to renew the sanctions relief for another 120 days, and so on. Because of Security Council voting rules, this would have effectively given the United States the power to keep the sanctions on Iraq in place indefinitely.

According to Rolf Ekeus, the former head of UNSCOM, “the language of suspension” added an element of “instability and insecurity” for Iraq and was probably the major reason why Baghdad rejected the resolution when it was passed.17 Iraq needs to know whether it will get anything for its cooperation, Ekeus noted. This crucial element has been missing in recent years. A clear statement from the United States that sanctions would indeed be lifted if Iraq cooperates with UN inspectors would reinsert a vitally important element into the diplomatic equation and could be decisive in gaining Iraqi compliance.
Unfortunately, U.S. officials have done exactly the opposite. Far from stating unequivocally that sanctions will be lifted if Iraq cooperates with UN weapons inspectors, U.S. officials have declared that sanctions will remain in place indefinitely. In November 1997, for example, President Bill Clinton remarked that “sanctions will be there until the end of time, or as long as [Hussein] lasts.”18 This spring, President George W. Bush said that “the policy of my government is the removal of Saddam”; and Secretary of State Colin Powell said, “The U.S. policy is that regardless of what the inspectors do, the people of Iraq…would be better off with a different regime in Baghdad.19

Under these circumstances, Baghdad has no reason to cooperate, and sanctions have lost their potential bargaining leverage. To overcome this problem, U.S. and UN officials should return to the terms of Resolution 687, which specified that sanctions against Iraq would be lifted upon completion of the UN disarmament mandate. A clarification of this original Security Council obligation could help to gain Iraqi compliance. A restatement of the council’s original intent would remove ambiguities left by Resolution 1284 and provide Baghdad a clear and compelling incentive for cooperating with UN inspections.
Russia has advocated this approach for several years. In June 2001, Moscow offered a draft Security Council resolution that sought to clarify the ambiguities of Resolution 1284 by reaffirming the Security Council’s obligation to lift sanctions upon completion of the UN disarmament mandate. Under the terms of the Russian proposal, once UNMOVIC and the IAEA certified that a reinforced, ongoing monitoring and verification system was fully operational within Iraq, sanctions would be suspended and oil revenues returned to the control of the Iraqi government.20

Former weapons inspector Garry Dillon proposed a similar approach at a June 2001 conference in Washington. Dillon suggested that the Security Council adopt a new resolution pledging to lift remaining sanctions upon receipt of satisfactory assurances from UNMOVIC and the IAEA of Iraq’s disarmament. The proposed resolution would specify Iraq’s obligation to permit the continued operation of the ongoing monitoring and verification system, and it would also maintain the continuing arms embargo and prohibition against developing weapons of mass destruction.21

Finding a way to induce Iraqi cooperation is crucial if there is to be a diplomatic solution to the looming crisis over its weapons of mass destruction. A clear and unambiguous commitment to lift sanctions and revenue controls upon fulfillment of the UN disarmament mandate could provide the necessary incentive to gain Iraqi cooperation. The United States has refused to consider any easing of coercive pressure, however, and has become fixated on the goal of armed regime change. The U.S. policy of regime change and unyielding hostility toward the Baghdad government goes beyond the mandate of UN policy and has become a major obstacle to the resolution of the crisis.

Of course, giving up the tough rhetoric on Iraq may seem like appeasement to some. To be sure, making offers to aggressors can be seen as a sign of weakness and may embolden an outlaw regime to further acts of belligerence. But in truth the United States would simply be offering Iraq what it did 11 years ago, and any inducements would be strictly conditional, with conciliatory gestures linked to clear and unequivocal concessions from the Baghdad regime and the elimination of Iraq’s capability to develop weapons of mass destruction.

“Enhanced Containment”

Whether or not Baghdad permits the resumption of effective UN weapons inspections, it will be necessary to create an externally based, vigorously enforced system of enhanced military containment to restrict the flow of weapons-related goods into Iraq. Morton Halperin, former director of policy planning at the State Department, described such a system as “containment plus” during July testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. According to Halperin, such a system would build upon the new sanctions regime established by Resolution 1409. “Its goal would be to tighten the economic embargo of material that would assist Iraq in its weapons of mass destruction and other military programs as well as reducing Iraq’s receipt of hard currency outside the UN sanctions regime.”

