The purpose of this study is to:
1) Describe the unconventional agents and delivery systems that Iraq retains and the very considerable threat they pose. This fact has been regularly reported by UNSCOM since late 1995, but only now has international attention been drawn to this issue.
2) Analyze the crisis and international response. It will suggest Iraq is trying to secure an end to sanctions while retaining large quantities of proscribed agents, by attacking and politicizing UNSCOM. Since UNSCOM has the entirely laudable mission of removing exceedingly dangerous material from Saddam Hussein, one might think it has the full backing of the United States. Unfortunately, that is not so.
3) Ask what will happen next. Over time, the policy of President Bill Clinton has been reduced merely to maintaining sanctions on Iraq. Yet so far sanctions have failed to cause Saddam to relinquish his proscribed capabilities and it is hard to see how they can be sustained for the rest of Saddam’s natural life. The Clinton administration treats Iraq as a UN issue, a reversal of the situation during the 1991 Gulf war, when the United States energetically led an international coalition. Thus, almost all matters dealing with Iraq eventually pass through the Security Council (UNSC) where there is only limited support for U.S. policy. In fact, the majority of permanent UNSC members–Russia, China, and France–want sanctions lifted. And that may happen. This essay will also seek to make clear just what the price of such a failure might be.
THE WEAPONS IN IRAQ’S CURRENT ARSENAL
The unconventional agents Iraq possesses are extraordinarily lethal. The biological and chemical materials in question are among the most dangerous substances known to man. Like the hydrogen bomb, they are essentially products of the early years of the Cold War. Deterrence worked to ensure that the United States and USSR never used such weapons against each other. But today the technology, now 50 years’ old, is no longer held solely by the industrialized nations. It has been acquired by countries like Iraq.
Deterrence cannot be taken for granted. Fred Ikle, undersecretary of defense in the Reagan administration, made this point in another context. Writing about possible terrorist acts employing such agents, Ikle noted, ‘The fact that [unconventional agents] were not used during the Cold War has led to a tendency to project their non-use into the future. But that is an assumption which may not prove valid.’
Until the recent crisis, the Clinton administration had acted as if Baghdad was powerless. In December 1996, for example, National Security Council advisor designate, Samuel Berger, described U.S. policy toward Iraq in his first major foreign policy statement as, ‘A little bit like a Whack-a-Mole game at the circus. They bop up and you whack `em down.’  Such attitudes do not encourage confidence that the White House has thought seriously about deterrence vis-a-vis Iraq.
Indeed, the Department of Defense does assume that unconventional weapons would be used in future wars. The Pentagon’s May 1997 ‘Report of the Quadrennial Defense Review’ concluded that ‘the threat or use of nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons is a likely condition of future warfare,’ a prediction repeated in the Pentagon’s November 25, 1997, ‘Proliferation: Threat and Response.’ Moreover, as the U.S. Secretary of Defense, William Cohen, wrote recently, ‘The front line could just as easily be Washington or New York as in the Middle East or the Korean peninsula.’  In other words, war with a country like Iraq or North Korea could entail terrorist attacks using unconventional agents against the U.S. civilian population.
Commonly, the Aum Shinrikiyo sect’s March, 1995 attack in the Tokyo subway with the deadly nerve agent, sarin gas, is cited as precedent for such an assault. Yet that example has only served to reinforce the popular complacency about such agents. One of the greatest difficulties in carrying out such an attack is to achieve a proper dispersal of the agent. Notably, Aum Shinrikiyo failed to accomplish that and the Tokyo fatalities were light. Twelve people died, far less than the number of deaths caused by conventional terrorist bombings. Yet an attack using unconventional agents and carried out by professional terrorists trained by a state, according to former CIA director James Woolsey, could result in 50,000 or more fatalities; a biological attack could produce 500,000 or more fatalities. 
One would think that, given such dangers, the most extreme care would be taken to ensure that Iraq never had the opportunity to use such material. But that has not been the case. In August 1995, Hussein Kamil, Saddam’s son-in-law who had overseen Iraq’s unconventional weapons program, defected to Jordan. Until then, it had been thought that most of Iraq’s proscribed agents had been destroyed during the 1991 Gulf war and that UNSCOM was slowly but steadily removing what remained.
Following Kamil’s defection, it was learned that was not true. Iraq’s most lethal agents had survived the Gulf war and Baghdad had managed to conceal that from UNSCOM. Moreover, even after UNSCOM learned of the concealed stockpiles, Iraq refused to turn over any of the proscribed agents since it claimed already to have destroyed the material. Thus, every report that UNSCOM has produced since December 17, 1995, has detailed the problem of the considerable unconventional capabilities Iraq retains.
