- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 14, 2002

Earlier this month, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri failed to agree on the return of weapons inspectors to Iraq.
This was not surprising. Baghdad agreed to begin such discussions in March when U.S. military action against Saddam Hussein's regime looked imminent, from its standpoint. Accepting inspectors in some fashion is a tactic Iraq will employ to derail international support for an American military buildup against the regime. When the U.S. actually deploys forces, international pressure for a peaceful "solution" will rise and the leverage of an Iraqi "concession" on accepting inspectors will be far greater. Baghdad now judges Washington will not begin such actions before the end of the year at the earliest. Hence, the inspection card will not be played until later. In this context, even if inspectors get into Iraq, their prospects are dim.
The U.N. inspectors have been and will be caught between the conflicting goals of Baghdad, Washington and other Security Council members. Their ability to succeed is limited by Iraq's lack of cooperation and the council's inability to force compliance.
Baghdad views weapons of mass destruction as vital to the survival of the regime. Chemical weapons were instrumental in the war against Iran. Iraq believes its arsenal in 1991 helped deter the United States from proceeding to Baghdad.
The regime has every reason to associate these weapons with its own survival. Consider whether Washington would even be contemplating military action to depose the regime if Saddam had the capacity to detonate a nuclear explosive on U.S. forces or Tel Aviv.
U.N. inspections, at best, may delay or complicate Iraq's weapons program. The former weapons-inspection team, UNSCOM, endeavored for seven years to account for all Iraqi programs. That tortured experience yielded partial compliance by Baghdad. Iraq gave up what it was forced to expose, and retained the rest.
The continuous cat-and-mouse game along with episodic U.S. and British bombing has given Baghdad excellent practice in concealing its weapons.
The U.N. inspectors have, on paper, the right to immediate, unconditional, unrestricted access words that sound good in New York but are difficult to implement in Iraq.
Practicalities intrude. For example, is it reasonable to demand that Iraq turn off its entire air defense system so the inspectors may fly into Iraq anytime, and anywhere? Baghdad will reasonably point out that it has a legitimate air defense system and some accommodation must be made to provide information about U.N. flights. From this, the Iraqi government can derive warning information on inspections. Similar accommodations will sprout in virtually all inspection activities.
Iraq's close monitoring of all inspection activities meant "no-notice" inspections rarely equated to surprise inspections. UNSCOM conducted hundreds of no-notice inspections. However, only a few were truly surprise inspections, and they developed into confrontations, delays and blockages.
Further, as the U.N. resolutions are now written, it is up to the inspectors how extensive they wish to make their system. Whatever is deployed will be worked out between the inspectors and Iraq. The Security Council has not stated any performance criteria for the system. The absence of concrete directives puts U.N. inspectors in a weak position to demand a system elaborate and intrusive enough to make credible judgements about Iraqi disarmament.
If the U.N.-Iraqi process proceeds, how will we know if a serious inspection regime is planned? One test will be whether there is serious investigation of Iraq's activities since UNSCOM left in December 1998. Credible defectors have reported that Iraq has expanded its weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programs during this period. The U.N. database includes the 200-300 key engineers, scientists and technicians from Iraq's prior WMD programs. If the programs have continued, many of these individuals will be involved. Inspectors must interview these people without Iraqi government presence to verify their activities since 1998.
UNSCOM had agreed (mistakenly, in retrospect) to allow Iraqi government observers to be present at all interviews. Iraq was able to keep a complete record of all information transmitted to the inspectors, and this facilitated its control of the incomplete picture presented. It also allowed the intimidation of the interviewees (who were often terrified of saying something contrary to the established line.)
Ultimately, pursuit of more intrusive, credible, inspections will lead to conflict between inspectors and the Iraqis. This will land in the Security Council sooner or later, and the same messy debates from 1997-8 will recur. Does non-cooperation by Iraq mean they are not complying? Is war justified simply because some stubborn inspector was blocked from a sensitive security warehouse?
If the United States is serious about solving the Iraq problem, it should not center its argument for changing the management in Baghdad on the inspection issue.
Washington needs to make a broader case. It needs to show that the threat is broad and growing. Moreover, given the authoritarian nature of the regime, it is disingenuous to say the Iraqis should change their own government. Outside intervention is needed to create conditions under which Iraqis can change their government.
The tremendous potential of the Iraqi people combined with Iraq's resources will never be realized under this regime. A country that should have a vibrant society and be the engine of development in the Middle East will remain a contorted and dangerous mutant threatening the region and beyond. And the people will continue to suffer.

Charles Duelfer served as deputy chairman from 1993 to 2000 of the U.N. Special Commission (UNSCOM), which conducted weapons inspections in Iraq after the Persian Gulf war. He is a visiting scholar at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.


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