The UN restrictions on Iraqi imports have not been 100 percent effective because there is presently little or no international monitoring of commercial crossings into Iraq. Shippers of approved humanitarian goods stop at the border to have documents authenticated so that they can receive payment from the UN escrow account, but their cargoes are not inspected. The limited customs and border monitoring stations operated by neighboring states lack the ability to impede the flow of weapons. An enhanced containment system would seek to establish a long-term capability for blocking Iraqi rearmament through strict controls on the import of weapons and dual-use military goods, putting greater teeth into Resolution 1409.

The chief component of enhanced containment would be a significant strengthening of border monitoring in Jordan, Syria, Turkey, and other states surrounding Iraq. To date, such states have not supported proposals for border monitoring, in part because of political and economic pressures from Baghdad. They do not want to disturb the growing commercial trade with Iraq that has developed in recent years. The challenge is to create an effective system for inspecting sensitive cargoes, while avoiding disruption to the thriving civilian commerce that is vitally important to local economies. Technology can help in this effort. The use of advanced scanning equipment would enable trained monitors to detect the shipment of nuclear materials and other prohibited weapons-related goods without major disruption to commercial traffic.

The “smart border” concept now being developed by the governments of the United States, Canada, and Mexico could serve as a model for the kind of system that would be needed on Iraq’s borders. Newly developed X-ray scanning machines are now available that can quickly inspect trucks and containers for contraband.22 The smart border concept also employs an electronic pass system of the kind being used on toll bridges and tunnels in the United States. A machine-readable electronic pass and automated detection system would enable approved vehicles to pass quickly without inspection. If such a system were installed on Iraq’s borders, passes could be issued to humanitarian agencies and other trusted suppliers of civilian goods financed through the UN escrow account. Those with electronic passes would proceed without stopping, while others would be required to stop for inspection or pass through the X-ray detection equipment.

Technology alone will not do the job. Enhanced border monitoring will also require the deployment of UN-approved international monitoring experts to work alongside officials from host countries. These international customs officials would help host countries in maintaining and operating the detection equipment and upgrading customs controls. A model for such a system can be found in the Sanctions Assistance Missions that were established by European nations during the UN sanctions in Yugoslavia from 1993 through 1995. Such customs assistance missions would substantially upgrade and improve border-monitoring capabilities in the countries neighboring Iraq.

When combined with continued military sanctions and revenue controls, the proposed border control system could preserve the containment of Iraq and help to prevent the redevelopment of weapons of mass destruction. No monitoring program can prevent smuggling entirely, but the proposed system could make illegal shipments more difficult.

The economic costs of the proposed system could be paid through the UN escrow account, as part of the budget for UN operations in Iraq. In addition, the United States could provide financial support and technical assistance to frontline states to help them offset the costs of monitoring equipment and additional customs staffing. But the greatest obstacles to creating an effective border monitoring system are not financial or technical but political.

Persuading frontline states to cooperate with the proposed monitoring mechanisms will require diplomatic bargaining. The United States and other major powers must be ready to offer substantial economic incentives and political assurances to Jordan, Syria, and other states in the region. This will be necessary in part to parry Iraq’s attempts to undermine the proposed border monitoring system. When the Security Council considered the British-U.S. proposal for revamping sanctions in May 2001, for example, Iraq warned neighboring countries that “compliance with this plan by any state or government would cause grievous harm to its interests.”23 If Baghdad were to cut off oil supplies or trade with Jordan or Syria, the local economic impacts would be enormous. The United States and its partners must be ready to counteract such pressures by providing assurances of economic assistance and political support in the event of hostile moves by Iraq.

To win support for enhanced containment, the United States should be prepared to improve political relations with countries in the region previously considered inimical. Among the diplomatic steps the United States might consider would be removing Syria from the list of states supporting terrorism. This would be a powerful inducement for gaining Syrian cooperation, which would be critical for controlling oil exports and limiting illegal payments to Baghdad. Washington might also consider dropping Iran from the “axis of evil” and adopting new political initiatives to build political and military cooperation with Tehran. Establishing new political partnerships with countries in the region will be essential to creating a cooperative border monitoring system that can prevent Iraq from developing weapons of mass destruction.