Yet until quite recently the United States acted as if the information that came to light as a result of Kamil’s defection was insignificant. Washington’s response was merely to affirm the old policy of maintaining sanctions on Iraq, while dissuading others from raising the problem. Thus, until the present crisis, the Clinton administration failed to describe the danger posed by Iraq’s unconventional agents. Since U.S. policy was ‘containment’– defined above all as maintaining sanctions–it was felt to be unnecessary to point out unpleasant facts that may have raised questions as to the adequacy of containment as the US goal.
Since Kamil’s defection, Iraq has acknowledged producing 2,265 gallons of anthrax. Anthrax is extraordinarily lethal. Inhalation of just one-ninth of a millionth of a gram is fatal in most instances. Iraq’s stockpile could kill ‘billions’ of people if properly disseminated and dispersed.  Anthrax, unlike some other biological agents, has an extremely long shelf-life. Although Baghdad claims to have destroyed its anthrax stockpile, it can produce no documents to support that assertion, while UNSCOM interviews of Iraqi personnel allegedly involved in the purported destruction produced contradictory accounts. Thus, no reasonable person credits the claim.
Also last spring, UNSCOM discovered that Iraq was involved in the production of a previously undeclared biological agent, which UNSCOM then described only as ‘a fast-acting toxin, suitable for use on the battlefield.’ Much later, the U.S. Secretary of Defense explained that Iraq had produced ricin. Ricin is extracted from the castor bean and as Cohen explained, ‘is one of the most deadly poisons on earth and there is no antidote….Iraq has been planting hundreds, if not thousands, of acres of castor beans.’ 
Nor is the problem limited to biological agents. The chemical nerve agent, VX, invented by a British scientist in the early 1950s, is extremely dangerous, in fact the most lethal chemical agent known in the West. A one-hundredth of a gram is fatal. Unlike most chemical agents, which dissipate quickly and for which a gas mask is adequate protection, VX is viscous, sticky, and persistent. And it is absorbed through the skin. For a person to have contact with an object contaminated by VX would cause immediate death.
Iraq has acknowledged producing 3.9 tons of VX but, as with its biological stockpile, claims to have destroyed it all. Of course, even if this claim were to be true–which is unlikely–Iraq can produce still more. It had two parallel production facilities. One, used to produce VX, was destroyed by UNSCOM. But a duplicate program was built around the manufacture of pesticides. It was never used for VX production but the technology is the same and is completely transferable. The equipment is still in Iraq, along with some 750 tons of VX chemical precursors, which Iraq acknowledged importing but maintains were destroyed during the Gulf war, another claim UNSCOM rejects. Indeed, recent U.S. estimates of Iraq’s VX production run as high as 200 tons.
As Secretary of Defense William Cohen explained recently, the United States suspects that Iraq is still hiding ‘dozens’ of SCUD missiles which could include special warheads suitable for delivering chemical and biological agents. It is unclear whether Baghdad has mastered the technology to cause the warheads to burst in mid-air. If a warhead detonated on impact as the missile hit the ground, it would not cause extensive damage. A mid-air burst is necessary to achieve the dissemination of an unconventional agent that would kill most human beings nearby. Still, if even one Iraqi missile with a biological warhead were to explode as intended over a Middle East city, it would mean the annihilation of an unprotected population.
Ballistic missiles are not the only way Iraq could deliver unconventional agents nor are they necessarily the best way. It is possible to protect a population against most unconventional agents through civil defense procedures, including the distribution of gas masks also effective against biological agents. An incoming missile would be spotted and the population could be alerted, as happened in Israel during the 1991 Gulf war. Yet if Iraq were to use other means of delivering unconventional agents, authorities might have no foreknowledge. Several methods are technologically easier than achieving mid-air SCUD missile bursts and Iraq has pursued them.
Last summer, U.S. Customs in Miami intercepted an Iraqi attempt to smuggle 34 used US military helicopters through Canada and a front company in the Philippines. Sixteen of the helicopters had been modified to disburse airborne chemicals. The helicopters were the same type–small, fast and highly maneuverable–that had been extensively deployed by U.S. forces during the Gulf war.  Although that shipment was blocked, Baghdad could have obtained military helicopters from other countries and probably did.
