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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 30, September 1998

War of Words and Attrition in Iraq-UN Relations

As reported in the last issue, on 5 August Iraq announced it would no longer cooperate with inspectors from the United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM) investigating Iraq's weapons-of-mass-destruction (WMD) programmes, or with inspectors from the IAEA investigating Iraq's nuclear programme. Iraq stated that its non-cooperation - a violation of a host of UN Security Council resolutions - was a response to persistent political bias against it shown by UNSCOM, which Iraq accuses of being dominated by US influence and Washington's determination to see sanctions against Baghdad maintained. September saw no breakout from the impasse, and no resumption of disarmament work by UNSCOM or the IAEA.

On 9 September, the UN Security Council unanimously adopted resolution 1194, suspending the Council's regular 60-day review of sanctions until such time as Iraq resumes full cooperation with UNSCOM and the IAEA. Under operative paragraph 3 of the resolution, the Council decides "not to conduct the review scheduled for October 1998...and not to conduct any further such reviews until Iraq rescinds its...decision of 5 August...and the Special Commission and the IAEA report to the Council that they are satisfied that they have been able to exercise the full range of activities provided for in their mandates, including inspections." However, the resolution did extend an olive-branch to Iraq: preambular paragraph 12 expresses the Council's "readiness to consider, in a comprehensive review, Iraq's compliance with its obligations under all relevant resolutions once Iraq has rescinded its [5 August] decision and demonstrated that it is prepared to fulfill all its obligations, including in particular on disarmament issues," and, "to that end," welcomes "the proposal by the Secretary-General for such a comprehensive review." The paragraph also invites "the Secretary-General to provide his views in that regard." This aspect of the resolution was immediately welcomed by Iraq's UN Ambassador Nizar Hamdoon, who stated (10 September) that "the more the Secretary-General is prominent, the more Iraq gets interested in the whole matter" of a comprehensive review. Nonetheless, on 14 September Iraq's National Assembly demanded the "cancelling" of resolution 1194 "in order to conduct a dialogue free from pressure and threats." The Assembly further urged the Iraqi leadership to "take appropriate measures against the American and British elements working within UNSCOM and the IAEA as it is proved that some of them had carried out spying activities on Iraq."

On 28 September, Iraq's Deputy Prime Minister, Tariq Aziz, discussed the situation with Secretary-General Annan. Afterwards, he told reporters that the "idea that Iraq should do this or that concession before the comprehensive review takes place is not legal and is not logical... Iraq has complied with UN resolutions and the Council is not taking any steps to lift sanctions."

Ex-UNSCOM Inspector Slams US, Lauds Israel

On 27 August, former US Marine Corps Captain Scott Ritter resigned from his position as a senior UNSCOM inspector in protest at what he described as the exercise of US political influence to limit the Special Commission's ability to discharge its duties. Ritter was immediately invited to give evidence to the US Congress. On 3 September, he told a joint hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations and Armed Services Committees: "I can say without fear of contradiction, and with the confidence that most of my former colleagues agree with me...that the United States has undermined [UNSCOM] efforts through interference and manipulation. ... The United States has on repeated occasions put pressure on the Executive Chairman [Richard Butler of Australia] to stop, postpone or cancel scheduled inspections... Intervention came from the highest levels including the Secretary of State herself..." Albright responded the same day: "He doesn't have a clue about what our overall plan has been, that we are the foremost supporter of UNSCOM, that we have inspired really more inspections than anybody else."

Speaking in Jerusalem on 28 September, Ritter favourably compared the attitude, and influence, of Israel to that of his own country: "I can honestly say that if weren't for Israel, the Special Commission would not have been able to carry out the anti-concealment effort... The US treated concealment more as an academic exercise, and I thought Israel treated it as it is: a matter of life and death."

Reports on Iraq's Nuclear Capability

On 30 September, the Washington Post reported that UNSCOM had told the US Government, in 1996 and again in 1997, that Iraq possessed three or four "implosion devices" capable of containing a nuclear weapon. US State Department spokesperson James Foley commented that day: "We cannot conform these allegations... There's little doubt, however, that Iraq has sought a nuclear capability and has withheld information and weapons-related items from UN inspectors." Similar claims were made during Scott Ritter's Congressional testimony of 3 September, when he claimed that UNSCOM possessed "intelligence information which indicates that components necessary for three nuclear weapons exist" but that Iraq "lack[s] the fissile material."

Doubt Over VX Claims

As reported in Disarmament Diplomacy No. 27 & Disarmament Diplomacy No. 28, a major controversy erupted in late June when the US, and UNSCOM Chair Richard Butler, claimed that Iraqi warhead fragments showed traces of VX nerve gas. If true, the evidence clearly contradicted Iraq's long-standing claim that it never armed warheads with VX, or any other biological-warfare agent. To verify the claims, a team of UN experts retrieved 80 warhead fragments from Iraq in mid-July, taking them for analysis at laboratories in France and Switzerland. By mid-September, reports were appearing suggesting that no traces of VX had been discovered. While not confirming these reports, US Defense Department spokesperson Kenneth Bacon told reporters on 17 September: "The United States does stand behind its findings... What the French and Swiss find cannot invalidate them, because the fragments came from different places."

UN Humanitarian Relief Coordinator Resigns

On 30 September, Denis Halliday, the Coordinator of the UN's oil-for-food arrangements designed to alleviate humanitarian suffering in Iraq, resigned in protest at the "damage and futility" of the regime sanctions. Halliday told Reuters:

"It doesn't impact on governance effectively, and instead it damages the innocent people of the country. ... There is an awful incompatibility here, which I can't quite deal with myself. I just note that I feel extremely uncomfortable flying the UN flag, being part of the UN system here...[when] 4,000 to 5,000 children [are] dying unnecessarily every month due to the impact of sanctions because of the breakdown of water and sanitation, inadequate diet and the bad internal health situation."

Halliday also claimed that political support for sanctions in general, and the continuation of the sanctions regime against Iraq, was weakening significantly: "I'm beginning to see a change in the thinking of the United Nations, the Secretary-General, many of the Member States, who have realised through Iraq in particular that sanctions are a failure and the price you extract for sanctions is unacceptably high."

Reports: Ex-inspector provokes debate over Iraq policy, Reuters, 4 September; Ritter testifies before Senate, Associated Press, 4 September; Security Council cancels Iraqi sanctions review, United States Information Service, 9 September; Text - UN Security Council resolution on Iraqi sanctions, United States Information Service, 10 September; UN suspends Iraq sanctions review, Associated Press, 10 September; Iraq urges UN to review sanctions, Associated Press, 16 September; US stands by tests on Iraqi missiles, Reuters, 17 September; Iraq denies again filling missiles with deadly VX gas, Reuters, 19 September; Israel said to aid Iraq inspectors, Associated Press, 28 September; Iraq's Aziz refuses to budge on UN arms inspections, Reuters, 28 September; World - Middle East UN official blasts Iraq sanctions, BBC News, 30 September; Iraqi work toward A-bomb reported, Washington Post, 30 September; Experts cautious on Iraq's nuclear potential, Reuters, 30 September.

© 1998 The Acronym Institute.

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