Russian political support is also essential if the enhanced military containment of Iraq is to be successful. Russia has been implicated in past weapons-smuggling incidents in Iraq and has supported Iraq politically in the Security Council. Russia is in the midst of a major political realignment toward the West, however, and realizes that it has more to gain from cooperation with Washington than from its ties to Baghdad. Moscow and Washington are now cooperating across a broad range of international security issues and should be able to build upon this emerging partnership to forge a joint approach to the containment of Iraq.


Those committed only to a military solution and regime change in Iraq may consider a strategy of inspections bolstered by enhanced border control as too conciliatory, as “soft on Saddam.” In fact, the proposals outlined here call for an increase in international pressure on the Iraqi government. Continuing revenue controls, intensive diplomatic efforts to resume weapons inspections, and the creation of an enhanced containment system through strengthened border monitoring—these are the elements of a credible, coercive policy.

It is impossible to know what precise mix of carrots and sticks will prompt the Iraqi leadership to permit the re-entry of inspectors. Should the push to restart weapons inspections fail, or should Iraq obstruct the inspectors once they begin their work, the United States and the Security Council could adopt additional coercive measures. If Iraqi obstruction or aggressive action becomes egregious, the Security Council might choose to reiterate previous language authorizing “all necessary means” for achieving UN objectives.

The proposals outlined here present viable strategies for the continued denial of Iraq’s weapons ambitions, while offering the prospect of greater regional cooperation and stability. They offer realistic alternatives to the military scenarios currently being discussed in Washington. In light of the dangers and uncertainties associated with what could be a large-scale and destructive war in the region, the nonmilitary options outlined here deserve immediate and thorough consideration.

1. Patrick E. Tyler, “Europeans Split With U.S. on Need for Iraq Attack, Citing Mideast as Priority,” The New York Times, July 22, 2002, p. A5.
2. Todd S. Purdum, “Bush Team Is Divided Over Getting Tougher With Saudis,” The New York Times, August 12, 2002, p. A7; John F. Burns, “Kurds, Secure in North Iraq Zone, Are Wary About a U.S. Offensive,” The New York Times, July 8, 2002, p. A1.
3. Thomas E. Ricks, “Some Top Military Brass Favor Status Quo in Iraq; Containment Seen Less Risky Than Attack,” The Washington Post, July 28, 2002, p. A1; Brent Scowcroft, “Don’t Attack Saddam,” The Wall Street Journal, August 15, 2002, p. A12.
4. David Albright and Khidhir Hamza, “Iraq’s Reconstitution of Its Nuclear Program,” Arms Control Today, October 1998, p. 11.
5. “Report of the First Panel Established Pursuant to the Note by the President of the Security Council on 30 January 1999 (S/1999/100) Concerning Disarmament and Current Ongoing Monitoring and Verification Issues,” United Nations document S/1999/356, March 30, 1999.
6. Ibid.
7. Scott Ritter, “The Case for Iraq’s Qualitative Disarmament,” Arms Control Today, June 2000, p. 8.
8. Meghan L. O’Sullivan, “Iraq: Time for a Modified Approach,” Policy Brief 71, The Brookings Institution, February 2001, p. 4.
9. General Accounting Office, “Weapons of Mass Destruction: UN Confronts Significant Challenges in Implementing Sanctions Against Iraq,” May 2002, p. 14.
10. Jean E. Krasno and James S. Sutterlin, The United Nations and Iraq: Defanging the Viper, (Washington, D.C.: United States Institute of Peace, forthcoming).
11. “Letter Dated 25 January 1999 from the Executive Chairman of the Special Commission established by the Secretary-General pursuant to paragraph 9(b)(i) of Security Council resolution 687 (1991) addressed to the President of the Security Council,” United Nations document S/1999/94, January 29, 1999.
12. Office of the Secretary of Defense, “Proliferation: Threat and Response,” January 2001, p. 40.
13. Robert Einhorn, “The Emerging Bush Administration Approach to Addressing Iraq’s WMD and Missile Programs,” Keynote address at “Understanding the Lessons of Nuclear Inspections and Monitoring in Iraq: A Ten-Year Review,” conference sponsored by the Institute for Science and International Security, Washington, D.C., June 2001.
14. Jeffrey Goldberg, “The Great Terror,” The New Yorker, March 25, 2002, p. 75.
15. General Accounting Office, “Weapons of Mass Destruction,” p. 7.
16. Raad Alkadiri, “The Iraqi Klondike,” Middle East Report, Fall 2001.
17. Interview with Rolf Ekeus, “Shifting Priorities: UNMOVIC and the Future of Inspections in Iraq,” Arms Control Today, March 2000, p. 5.
18. Barbara Crossette, “For Iraq: A Doghouse with Many Rooms,” The New York Times, November 23, 1997, p. A4.
19. Press conference in Crawford, Texas, April 6, 2002; ABC News This Week, May 5, 2002.
20. Permanent Mission of the Russian Federation to the United Nations, “Draft Resolution on Iraq,” June 26, 2001.
21. David Albright and Kevin O’Neill, “The Iraqi Maze: Searching for a Way Out,” The Nonproliferation Review, Fall/Winter 2001, p. 10.
22. Elisabeth Bumiller, “White House Announces Security Pact With Mexico,” The New York Times, March 22, 2002, p. A18.
23. Alex Wagner, “U.K., Russia Issue Draft Proposals to Revamp Iraqi Sanctions Regime,” Arms Control Today, June 2001, p. 22.