UNSCR 687 prohibited Iraq from keeping ballistic missiles, like SCUDS, but it was allowed to retain cruise missiles. Iraq’s cruise missiles are regularly checked and tagged by UNSCOM. Yet if UNSCOM operations were to cease in Iraq, the missiles could be modified to carry unconventional agents. Also, UNSCR 687 said nothing about air defense missiles. Iraq possesses one such missile, the SA-2, which could be used to deliver unconventional agents on targets in the Gulf.
Iraq has also developed spraying devices for airplanes that would be suitable for the dissemination of biological agents, as former UNSCOM chairman, Rolf Ekeus has explained. They could be used either to support a military operation or in a terrorist attack. The main Iraqi opposition group, the Iraqi National Congress, with excellent sources in Baghdad, reported last summer that Iraq had converted agricultural aircraft into unmanned drones, suitable for spraying unconventional agents.  War games conducted at the U.S. Naval War College in the summer of 1995 included an Iraqi attack on U.S. aircraft carriers in the Persian Gulf using specially rigged crop-dusting aircraft. That exercise also included a biological terrorist attack on a Saudi city that was estimated as capable of killing over a million people. 
Moreover, there is also a potential nuclear problem in regard to Iraq. Following Hussein Kamil’s defection, it was learned that Iraq had been much further along in developing an atomic bomb than anyone had imagined.  Quite possibly, all Iraq lacks is the fissile material. With Russia’s present economic decrepitude, that material might well be for sale. Recent Israeli estimates are that Iraq would probably have a bomb within a year if sanctions were to end and UNSCOM monitoring to cease or be rendered ineffectual. 
As these problems became known after Kamil’s defection, regional parties responded with great concern. In September 1995, Kuwait’s Foreign Minister visited Riyadh for a meeting with King Fahd to coordinate policy toward Jordan, given King Hussein’s sharp turn against Iraq. But King Fahd had just been briefed on Baghdad’s biological weapons. He refused to discuss anything else. In February 1996, a senior Saudi official, referring to the possibility that Saddam might actually use the unconventional agents he retained, told this author, ‘After all we’ve been through, please don’t tell me that there is anything that man [Saddam] wouldn’t do.’
The Clinton administration’s general response to concerns on these issues was to say that the United States was handling the problem. But there was no new response. For example, in December 1995, Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres and Foreign Minister Ehud Barak visited Washington. Both expressed concern about what had been learned about Iraq’s nuclear program and the possibility of a breakthrough. Barak did so in exceptionally strong terms in a meeting with Secretary of Defense William Perry. U.S. notes of the meeting described Barak as having made, ‘An emotional personal appeal.’ Yet the Clinton administration did nothing.
Barak then went on to criticize publicly UN Security Council resolution 986, which Baghdad had begun to discuss with UN authorities. If it were implemented, a substantial part of the money Iraq was spending on humanitarian goods could then be shifted to proscribed purposes. Instead of addressing the problem, the administration told Barak not to criticize the resolution, saying it would be bad for the peace process. Apparently, a similar answer was given Israeli officials who raised these issues in early 1997. IRAQ’S STRATEGY FOR ENDING SANCTIONS
In setting off the 1997 crisis, Iraq’s behavior was well-planned, cunning, and consistent with its strategy for lifting sanctions. ‘You create a crisis, aggravate the crisis, defuse the crisis and you have changed the dynamics in your negotiations,’ as a Western diplomat described Iraq’s 1994 lunge at Kuwait.  That move was also carried out with an eye to lifting sanctions.
Then, it was generally accepted that most of Iraq’s proscribed weapons had been found. In late 1994 and early 1995, once Iraq formally recognized Kuwait, a strong momentum built to lift sanctions. But UNSCOM’s discovery that Iraq had an undeclared biological weapons program–first revealed in its April 10, 1995 report–blocked that drive. Saddam had already made the decision he would not relinquish any of Iraq’s stockpile. Hence after the April 10 report, UNSCOM could not give Iraq the clean bill of health required by UNSCR 687. Hussein Kamil’s defection a few months later only dramatically underscored the fact that much of Iraq’s unconventional weapons capability remained hidden.
The 1997 crisis, in significant respects, followed that pattern. But it also showed a serious flaw in the Clinton administration’s approach to Iraq. Washington Post columnist Jim Hoagland, after Saddam’s August 1996 assault on the Kurdish city of Irbil decimated the U.S.-backed Iraqi opposition, described this situation as, ‘The administration’s growing inability to tell the world–and itself–the truth.’ 
