This commentary appeared in Newsday on September 19, 2002.
Once again, faced with the prospect of an attack on his country led by the
United States with United Nations backing, Iraqi President Saddam Hussein is
offering to play a game of high-stakes hide and seek with UN weapons inspectors.
The job of the UN inspectors - finding any missiles and chemical, biological
and nuclear weapons in Iraq, along with facilities to manufacture these weapons
- won't be easy.
Weeks or months could easily pass as the UN haggles with Iraqi officials over
the meaning of the Iraqi foreign minister's letter to the UN this week accepting
"unconditional" weapons inspections - which he said must still "respect the
sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of Iraq."
Arrangements will need to be made for the inspectors' offices, communications,
security, housing, and for the operation of helicopters, surveillance planes
and planes to guard the surveillance craft. Iraq can be expected to argue over
details every step of the way.
Once inspectors arrive in Iraq, they will be hosted by a regime that has repeatedly
tried to thwart the efforts of UN inspections since the United Nations first
ordered the elimination of Iraq's nuclear, biological and chemical weapons programs
after the nation's defeat in the Gulf War in 1991. The inspectors withdrew entirely
from Iraq in 1998, and Hussein has refused to let them back in, giving his regime
four years to find better hiding places for his weapons.
Since the UN does not have the satellite and electronic intercept capabilities
for gathering intelligence, it would need to rely on the assistance of national
governments to guide it to the right places to look for suspicious activities
in Iraq. During previous inspections of Iraq, this type of intelligence assistance
But nations may be reluctant to provide intelligence information for fear
of compromising their sources and methods. Before 1998, critical information
on the activity of the weapons inspectors was leaked to the Iraqi government
by UN personnel who were undercover Iraqi agents and by inspectors from governments
friendly toward Iraq.
In 1998, inspectors installed a fairly elaborate system of video cameras and
other equipment that monitored different sites around Iraq. In a country the
size of Iraq, this monitory infrastructure proved invaluable. But within a year
of the departure of UN inspectors, the Iraqis tampered with the monitoring equipment.
New weapons inspectors would need to assess how much of this monitoring infrastructure
remains in place and assess how long it will take to reconstruct it.
Understanding what the Iraqis have done in the last four years when inspectors
were not around is critical. For example, a large amount of material used to
cultivate the ingredients for biological weapons was imported by Iraq in the
1990s, but was never fully accounted for. And even before the departure of inspectors,
the Iraqis had accumulated enough equipment and material to produce new biological
weapons without obtaining anything more from abroad.
Iraq also may have placed chemical and biological weapons production laboratories
in mobile trailers that can easily be moved around the country. During the Gulf
War, United States and coalition forces experienced enormous difficulty in finding
Iraq's mobile Scud missile launchers. Finding mobile weapons laboratories could
be even harder.
To make new inspections more effective than previous inspections, inspectors
should be able to interview Iraqi scientists without Saddam Hussein's agents
present. Interviewing a large number of scientists already known to UN inspectors
may reveal inconsistencies in the stories of key scientists. These inconsistencies
may provide clues to hidden weapons activities.
Another useful approach would be to offer Iraqi scientists UN protection abroad
- though not necessarily urging them to defect - in exchange for telling what
they know about weapons development in their country in the last few years.
The international community needs to keep its expectations for weapons inspections
realistic. Inspectors will not be able to achieve high confidence that they
have found everything that may be hidden.
Given how committed Saddam Hussein has been to possess and wield weapons of
mass destruction, it is highly unlikely that he will stop playing hide and seek
and give up these weapons programs.
Explore All Topics »