David Cortright is president of the Fourth Freedom Forum. George A. Lopez is director of policy studies and senior fellow at the Joan B. Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, University of Notre Dame.


The Inevitable Failure of Inspections in Iraq

Charles Duelfer

The United States is currently in the throes of a public debate over using military force to accomplish regime change in Iraq because of the threat Saddam Hussein could pose with weapons of mass destruction. The risks of a military invasion are serious, and some analysts are suggesting that the Bush administration instead pursue the return of United Nations weapons inspectors to Iraq. Although this course of action would not achieve regime change, proponents argue that it would succeed in disarming Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction, and it would do so at a far lower cost.

Unfortunately, as demonstrated by the experience of the UN Special Commission (UNSCOM) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) from 1991 to 1998, any weapons inspectors sent into Iraq under the ground rules of the existing UN Security Council resolutions and the existing Iraqi regime are doomed to fail. The only uncertainties are how long they will last, whether they will inhibit Iraq’s programs at all, and what role their presence will have in the overarching politics surrounding their almost inconsequential presence. Although inspectors accomplished much during their time in Iraq, their successes were temporary. The categorical goals established by the Security Council were not achievable at a price either the council or Iraq was willing to pay. It turned out that the permanent disarmament goals imposed on Iraq were out of proportion with the inspectors’ tools and the rewards and punishments the Security Council could practically impose. The result was a political and military muddle with the inspectors caught in the middle.

The Security Council passed Resolution 687 as part of the cease-fire arrangements ending the Persian Gulf War. The resolution, among other things, required Iraq to rid itself permanently and unconditionally of all nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons capabilities and allow inspectors full access to verify and monitor compliance forever. Resolution 687 also created a positive incentive for Iraqi compliance by linking a decision to lift sanctions with Iraq’s fulfillment of the disarmament provisions. The potential for negative reinforcement was implicit in the fact that the resolution was passed under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, meaning that military force could be used to enforce compliance.

The role of the inspectors was intended to be straightforward. The burden of proof was placed explicitly on Iraq: Baghdad was obligated to make full declarations about its weapons programs and accept monitoring and verification activity as determined necessary by UNSCOM and the IAEA. The UN inspectors were obligated to verify the Iraqi declarations and report their evaluations to the Security Council, which would then make decisions on sanctions. The inspectors were not intended to answer, What illicit capability does Iraq have left? In principle, their job was strictly to verify that Iraq had fully declared and accounted for its weapons of mass destruction.

Iraq’s obligations were clear; the incentives for cooperation were sizable; and the job of the inspectors in the process was simple—on paper. Unfortunately, in reality the inspectors’ job proved to be anything but. The dynamics between Iraq and the Security Council, with the weapons inspectors in between, proved inconsistent with the objective of forcing Iraqi disarmament.

The UN Was Hesitant to Use Force

Immediately after inspectors arrived in Iraq, Baghdad began a pattern of only partially complying with Resolution 687 and testing the will of UNSCOM, the IAEA, and the Security Council. The response was tepid enough to convince Iraq that it could obstruct inspections without triggering a military response.

The first instance of noncompliance occurred in June 1991—the very month inspectors began work in Iraq—when IAEA inspectors were blocked in an effort to get access to calutrons Iraq was concealing. In the aftermath of this blocked inspection, the Security Council dispatched UNSCOM Executive Chairman Rolf Ekeus and IAEA Director-General Hans Blix to Baghdad to seek Iraqi agreement to comply. Subsequent discussion in the council yielded the strongly worded Resolution 707, which strengthened the mandated authorities of the UNSCOM and the IAEA and explicitly laid out the obligations of Iraq and the rights of UN inspectors.