In 1996, Washington’s claim of ‘success’ after that confrontation precipitated brief protests, but the affair passed without lasting political consequence. In contrast, the administration in 1997 faced a howl of protest when it claimed that this confrontation too had been a success. After all, the heart of the confrontation involved Iraq’s possession of weapons of mass destruction in extraordinary quantities. If not handled properly, the issue could have dramatic, possibility catastrophic, consequences.
The October 29 statement issued by Iraq’s Revolutionary Command Council announcing Baghdad’s intent to expel the American staff of UNSCOM, ‘Recalled the backgrounds of the previous meetings the RCC and the Iraq [Ba’th party] Command held for the same purpose, or for similar purposes, particularly since 16 March, 1997.’ 
That is a very significant date. On March 16, the Iraqi cabinet met and was briefed by Foreign Minister Mohammad Said al- Sahhaf on the results of meetings he had held in New York with UNSCOM and in Vienna with the International Atomic Energy Agency, responsible for ensuring the destruction of Iraq’s nuclear program, under the terms of UNSCR 687. Sahhaf would have presented a pessimistic report on the prospects for lifting sanctions.
UNSCOM’s position, then as now, was that Iraq retained a massive VX stockpile, its biological program remained largely secret and undeclared and certainly none of its stockpile had been turned over. Also, UNSCOM believed that Iraq retained a significant number of SCUD missiles, described by Ambassador Ekeus as ‘a complete missile force.’ Therefore, Sahhaf’s March 16 report to the cabinet about the prospects for lifting sanctions could only have been quite negative. Thus, the Iraqi leadership began to prepare for the confrontation it would precipitate later in the year, as the RCC’s October 29 statement suggested.
Already in June, the last month of the tenure of outgoing UNSCOM chairman, Rolf Ekeus, Baghdad provoked a confrontation with the UN weapons inspectors. Perhaps Baghdad’s intent was, in part, to set new ground rules for its relationship with UNSCOM and intimidate the incoming chairman, Ambassador Richard Butler, an Australian diplomat who was to assume his post July 1. The confrontation, which received scant public notice, was a foretaste of the more serious dispute to come four months later, both in terms of Iraq’s determined stance and the weakness of the U.S. response. Quite possibly, both Baghdad and Moscow were encouraged to believe by these events that they could get away with much more later on.
On June 10, Ekeus reported to the Security Council about a fresh series of Iraqi obstructions, including interference with UNSCOM’s helicopter monitoring flights. In one case, an Iraqi shut off the fuel pump of a helicopter. In another, an Iraqi grabbed the pilot controls. In both cases, the Iraqis’ actions endangered the lives of all those aboard the helicopters, including UNSCOM personnel.
Even after Ekeus reported such flagrant and reckless activity to the Security Council, Baghdad proceeded over the next two days to block three more UNSCOM inspections. The Iraqi officials claimed that the highest levels of government had ordered the blockages. UNSCOM was concerned that the incidents represented a change of policy, not merely chance events. As Ekeus wrote the Security Council June 12, ‘We are concerned that a decision has been taken by the government of Iraq to prevent full implementation of the commission’s mandate.’
The next day, the Security Council issued a statement that it ‘deplores these incidents and underlines that Iraq must immediately take effective steps to put an end to all such actions. The Council reminds Iraq of its obligations….’ Much earlier, Ekeus had publicly complained of such warnings, likening the language to a reminder one might receive for not paying a dentist bill. After all, if no specific and serious punishment were imposed on Baghdad, why should it pay attention to what was said in New York?
Predictably, more Iraqi obstreperousness followed. The next day, June 14, Iraq’s Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz accused the UNSCOM chairman of trying to provoke a split between Baghdad and the Security Council. Two days later, in a June 16 letter to the Security Council, Aziz charged that the three inspections that Iraq had blocked were led by Americans, who had been acting not in their capacity as UN arms inspectors, but as spies for Washington. On June 19, Iraq’s Foreign Minister wrote the Security Council asserting that Iraq had fulfilled all its obligations under UNSCR 687 and that UNSCOM should complete its work ‘without procrastination,’ after which ‘the Security Council should immediately start discussing the implementation of Paragraph 22’ [proscribing oil sales] of Resolution 687.
Washington began to press for the Security Council to do more, but found Russia and France unamenable. The industrialized nations, including Russia, were then holding a summit in Denver, Colorado. Clinton raised the matter of Iraq with Russian president Boris Yeltsin. Still, the Security Council action that followed was essentially meaningless.
