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Inspections in Iraq: A Background Briefing

Non-Proliferation Project
Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

March 05, 2002


What did the UN inspections in Iraq accomplish? For background, the Non-Proliferation Project provides some history and analysis from Tracking Nuclear Proliferation, 1998 with an update from our forthcoming new edition due out in June 2002. Most officials and experts agree that the inspections destroyed far more of Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction capabilities than did the military campaign itself.

Excerpt from Tracking Nuclear Proliferation, 1998

The 1991 Gulf War and its aftermath set back Iraq's nuclear-weapons program many years. Many of the installations involved in the effort were destroyed or damaged by U.S. bombing raids during the conflict, although in some cases, key equipment had been previously removed from them. Other facilities, many of which had been unknown to the United States and its Coalition partners, were leveled by Iraq itself after the war in an effort to deceive the UN-IAEA inspectors about the nature of the installations. French- and Soviet-origin weapons-usable uranium that Iraq had obtained for running research reactors supplied by these countries was placed in IAEA custody and was eventually removed from Iraq.

In October 1991, the inspectors started to destroy enrichment-related equipment, as well as equipment related to the separation of plutonium from spent reactor fuel, which they had discovered in earlier inspections…On September 19, 1994, IAEA Director General Hans Blix stated that his agency had completed the destruction, removal, or rendering harmless of all known nuclear weapons-usable material, facilities, and equipment in Iraq that might have the potential to contribute to the development of nuclear weapons.

The defection of Lt. General Hussein Kamel (former Iraqi Minister of Industry and Military Industrialization) to Jordan on August 8, 1995, prompted the Iraqi Government to invite UNSCOM Chairman Ekeus and an IAEA delegation to Baghdad, so that it could disclose new information about past non-conventional weapons activities that allegedly had been withheld by General Kamel. During these discussions, and in subsequent inspections, it was revealed that following the invasion of Kuwait in August 1990 Iraq embarked on a "crash program" to develop a nuclear device by extracting weapons-grade material from safeguarded research reactor fuel. The Iraqis also disclosed that they had pursued an extensive biological warfare program and had produced and weaponized a large number of biological agents, including 10 tons of anthrax, botulinum toxin, and an agent called aflatoxin. Moreover, Iraq acknowledged that its chemical weapons program had continued until December 1990 (not September 1988, as previously claimed), producing sufficient quantities of precursor materials for almost 500 tons of the nerve agent VX. In addition, Iraqi officials disclosed that Iraqi engineers had also made advances in the development and production of ballistic missiles beyond what Iraq had reported earlier to UNSCOM inspectors.

The scope and magnitude of Iraq's WMD capabilities just prior to the 1991 Gulf War was one element of these disclosures. The other was the role these capabilities played in the strategic calculus of Saddam Hussein. In the nuclear realm, Saddam Hussein ordered an accelerated effort to fabricate a single nuclear device as soon as possible. This would have provided him with the ultimate symbol of military power and, possibly, a deterrent against the Coalition forces as the confrontation over Kuwait evolved. In parallel, Saddam Hussein an alternative "strategic" capability. Iraq filled about 25 missile warheads and 150 to 200 bombs with biological agents and dispersed them in forward storage positions for rapid employment. Similar arrangements were made for 50 missile warheads that were filled with chemical agents. Reportedly, Saddam Hussein fully intended to use chemical weapons and gave local commanders authority to use them at their discretion, perhaps as a last resort if the Iraqi border was breached or in the event Baghdad was attacked with weapons of mass destruction.

Iraq's interest in preserving as many of its WMD-related capabilities as possible in spite of UN resolutions was reflected in its strategy of frustrating and hindering the UN inspection process in March 1996, and again in June and July 1996, when the Iraqis delayed UN inspectors from getting access to legitimate inspection sites. This was particularly apparent in inspections focusing on the ballistic missile program but also, to some extent, on the chemical and biological weapons programs. In this context, on April 11, UNSCOM reported to the Security Council that "the Commission has serious concerns that a full accounting and disposal of Iraq's holdings of prohibited items has not been made." During 1997 Iraq blocked or hindered a number of UNSCOM inspections relating to its chemical and biological programs, culminating in a standoff with the United Nations in late October 1997.

Update from the draft of "Tracking Proliferation" (June 2002)

In the fall of 1998, Saddam Hussein grew in defiance, having succeeded in gaining sympathy in the Arab world and taking advantage of the sanctions rift in the Security Council. By December 15, UNSCOM chief Richard Butler reported that "Iraq's conduct ensured that no progress was able to be made in the fields of disarmament." Saddam Hussein refused to allow inspectors unfettered access inside Iraq, without a firm commitment to lift all remaining sanctions. As a result, the stand-off led to the withdrawal of all UN inspection-related personnel on 16 December 1998, followed by military action that night by the United States and the United Kingdom. United Nations Security Council Resolution 1284 adopted in December 1999 established a follow-on inspection regime in the form of the Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) to continue UNSCOM's work. It has not begun its inspections due to Iraq's refusal to permit their inspections until sanctions are lifted.








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