Specifically, the resolution noted that Iraq had failed to comply on many scores by concealing activities, not providing access, and not making full disclosures as required. The resolution stated that Iraq’s failures put it in “material breach of its acceptance of the relevant provisions of resolution 687 which established a cease-fire and provided the conditions essential to the restoration of peace and security in the region.” The implication of this language was that if Iraq was in violation of its obligations of the cease-fire resolution, then military operations against Iraq might be resumed.

On the one hand, this was the high-water mark for the council in its collective demands on Iraq to comply. However, what Baghdad saw in this episode was the Security Council’s lack of will to recommence military action—it had blocked inspectors and only been sanctioned with words. No enforcement action had been taken. Moreover, it was quite apparent that U.S. forces in the region were being withdrawn. Demobilization of the Desert Storm buildup was proceeding even in light of Baghdad’s violent suppression of uprisings in the north and south of Iraq.

Thus it became clear to Baghdad early on that the risk of noncompliance was limited. The council was not going to invade Iraq to secure compliance with the disarmament goals, so there was no risk to the regime directly resulting from defiance of UN resolutions. Hence, the circumstances and elements of Resolution 707 were an early indication of an inherent flaw in the dynamic between the Security Council, Iraq, and the inspectors.

In fact, only two military attacks were ever conducted in support of inspection work. In January 1993, a very limited bombing raid by U.S., British, and French planes was conducted in response to Baghdad’s refusal to permit UNSCOM aircraft to fly into Iraq. The second attack was the December 1998 bombing by the United States and the United Kingdom called Desert Fox, which was carefully limited to four days.

Inspectors Were Undermined

The Security Council resolutions intentionally placed the inspectors in a position superior to Iraq. The Iraqis had to make their case to the inspectors, and the inspectors would report to the council. But in practice, Iraq worked to change this dynamic by appealing directly to sympathetic council members and the secretary-general. Moreover, the inspectors’ power over Iraq was derived from its relationship with the Security Council, so to the extent that Iraq could put distance between the council and the inspectors, the inspectors’ authority and ability to enforce Iraqi compliance was degraded.

Iraq decided moment by moment how fully it would comply with inspectors, and with each case of obstruction the inspectors had to make a decision as to whether they should report it to the Security Council. For example, if inspectors did not receive required biannual forms on the consumption of chlorine at a water purification facility, should they complain to the Security Council? Should an UNSCOM inspector report to New York headquarters if Iraqis at an inspection site said that they did not have a key for a certain room?

It quickly became clear that the Security Council could not be involved in issues other than major breaches, and Iraq learned that small offenses would not be punished. Simply put, would the council want to go to war because some scruffy, arrogant inspector could not get into a building that might be empty and that Iraq said was important to its national sovereignty and dignity? Clearly not. Baghdad developed a good sense of how to limit access rights incrementally in ways to which the council could not respond proportionately. It learned to keep its obstruction below the threshold that would trigger a response from the council.

Furthermore, Iraq worked incessantly to erode the credibility and position of the inspectors, so that when they did complain to the Security Council, their claims were challenged. Iraq accomplished this by accusing the inspectors of malfeasance and threatening to end all cooperation with the council—a problem epitomized by the 1997-1998 controversy over inspectors’ rights of access to sites Iraq claimed were sensitive or special.

UNSCOM was convinced that decisions about weapons of mass destruction were taken at the presidential level and therefore that corresponding documentation would be in presidential areas. But when inspectors attempted to access locations such as the presidential secretary’s office, Iraq blocked them and trivialized their goals by mockingly arguing to the council and the public that Saddam Hussein would not put weapons of mass destruction in his offices. Moreover, Iraq attacked the inspectors’ motives, claiming that they were serving the interests of only one council member, the United States, in its well-known objective of overthrowing the regime.

