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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 19, October 1997

False Dawn in Iraq

Relations have once more seriously worsened between Iraq and the UN Special Commission (UNSCOM) investigating Iraq's weapons-of-mass-destruction (WMD) programmes and capabilities. Relations seemed to have improved markedly following the replacement of Rolf Ekeus of Sweden as UNSCOM Chair by Richard Butler of Australia on 1 July. On 10 September, Iraq submitted what it claimed was a definitive report on all aspects of its WMD programmes and stocks. However, when Butler's report to the UN Security Council was made available on 7 October, it was clear that UNSCOM remained deeply dissatisfied. According to the report, the supposedly "full, final and complete" account provided by Iraq was "incomplete" and contained "significant inaccuracies," especially with regard to a biological weapons programme which Iraq continued to "trivialise". The report continued:

"The outstanding problems are numerous and grave... There is incomprehension [as to] why Iraq is persisting so strongly with both refusing to make the facts known about its biological weapons programme and why it is so insistent on blocking...[UNSCOM] efforts to reach those facts...

The Commission is convinced of the need for the Council to insist that Iraq meet its obligations to fully disclose all of its prohibited weapons and associated programmes... There is no substitute for this whole truth..."

The 'blocking' referred to in the report occurred first on 13 and 14 September. According to Butler, speaking on 16 September, clearly set-out procedures for inspections at sensitive facilities were not followed by the Iraqi side:

"Those arrangements have clear conditions. One of them, for example, is that the site could freeze. And I have reason to think...that on two occasions the freezing process did not occur. In that case, the modalities were violated. ..."

On 2 October, unnamed UN officials said that three more inspections had been obstructed during the last week of September.

The reaction of the Security Council to these setbacks revealed considerable tensions between Council members, with the US and UK pressing for new sanctions against Iraq and France, Russia and others openly criticised such a response. On 24 September, in his latest report on the situation to Congress, President Clinton referred to these tensions:

"While some nations have begun to display sanctions-fatigue, the United States remains committed to sanctions enforcement. We shall continue to oppose any suggestion that the sanctions regime should be modified or lifted..."

However, on 12 October it was reported that the US was considering a modification of the regime by adding to it travel bans on Iraqi officials. This was not, however, confirmed by US Ambassador to the UN Bill Richardson:

"We are going to have a strong and serious response but we have not delivered yet our policy statement. We are consulting with our allies and friends on the Council. ... Five blocked inspections - these are serious violations. We are looking at a variety of options."

On 16 October, Butler privately briefed the Council and reportedly told them that if it agreed to further sanctions, Iraq may break off all cooperation with UNSCOM activities. Briefing reporters after his meeting, Butler said he wanted the Council to pass a resolution that would do three things: express "renewed determination to see disarmament through to its end; two, insist that Iraq must present to the Council the full facts...; third, insist upon the rights of the Commission...to inspect any site and interview any person in Iraq relevant to the verification of weapons programmes."

The suffering caused by existing sanctions, despite the relief afforded by a recent 'oil-for-food' arrangement (see last issue), is one factor straining Council relations over the issue. On 28 September, Iraq's Health Minister, Omeed Medhat Mubarak, claimed that 1.2 million people had died due to the shortages of food, medicine and other supplies caused by the sanctions. On 10 October, a UN report, compiled by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP), stated that there was "considerable evidence of widespread malnutrition...as a result of supply shortages which have been experienced over the last seven years." The report added, referring to the oil-for-food arrangements:

"There is now concern that emergency assistance to vulnerable groups might be curtailed due to [a] widespread perception amongst donor countries that malnutrition problems have been solved following the implementation of resolution 987."

On 13 October, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan announced he would be setting up a new Office of the Iraq Programme to "consolidate the management of United Nations activities." The Executive Director of the Office - which was due to begin work by mid-October - is to be Benon V. Sevan of Cyprus. Among the Office's duties will be the implementation of resolution 987.

Reports: Iraqis may have blocked UN again, Associated Press, 16 September; UN concerned over Iraq inspection, Associated Press, 17 September; UN dissatisfied with two Iraqi weapons inspections, United States Information Service, 17 September; 'Text - President's report on Iraq non-compliance with UNSC resolutions,' United States Information Service, 24 September; Iraq - UN embargo kills 1.2 million, United Press International, 28 September; UN - Iraq blocks UN inspectors, Associated Press, 2 October; UN - Iraq may be concealing weapons, Associated Press, 7 October; State Department Briefing, 9 October; UN worried about biological arms materials in Iraq, Reuters, 9 October; UN confirms malnutrition in Iraq, Associated Press, 10 October; 'Oil-for-food' deal improves overall situation in Iraq, but malnutrition remains serious problem, says report of FAO/WFP mission, UN Press Release FAO/3649 & WFP/1045, 10 October; US contemplating bans against Iraq at UN, Reuters, 12 October; Benon-Sevan to be Executive Director of Iraq programme, UN Press Release SG/A/666, 13 October; Security Council urged to stand firm on Iraqi compliance, United States Information Service, 16 October; Iraq threatens to ban UN weapons inspectors, Associated Press, 16 October.

© 1998 The Acronym Institute.

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