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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 10, November 1996

Iraq: more suffering and talking

Rolf Ekeus, the Chair of UNSCOM - the UN Special Commission investigating Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programmes - visited Iraq from 19-21 October. The visit followed a damning UNSCOM report (released on 11 October - see last issue) claiming that Iraq still had many questions to answer. Leaving New York on 17 October, Ekeus said a particular concern was a number - between 6 and 16 - of missiles, thought to be capable of delivering a WMD warhead, which remained unaccounted for. According to Ekeus: "it is not a theoretical or accounting problem. It is a real matter of life and death for the States in the region, and therefore we cannot rest until we have accounted for them." He added:

"I hope the hide-and-seek game will end... We are convinced, or know, that we have not accounted for all prohibited items, and Iraq is maintaining that it is not keeping any weapons. Our concern is that we cannot confirm this."

Ekeus is next due to visit Iraq in December. Speaking in Washington on 12 November, he said that the meeting would be "of extreme importance, in the sense that the mission will be highly political." He elaborated:

"[T]he revelation on these missiles is the political means to allow Iraq to return to the oil market... Although it has lost [so much revenue] in five and a half years because of the oil embargo, Iraq prefers to hide its military capabilities rather than return to the oil market."

The consequences of Iraq's allegedly unsatisfactory response to UNSCOM's investigation have long been a matter of life and death for many Iraqi citizens, as UN sanctions imposed after the Gulf War - most importantly the oil embargo - are unlikely to be lifted until UNSCOM concludes its work. To alleviate civilian suffering, Security Council resolution 986 permits emergency oil-for-humanitarian-supplies sales by Iraq. A $2 billion sale of this nature was agreed by the Security Council in May, but primarily US unhappiness with the details of the sale has led to a protracted delay.

Speaking in Jordan on 24 October, France's President, Jacques Chirac, lamented the delay: "The population is suffering more and more and the health situation is disturbing. This is unacceptable from a humanitarian point of view and extremely dangerous from a political view to the stability of the region." In a speech to Jordan's Parliament the same day, Chirac stated:

"France is alarmed at the humanitarian situation in Iraq and calls solemnly on the international community to apply at long last resolution 986... The Iraqi people cannot be held responsible for decisions to which it was not party, nor can it be held hostage for stakes that are alien to it."

According to UN Undersecretary-General Chinmaya Gharekan, speaking to reporters in New York on 23 October, it was not only the US which was not happy about the proposed implementation arrangements: "Iraq has conveyed to us very recently that the question of the pricing mechanism or...formula is of primary importance... Until and unless [this] is settled and approved by the [UN Sanctions] Committee, Iraq cannot move ahead..." On 22 October, UN Secretary-General Dr. Boutros Boutros-Ghali had appealed to all concerned to "overcome all the difficulties because I believe it is a must to implement 986." A memorandum from Iraq, submitted to the UN and published on 23 October, stated apocalyptically:

"The suffering of the Iraqi people has reached a point where it can no longer be ignored or overlooked because it now threatens to bring upon the society as a whole a horrendous disaster that may lead to its collapse."

Reports: UN arms chief to look for missing Iraqi missiles, Reuter News Reports, 17 October; Chief UN arms inspector - Iraqi weapons still missing, AP Datastream International News Wire, 21 October; Iraq fails to clear up doubts about banned missiles - Ekeus, Agence France-Presse International News, 21 October; UN's Ekeus leaves region after Iraqi mission, Agence France-Presse International News, 22 October; Iraq says sanctions may cause 'horrendous disaster', Reuter News Reports, 23 October; Iraq makes new demands before oil sales can begin, United States Information Agency, 23 October; Chirac appeals for Iraq oil-for-food deal, Reuter News Reports, 24 October; Chirac says Iraq suffering 'unworthy of modern age', Reuter News Reports, 24 October; Iraqi missiles still unaccounted for, Ekeus says, United States Information Agency, 12 November; UN disarmament envoy to hold crucial talks with Iraq, Agence France-Presse International News, 13 November.

© 1999 The Acronym Institute.

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