Such tactics eventually paid off. The UN secretary-general intervened to resolve the matter, thus shifting the power dynamic between the inspectors and Baghdad and radically undermining UNSCOM’s position. By agreeing to mediate the dispute, the secretary-general effectively made the Iraqis and the inspectors equals in presenting their cases before the Security Council. The secretary-general undertook to review the work of UNSCOM independently and discussed the possibility of conducting a “comprehensive review” that would allow outside evaluation of the questions of Iraqi compliance.
The implication, of course, was that the secretary-general did not trust that the inspectors were doing their jobs properly, and because the inspector’s power flowed from the UN, his intervention radically diminished the inspectors’ ability to force Iraqi compliance.

Weapons Were Vital to Iraq

Inherent in the design of Resolution 687 was the assumption that Iraq would value the ability to export oil and engage in normal commerce more than it valued weapons of mass destruction capability—an assumption that turned out to be dead wrong. Discussions with senior Iraqi officials eventually revealed the enormous importance the regime attached to these weapons.

For the regime, possession of weapons of mass destruction was an existential issue. Deputy Prime Minster Tariq Aziz, among others, pointed out that, during the Iran-Iraq war, hitting cities deep in Iran with long-range missiles and countering of human wave attacks (particularly in the battle for al Fao) with massive use of chemical weapons saved Iraq. Moreover, Baghdad believes that its possession of biological and chemical weapons during the 1991 Gulf War helped deter the United States from marching on Baghdad. Thus, the regime has two experiences in which it feels its very survival was linked to possession of weapons of mass destruction.

Nothing in the UN resolutions changed that judgment by Iraq. If anything, the lesson Baghdad learned from the Gulf War is that such weapons—especially nuclear weapons—are even more important than they had thought. Senior Iraqis privately acknowledged that it had been a mistake to invade Kuwait before completing a nuclear weapon. They are convinced the outcome of the war would have been radically different if Washington had had to consider an Iraqi nuclear capability. Certainly, Saddam Hussein understands that today’s debate about invading Iraq to effect regime change would not be taking place if Baghdad could threaten to hit U.S. forces or Israel with a nuclear weapon.

Unfettered Access Was a Myth

The phrase “immediate, unrestricted, and unconditional access” is oft repeated in Security Council language and sounds potent in the Security Council chambers in New York City. Implementing such access is another story. Practical measures taken to carry out inspection activity inevitably warned Iraq of what was coming, and the necessary compromise gave Iraq an advantage.

For example, Resolution 707 clearly states UN aircraft may fly anywhere and land anywhere. But this does not mean that inspectors can simply load up a plane, fly into Iraq, and land unannounced at some airport near a site designated for inspection. Iraq has, with good cause, an active air defense system. UNSCOM therefore had to establish procedures for notifying Iraq of UN flights over its territory to ensure they would not be shot down, but by doing so they gave Iraq advance warning of inspections. (Such procedures also applied to the U-2 surveillance aircraft flown by the United States on behalf of the UN.)

Such compromises marked all steps of inspection work and were a never-ending source of friction between the inspectors and the Iraqi government. The result of the pragmatic measures taken to conduct inspections was that Iraq was given advance warning.

Resources Were Mismatched

It is obvious but worth remembering that Iraq had the resources of a relatively wealthy nation-state to deploy in its efforts to obstruct inspections and that there was no higher priority for the government of Iraq, with the exception of protecting the president. By contrast, the inspection staff numbered a couple of hundred people who operated in the context of an international organization that valued transparency.

Iraq has one of the world’s most elaborate security and intelligence establishments, which it used to study inspector activities in detail and to monitor and contain the inspectors. For example, Iraq could observe the movement of inspectors from their offices and radio ahead to sites in the direction of their travel. Locations containing prohibited weapons or involved in illicit activity would be certain to have some amount of warning, which personnel could use to protect sensitive material. Locations distant from Baghdad could be secure in the knowledge that they would have significant warning times while inspectors traveled. Thus, the pragmatic compromises that UNSCOM had to make, as mentioned above, were compounded by Iraq’s effective use of its considerable resources.

From discussions with Iraqis no longer in Iraq, but who were involved in countering the inspectors, it is clear that Iraq developed a solid understanding of the entire system of inspection activity and worked to exploit every possible window into it. Techniques included paying individuals to provide information, seeking information from cooperative governments, keeping close surveillance on inspectors in Iraq and elsewhere, intercepting communications, and so on. Inspectors tried various methods to elude or deceive such efforts, but as a last resort Iraq always had the option of blocking access and therefore preserving ambiguity about what was going on at a site selected for inspection. The net result was that, although UNSCOM conducted hundreds of “no notice” inspections, perhaps a handful were truly surprise inspections.