Having exhausted almost all other forms of international sanctions, the United States proposed a novelty–travel sanctions. It hoped to get the Security Council to pass a resolution that would ban the international travel of officials involved in blocking UNSCOM inspections, like Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz. The notion that this could possibly be an adequate response to Iraq’s retaining dangerous, proscribed unconventional capabilities in flagrant violation of the Gulf war ceasefire simply underscored the inadequacy of using the Security Council as a venue for dealing with the problem.
The United States succeeded in securing the passage of a resolution on June 21, but it was a very odd one. UNSCR 1115 proposed imposing ‘additional measures on those categories of Iraqi officials responsible for the non-compliance,’ if UNSCOM in its next report, due in October, said Iraq was still blocking its activities. It was understood that those measures would not be applied to high-ranking officials like Tariq Aziz but at most enforced on lesser individuals who, ironically, were not even allowed to travel any way, because of the sensitive information they knew.
IRAQ LAUNCHES A CRISIS
Despite the limited character of UNSCR 1115, Baghdad responded strongly. The RCC and Ba’th Party leadership held a joint meeting the next day, after which a statement was issued. It asserted ‘Iraq has complied with and applied all relevant resolutions, led by the destruction of weapons, equipment, buildings, installations, and means related to the banned arms, as well as personnel.’ The statement demanded ‘with unequivocal clarity that the Security Council fulfill its commitments toward Iraq…and fully and totally lift the blockade imposed on Iraq, beginning with the implementation of paragraph 22 of Security Council Resolution 687.’
Such a statement had a clear meaning that Baghdad would not give up any more proscribed material. Or at least, that was Iraq’s firm intent. The only way to alter Baghdad’s intentions would have been to increase pressure on Baghdad. Extensive military action might have caused Saddam to change his mind and might still do so. Yet the Clinton administration long ago abandoned any serious attempt to take such a course. Rather, it used UNSCOM cynically. As long as UNSCOM reported that Iraq was retaining significant quantities of proscribed agents and otherwise obstructing its work, the United States felt sanctions could be kept on Baghdad.
But Washington’s cynicism was matched by that of others, like Russia, France, and China. If Washington did not care about Iraq’s retention of large amounts of proscribed weapons, in violation of the Gulf war ceasefire, why should they? But whereas Washington wanted to use Baghdad’s obstinacy to keep sanctions on indefinitely, regardless of the suffering imposed on the Iraqi population–Russia, France and China were ready to address the same situation by advocating the lifting of sanctions.
Thus, UNSCOM was left without any real support from the Security Council. The outgoing chairman gave several presentations to warn of UNSCOM’s precarious position and remind his listeners of just what was at stake. In two talks in Washington, Ekeus explained, ‘The central question is what is the United States prepared to do regarding Iraq and its weapons of mass destruction. As for the relation between Saddam and the international community, the situation is that the war is not over. If the situation is left unresolved, we will come to see the Gulf war as a brief parenthesis with no lasting significance….We are nothing in Baghdad. We are at their complete mercy. They can just stop our work at any time. The Security Council must increase its support for us. Basically, the United States must do so.’
The warning fell on deaf ears and another, bigger confrontation followed a few months later.
The new UNSCOM chairman began his tenure with some exceptionally conciliatory pronouncements intended to distance himself from the tensions of his predecessor’s last month in office. Following Ambassador Butler’s first visit to Baghdad in late July, for example, he announced that ‘a new spirit of cooperation’ had been established.’  However, it was not long before old problems resurfaced. UNSCOM inspections were again blocked, in mid-September, and UNSCOM’s October 10 report revealed that virtually no progress had been made in obtaining Iraq’s proscribed unconventional agents. Moreover, it specifically highlighted the fact that Iraq continued to withhold substantial information about its biological weapons program, which in Butler’s words, remained a ‘black hole.’
The United States responded to the problem as it had before. It went to the Security Council to secure the passage of another resolution. UNSCR 1134, which was passed October 23, essentially repeated the substance of UNSCR 1115. Travel sanctions would be imposed on Iraqi officials six months hence if Baghdad continued to block UNSCOM inspections.
Yet Baghdad had already determined to embark on a confrontation. Iraq’s Foreign Minister, then in New York for Security Council discussions, responded to the resolution by immediately denouncing the United States and Britain for imposing ‘their own sick motives and norms’ on the Security Council. Sahhaf explained, ‘In this situation, we emphasize Iraq’s position that it is now [up] to our leadership and the Iraqi people to decide what are the alternatives to protect our country against this flagrant preparation to impose more injustices on our country and our people.’ 
