Iraq: the road to war

By Elizabeth Willmott Harrop

February 2003

This article was first published in the UN Chronicle Magazine under the title “the road to Iraq’s disarmament”

As the UN Chronicle went to press, three months had passed since the Security Council  adopted resolution 1441 (2000) on 8 November 2002, authorizing the return of United Nations weapons inspectors to Iraq.

On 27 November, the United Nations teams began on-site inspections for the first time in four years, and on 7 December, the Iraqi Government, in compliance with resolution 1441, handed to the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) a 12,000-page declaration on the country’s weapons programme. The Executive Chairman of UNMOVIC, Hans Blix, and the Director General of IAEA, Mohamed ElBaradei, regularly briefed the Council on the ongoing inspections.

On 5 February 2003, at an open ministerial-level meeting of the Council, chaired by Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer of Germany and attended by 12 Foreign Ministers, United States Secretary of State Colin Powell presented what he said was “solid” evidence that showed that Iraq still failed to disarm itself of chemical and biological weapons.

In his elaborate multimedia presentation, which included satellite photographs of alleged chemical weapons installations and intercepted telephone conversations, Mr. Powell detailed the apparent evacuation of chemical and biological weapons, indicated Iraqi links to terrorist networks and highlighted the country’s record of systematic human rights abuses.

Mr. Powell said Iraq continued to pose a threat to international peace and security by remaining in material breach of its disarmament obligations.

“Indeed, by its failure to seize on its one last opportunity to come clean and disarm, Iraq has put itself in deeper material breach and closer to the day when it will face serious consequences for its continued defiance of this Council”, he said. Operative paragraph 4 of resolution 1441 defines a further material breach as false statements or omissions in declarations and failure to cooperate fully in the implementation of the resolution. Underscoring his country’s firm stance, Mr. Powell implored the Council “not to shrink from whatever is ahead of us”.

Dismissing the charges of the United States, Ambassador Mohammed A. Aldouri of Iraq said the clear goal of the meeting had been to sell the idea of war against his country, without any legal, moral or political justification. Stressing that his country was totally free of weapons of mass destruction, Ambassador Aldouri reiterated Iraq’s commitment to continue to fully cooperate with the inspection teams, so they could finish their tasks as soon as possible and sanctions could be lifted. Noting that Mr. Powell could have presented his allegations directly to UNMOVIC and IAEA, which had thus far carried out 575 inspections covering 321 sites, he said his country would provide detailed and technical explanatory answers to all allegations made.

Following the presentation, all Council members agreed that Iraq needed to comply with all relevant resolutions in their entirety and completely eliminate its weapons of mass destruction.

Several States warned that time was running out for Iraq to comply with the Council’s resolutions. Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs of the United Kingdom Jack Straw said the Council had united to send Iraq an uncompromising message in resolution 1441: cooperate fully with weapons inspections or face disarmament by force. Spain’s Foreign Minister, Ana Palacio, said that the inspection process was not “an end in itself” and could only bear fruit with Iraq’s active cooperation. The Council’s credibility was at stake, she said, in the face of twelve years of consistent non-compliance.

Bulgaria’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, Solomon Passy, stressed that “effective and peaceful disarmament of Iraq was still possible” but said that if, in the near future, inspectors did not report a change of attitude on Iraq’s part, the Council would have to take “all necessary and appropriate action” to ensure implementation of all relevant resolutions.

Several States voiced their strong support for the continuation of United Nations inspections, saying that the inspectors should be given more time to do their work before resorting to war.

Germany’s Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said it was now decisive that the inspectors were provided with extensive material in order to be able to clarify the unresolved questions quickly and fully. He said that several States suspected the Iraqi regime was withholding relevant information and concealing military capabilities, and that suspicion needed to be dispelled beyond any doubt. Minister for Foreign Affairs Dominique de Villepin of France said that given the choice between military intervention and an inspections regime that was inadequate for lack of cooperation on Iraq’s part, the international community should choose to strengthen decisively the means of inspection.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Tang Jiaxuan of China said it was the universal desire of the international community to see a political settlement to the issue within the United Nations framework and to avoid war. Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said that resolution 1441 was geared towards speedy and practical results, but time frames were absent. Only the inspectors could determine how much time was needed for their task, he said.

Cameroon’s Minister of External Relations, François-Xavier Ngoubeyou, said that it would be wise to provide the inspectors with the new data and give them more time to do their job. Minister for Foreign Affairs Soledad Alvear Valenzuela of Chile said that a crucial stage was being entered in a situation involving many fears concerning the region and the world; and she was concerned at the consequences of ending the use of diplomatic channels.

Mexico’s Foreign Minister Luis Ernesto Derbez underlined his country’s confidence in the inspection process, saying he was in favour of intensifying and strengthening those inspections. Pakistan’s Foreign Minister, Kurshid M. Kasuri, said the information provided in the presentation enhanced the ability of the inspectors to identify areas of concern and pursue more specific lines of action.

Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs Georges Rebelo Chikoti of Angola said that the new elements underscored the importance of monitoring the situation within the framework of the Council. His own country was living testimony of the disastrous consequences of war, he said. Ambassador Mikhail Wehbe of the Syrian Arab Republic said Iraq and the inspectors should work out a common mode of cooperation in order to clarify the situation as soon as possible. Ambassador Mamady Traoré of Guinea said that while the promise of better cooperation was encouraging, Iraqi authorities needed to translate that promise into verifiable action.

On 9 February, the chief UN inspection officials returned to Baghdad for more talks with Iraqi authorities, while UN monitors pressed forward with inspections at facilities around the country. Mr. Blix and Mr. ElBaradei met for four hours with an Iraqi delegation headed by Gen. Amir Al-Saadi. Following the meeting, Mr. Blix said he saw signs that the Iraqi authorities were taking the disasrmament issues “more seriously”, and he reported that a number of documents concerning biological weapons and missiles had been turned over to UN officials for analysis.

Inspections So Far

8 November 2002: Security Council resolution 1441 (2002) aimed at returning United Nations weapons inspectors to Iraq is adopted by a unanimous vote.

13 November 2002: Iraq indicates its willingness to accept the return of UN weapons inspectors.

27 November 2002: After four-year hiatus, the United Nations teams start on-site inspections in Iraq.

7 December 2002: Iraq hands over a 12,000-page declaration on the country’s weapons programme to UNMOVIC and IAEA.

9 January 2003: Briefing the Council, UNMOVIC Executive Chairman Hans Blix and IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei said there were still many unanswered questions in Iraq’s arms declaration, although investigations on the ground had not yet uncovered any “smoking guns”.

27 January 2003: Security Council is briefed by Hans Blix on work over the past two months; Baghdad should be more forthcoming with information and allow greater access to key personnel with knowledge of the country’s weapons programmes, Mr. Blix said.

5 February 2003: United States Secretary of State Colin Powell presents what he says is “evidence, not conjecture” of Iraq’s failure to destroy illicit weapons.

8 February 2003: Hans Blix and Mohamed El Baradei return to Baghdad for a new round of talks with Iraqi officials.

14 February 2003: UN weapons inspectors expected to deliver a progress report to the Security Council.

27 March 2003: UN weapons inspectors are scheduled to issue a further report outlining list of key remaining disarmament tasks and a future work programme.

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