The Council Was Divided

The members of the Security Council have different interests and priorities, and Iraq was able play one off against the other to weaken the inspection regime. The UN inspectors were placed between a dedicated, unitary actor on the one hand (Iraq) and a coalition of countries on the other (the Security Council). Over time, the incentives, agendas, and priorities of the countries on the council naturally shifted. Those of Iraq, especially with regard to matters it considered vital, such as its weapons programs, remained more constant. Hence, time has tended to favor the dedicated, unitary actor.

Baghdad has enormous potential rewards to disperse in support of its objectives, and it uses them accordingly, creating economic incentives for council members to lift sanctions. For example, Russia has an agreement to develop the large western Qurnah oil fields—contingent upon the lifting of sanctions. Iraq also dispenses its oil-for-food contracts with a close eye to who supports it in the council. When France supported the United States in revising the sanctions in 2001, it subsequently received far fewer contracts. With similar acumen, Iraq has succeeded in getting its neighbors to engage in the lucrative business of smuggling oil and other prohibited activities.

In a like fashion, Baghdad has disrupted the coalition by demonstrating that its ability to absorb pain is greater than the Security Council’s willingness to inflict it. Sanctions on Iraq have greatly hurt its civilian population (though not, of course, its leadership). Up until the end of the UNSCOM and IAEA presence in Iraq in 1998, the council was confronted with, on the one hand, UN reports on the devastating effect of sanctions on children and other innocents, and on the other, inspector reports that Iraq had not yet fully complied with disarmament. Members reasonably asked how much work UNSCOM had left and whether it was worth sustaining punishment of civilians. Were people suffering because of some insignificant outstanding issues? Iraq had been claiming for years that it had complied with Resolution 687; was it possible that the inspectors were wrong? The burden of proof, which was so central to the inspection process, was thus shifted from Iraq to the inspectors.

Using sanctions to enforce disarmament allowed a regime such as Saddam Hussein’s to take its own population hostage. The situation is not unlike a plane hijacker shooting one passenger every 15 minutes until he is allowed to take off. Under such circumstances, a dedicated individual actor can outlast a collective. By eroding the will of the United Nations—and even the Security Council—to enforce strictly the constraints on Iraq, Baghdad was able to isolate the inspectors, leaving them in a very lonely position when confronting obstructions on the ground.

Politics Trumped Science

The inspection regime was further weakened by the placement of the inspectors—particularly the executive chairman of UNSCOM and the director-general of the IAEA—at the junction of technical and political worlds. At the technical level, inspectors could be fairly categorical and analytical in their assessments. The closer one got to the Security Council, however, the more political and technical issues were mixed. Pressures from all sides were a major factor in the inspectors’ work, and objective reports and judgments became, in practice, impossible.

An example took place in the spring of 1995. At that time, Iraq was relentlessly demanding that the council remove the oil embargo because Baghdad said that it had complied fully with inspections and that UNSCOM and the IAEA had even finished putting monitoring systems in place. Iraq explicitly demanded that either the Security Council act on the embargo or it would quit cooperating. At the same time, some members of the council had begun asking UNSCOM how much more remained to be done. The French actually proposed that Ekeus report to the council on a monthly basis to assure it that progress was being made.

However, UNSCOM experts remained concerned about a number of issues such as whether Iraq produced the chemical agent VX, whether all missiles were accounted for, and whether there was an offensive biological weapons program. Indeed, in February 1995 UNSCOM had for the first time interviewed a defector who credibly reported that Iraq maintained material in all prohibited areas. Most obviously troubling were biological weapons, which Baghdad denied, often ludicrously, having ever produced despite enormous evidence to the contrary.

In May, Iraq informed Ekeus that, if he gave a positive report to the Security Council in June concerning Iraq’s fulfillment of disarmament in the chemical and missile areas, then it would satisfy him on his concerns about offensive biological weapons programs. Ekeus recognized that council support was weakening and took a decision to straddle all the technical doubts about Iraqi compliance. His report skipped over some of UNSCOM experts’ concerns in the missile and chemical areas. Tariq Aziz found this satisfactory and invited Ekeus to Baghdad where he made a very limited admission, saying that Iraq had had a modest offensive biological weapons program which had produced some agent but that the agents had never been weaponized and had been destroyed before the war.