The next day, on October 24, the RCC called on Iraq’s National Assembly to meet in emergency session, which it did October 25 and 26. Significantly, Iraq’s Deputy Prime Minister formally restated the Iraqi government’s position to the parliament. Tariq Aziz affirmed that Iraq no longer had any proscribed material, telling parliament that Iraq’s disarmament had been achieved ‘at the end of 1991 and the first months of 1992.’ Asserting that ‘recent events have proven that it is the U. S. administration that is directing UNSCOM and doing everything to prolong the embargo,’ he called for ‘a new mechanism in relations between Iraq and UNSCOM and the UN Security Council to reorganize the relationship aiming to lift the unfair embargo.’ 
That is what Baghdad seeks in the ongoing crisis. It says so clearly, plainly, and repeatedly. But it is unclear whether those who need to understand Iraq’s intentions and defeat them, above all the United States and its allies, really do understand or that they are prepared to mobilize and devote the necessary time, energy, and resources to ensure that Baghdad does not succeed.
Following the assembly ‘debate,’ on October 28, the assembly speaker, Sadun Hammadi, presented a report to the RCC on its ‘recommendations.’ The next day, October 29, following a meeting with the Iraqi Command of the Ba’th Party, the RCC issued its statement announcing Baghdad’s intent to expel Americans working for UNSCOM within a week. Even though Iraq is a totalitarian dictatorship and its attempt to create the appearance of a legitimate political process entirely fraudulent, the formality of the Iraqi proceedings did underscore the seriousness of Baghdad’s intentions.
But that seriousness was not matched in Washington. As the crisis began and as it temporarily ebbed a month later, the Clinton administration maintained that the problem was first and foremost a matter for the UN to handle. Since Iraq was a threat to the international community, dealing with that threat was the international community’s job. Thus, Iraq was simultaneously everyone’s responsibility and no one’s obligation.
Following Baghdad’s October 29 announcement, the United States turned to the UN Secretary General, who was given a task not ordinarily given to UN bureaucrats. That he did not handle it well was little surprise. On November 2, Kofi Anan announced that he was sending a three-man diplomatic mission to Baghdad. But what were they supposed to discuss? There was properly only a demand to be made–that Iraq rescind its expulsion order–and there was only one acceptable response. A week later, after traveling to Baghdad and back, Anan’s mission reported to the Security Council on November 10 that it had no success.
Meanwhile, UNSCOM inspections had effectively ceased as of October 30. Following the proclamation of its expulsion order, Baghdad maintained that no Americans could be part of the UNSCOM teams working in Iraq. But UNSCOM was keen to maintain the principle that its staff should not be discriminated against on the basis of nationality. The UNSCOM teams went out with an American and the Iraqis turned them away. In addition, on November 5, Butler reported to the Security Council that Iraq had begun tampering with UNSCOM monitoring cameras and moving equipment that had been under observation. The concern arose that Baghdad was exploiting the opportunity to use that machinery to produce proscribed unconventional agents.
For the third time in six months, the United States responded to Iraqi obduracy with an effort to have the Security Council pass a resolution banning the international travel of certain Iraqi officials. The United States finally obtained that with the November 12 passage of UNSCR 1137, although it was still obliged to compromise on the language used.
Iraq responded as it had to the two earlier UNSC resolutions–with defiance. The next day, November 13, the RCC issued a statement demanding that UNSCOM’s American staff leave Iraq immediately by road, traveling through Jordan. Baghdad refused a request from Butler that the Americans be allowed to leave by air with the rest of the UNSCOM staff, whom he was withdrawing the next day in protest at the Iraqi move and for their own personal protection.
It was only in the context of repeated Iraqi defiance and weak support for the United States at the UN that senior Clinton administration officials finally began to explain the nature of the dangers posed by Iraq’s unconventional agents. But there was still much obfuscation. On November 11, while marking Veteran’s day at Arlington cemetery, Clinton affirmed, ‘Saddam’s efforts to rebuild his weapons of mass destruction and his interference with the UN inspectors who are keeping him from doing so are unacceptable.’ Yet the problem was not just Iraqi efforts to rebuild such weapons. Even more so, the problem was that Iraq already had those weapons, as the United States had known since late 1995.
A former U.S. government official described that posture, taken by the president and others, as ‘the big lie.’ Indeed, what most senior U.S. officials said during the crisis bore little relationship, if any, to reality. The notable exception was Secretary of Defense William Cohen who repeatedly and clearly explained the dangers of Iraq’s proscribed unconventional agents, as detailed in the first part of this essay.