This admission was demonstrated to be grossly inadequate three weeks later, when Saddam’s son-in-law, Hussein Kamal, defected to Jordan. He had been in charge of all of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction programs, and in the aftermath of his defection Baghdad admitted that its previous declarations were wrong and that illicit activities in all areas had been going on—and in fact were still going on—while UNSCOM had been monitoring the country. For example, Iraq had continued to procure material in support of long-range missile development, and it had even conducted surface-to-surface missile tests without UNSCOM monitors being aware.


Weapons of mass destruction apparently have fundamental importance to Baghdad, and the inability of the Security Council to sustain an equivalent threat to impose its will permanently makes long-term prospects for renewed inspections bleak. Baghdad may agree to a return of inspectors in the face of a military threat to remove the regime. But the practical cost of keeping such a military threat in place is huge, and as time goes on Iraq can be expected to apply all the same tactics discussed above for dividing the council and eroding the effectiveness of inspectors.

In December 1999, the Security Council passed Resolution 1284, following a year-long debate over Iraq in the aftermath of Operation Desert Fox and the departure of inspectors. The resolution reaffirms the disarmament goals set forth in all preceding resolutions, and as such the basic dynamics between the council, Iraq, and the inspectors are the same. The resolution creates a new inspector organization, called UNMOVIC, to replace UNSCOM, but the fundamental relationship problems that existed before remain.

Any decision to recommence inspections should therefore be part of a broader political or security strategy that would use inspectors to contain Iraq temporarily. Should such a course be taken, the near-term effectiveness of a reimposed inspection system could be greatly enhanced in a few ways.

First, inspectors should be mandated to interview the few hundred key scientists, engineers, and technicians who were involved in the previous weapons of mass destruction efforts and have them account for their activities since December 1998. The UN knows who these individuals are. If, as is suspected, Iraq has been continuing to develop weapons of mass destruction, some or most of these people will have been involved.

Second, the conditions for such interviews must be changed. Iraqi government observers must not be present. The previous UNSCOM agreement to the presence of such “minders” was a mistake. The fact that junior workers would shake with fear at the prospect of answering a question in a way inconsistent with government direction made this obvious.

Third, and most important, the UN should offer sanctuary or safe haven to those who find it a condition for speaking the truth. The people are key to these programs. Access to the people under conditions where they could speak freely was not something UNSCOM ever achieved except in the rare instances of defection. I often summarized this problem to Washington by suggesting that, if UNSCOM had 100 green cards to distribute during inspections, it could have quickly accounted for the weapons programs.

Yet, even by expanding the inspection system’s abilities beyond that presently envisioned, the long-term problem is the regime. Is it realistic to think that, if Iraq cooperated and maybe even complied to the satisfaction of the inspectors, the Security Council would return full control of all Iraqi oil revenues to Baghdad? Is it realistic to think that Baghdad would then still continue to comply and permanently give full access to inspectors? Is it realistic to think that the Security Council would be able to sustain the will to impose drastic penalties if Iraq proceeded to limit inspector access gradually or even tossed the inspectors out altogether? No. Setting down this path yet again would be an exercise in political delusion. Moreover, given the political advantages that Baghdad would gain from making temporary concessions, reinstalling inspectors would actually be counterproductive in the long term for our nonproliferation goals.

On the other hand, if Iraqis got the opportunity to create a new government in Baghdad, then much would be possible. Not only might it be possible to lift sanctions, but Iraq’s disarmament could also remove pressures that other actors in the region feel to develop weapons of mass destruction. To date, the lesson of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction is that they helped the regime survive; and regional states, such as Iran, have taken note. Long-term prospects for diminishing the spreading biological, chemical, and nuclear threat will only be reduced when the fundamental problem—the management in Baghdad—is changed. Moreover, quite apart from issues of disarmament, the enormous potential of the Iraqi people will never be achieved under Saddam Hussein’s regime. Narrowly defining the solution to the Iraq problem as the reinsertion of inspectors misses the larger and longer-term problem.

Iraq will likely engage in further dialogue with the United Nations on the possibility of allowing inspectors to return if the United States continues to move toward using force to support a policy of regime change. But sending inspectors back into Iraq would be nothing more than a tactical decision that is part of a political and military strategy to address issues far beyond disarmament.

Charles Duelfer is a visiting resident scholar at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. From 1993 to 2000 he served as the deputy executive chairman of UNSCOM.



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