Thus, after the passage of UNSCR 1137 Clinton hailed it as ‘prompt, clear and strong,’  while Secretary of State Madeleine Albright affirmed, ‘The resolution will make it clear once again that the present dispute is not between Iraq and the United States, but between Iraq and the law, Iraq and the Security Council, Iraq and the world.’  More realistic was the assessment of Washington Post columnist, Charles Krauthammer, who denounced it as ‘one of the most pathetic resolutions in the history of the UN’ 
Nor did the resolution bring any easing of the crisis. Following Iraq’s expulsion of UNSCOM’s American staff, Clinton, in a televised broadcast on November 14, personally announced that he was sending a second aircraft carrier to the region to join the U.S.S. Nimitz, which had been rushed to the Gulf in early October after Iraqi violations of the ‘no-fly’ zone in southern Iraq.
Albright, who had been heavily involved over the previous three days in Arab-Israeli mediation–having met Israeli Prime Minister in London on November 14 and Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasir Arafat in Geneva on November 15–cut short her stay at the economic conference in Doha, Qatar, to make an unscheduled visit November 16 to Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Bahrain. In the Arab Gulf states, Albright found only limited support for U.S. military action against Iraq. Obviously, those countries feared that the United States would merely tweak the tail of the tiger with a limited strike–as it had done the year before after Saddam’s attack on Irbil–and leave them vulnerable to an even angrier, more vengeful Saddam Hussein.
AMERICA IS OUTMANEUVERED
But the United States even then, was involved in negotiations with Iraq. It had turned to Iraq’s main supporters in the Security Council, France and Russia, for assistance in getting Baghdad to agree to the return of U.S. weapons inspectors. On November 17, an official traveling on Albright’s plane described the deal as ‘a little carrot.’ The French-brokered proposal to which he referred, included 1) a 50% increase in the amount of oil that Iraq would be allowed to sell under UNSC Resolution 986; 2) U.S. agreement to relax its opposition to the import of certain dual-use goods under the terms of that resolution; and 3) an understanding that more non-Americans might be added to UNSCOM’s inspection teams after the Americans were allowed to return to Iraq.
The concessions Washington was prepared to make were tantamount to a major loosening of the sanctions regime. But Baghdad rejected the proposal. It preferred to work with Russia. On November 18, Tariq Aziz made a surprise visit to Moscow. A Russian-Iraqi communique was issued calling for the return of American inspectors while including Moscow’s commitment to ‘energetically promote the speedy lifting of sanctions against Iraq on the basis of its compliance with the corresponding UN Security Council resolutions, and particularly paragraph 22 of Resolution 687, with no additional conditions….Steps will be taken to increase the effectiveness of the Special Commission’s activity on the basis of respecting Iraq’s sovereignty and security.’ Ominously, the last phrase was code for Iraq’s demand that it be allowed to deny UNSCOM access to what it deemed sensitive sites.
‘With a self-assurance, bordering on hubris,’ as The New York Times explained, Primakov then, ‘summoned the American secretary of state from India to a 2 a.m. meeting in Geneva, along with her British and French counterparts,’ and a Chinese representative.  There, early in the morning of November 20, the representatives of the Security Council’s permanent five members called for the return of all UNSCOM personnel to Iraq, while also supporting ‘the intention of the Special Commission of the UN Security Council [UNSCOM] to meet on November 21 in New York to discuss and advise, among other important issues, ways to make UNSCOM’s work more effective on the basis of the resolutions of the UN Security Council. The recommendations from that meeting will be subject to the approval of the Security Council.’
Senior U.S. officials repeatedly affirmed they had made no deal to secure the return of the American inspectors. But they had agreed–as clearly stated in the Geneva communique–to hold an emergency session of the UNSCOM commissioners. The UNSCOM commission is not a political body. The commissioners are almost all scientists, an exception being the Russian representative. Moreover, UNSCOM’s commission had never met previously for any political reason. The United States conceded an important principle at Geneva, namely that UNSCOM and its supervisory commission remain strictly technical and not be subordinated to political considerations.
Moreover, senior U.S. officials lied specifically about that key point. The meeting of the UNSCOM commissioners, announced at Geneva, was unscheduled and called at Russia’s request, as numerous press reports made clear. Yet National Security adviser Samuel Berger told a November 20 press conference, ‘There is absolutely no understanding, there is no deal, there are no concessions. UNSCOM will meet tomorrow and UNSCOM meets–that is the actual commission, not the inspectors–about every six months.’ Albright said the same thing, explicitly affirming that the commissioner’s meeting had been previously scheduled, while an unnamed senior official explained, ‘The reality is…that (Saddam Hussein) tried to divide the coalition, tried to divide the Council, and ran into a brick wall, and turned around and walked the other way.’ 
Yet these assertions had nothing to do with what had really just happened. In fact, Saddam had succeeded in dividing the coalition, obtaining some concessions from the United States and forcing more from the UN, undermining support for sanctions in Western public opinion, and subverting Arab backing for pressure against Iraq. In short, Iraq had taken a big step toward breaking down the down the system of constraints against it put into place after the 1991 Kuwait war.
On November 22, UNSCOM’s staff–including four of the six Americans previously there–returned to Iraq. But the regime otherwise kept up a tough line, repeatedly asserting that UNSCOM could not inspect sites, including presidential palaces, that it deemed sensitive. Vice President Taha Yasin Ramadan told Qatari television December 7, ‘There will be no access to presidential and sensitive sites before there is balance in the composition of the inspection teams so they are not under U.S. domination.’  As the UNSCOM chairman left for his first trip to Baghdad since the crisis, the Baghdad Observer asserted December 9, ‘He is coming back to Iraq unwelcomed….He should realize that Iraq is serious this time about its demand that there are certain presidential palaces that should not be encroached upon by anyone.’ 
One would scarcely think that Iraq was a defeated power. The mood of senior UNSCOM officials is glum. After their recent experience, there is suspicion that the White House is prepared to sell them out because it is unwilling to do what is necessary to confront Baghdad and its supporters. Still, a hopeful note was sounded by Secretary of Defense Cohen on December 9, when he asserted, ‘Until such time as Saddam Hussein agrees there is unlimited access by the UNSCOM inspectors, then one cannot say the crisis has been resolved…[and] obviously the process can’t go on indefinitely without being resolved.’
Perhaps, the present confrontation’s outcome may yet entail U.S. military strikes on Iraq. But the key issue is not access to Saddam’s palaces. It is Iraq’s proscribed weapons of mass destruction and UNSCOM’s ability to seize and destroy them. Under existing arrangements it is highly unlikely that UNSCOM will succeed in that.  And, if it ever did, the United States would face what would probably be irresistible pressure to lift sanctions, after which Saddam would expel or eviscerate UNSCOM and rebuild everything that had been destroyed.
During the 1990-91 Gulf crisis, the distinguished strategist, the late Professor Albert Wohlstetter, had maintained that it was impossible to eliminate Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction without eliminating Saddam himself. Wohlstetter has certainly been proven right. Similarly, the late Professor Uriel Dann of Tel Aviv University, warned, ‘Saddam Hussein does not forget and forgive. His foes brought him close to perdition and then let him off….He will strive to exact revenge as long as there is life in his body. He will smirk and conciliate and retreat and whine and apply for fairness and generosity. He will also make sure that within his home base it remains understood that he has not changed and will never change….And the day will come when he will hit we do not know with what weapons….And when he does…the innocent will pay by the millions. This must never be put out of mind: Saddam Hussein, from now on lives for revenge.’ 
Unless the United States changes course and does so quickly, the present situation is most likely to end in an unfavorable way:
–Sanctions may be gradually lifted or so modified as to no longer constitute any real restraint on the Iraqi regime. In endorsing the French ‘compromise,’ the U.S. seemed headed down that slippery slope.
–If sanctions remain in place longer than Saddam is prepared to tolerate them, he might eventually use the proscribed weapons of mass destruction which he will not turn over to UNSCOM, in some way or other, to try to force the lifting of sanctions.
–If sanctions are formally lifted or modified to the point they constitute no real restraint, Saddam would still have these weapons, could employ them to gain additional political leverage in the region, and in the end might still use them some day.
–A number of policymakers, analysts, and journalists have suggested the only real solution was Saddam’s overthrow.  It is still possible for the United States to put such a policy in place.
U.S. policy often justifies its stance toward Iraq by citing dissent within the coalition–particularly in Europe and the Arab world–which defeated Saddam in Kuwait, as well as a domestic public opinion which wants to avoid confrontations. Yet this position neither meets the requirements of international leadership nor does it necessarily correctly interpret many of these foreign perceptions.
Even though they would not publicly endorse it, such a strategy would be privately welcomed by all of Iraq’s neighbors, particularly Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, as well as many or most of Iraq’s own people. Also, it would have a salutary effect on the Arab-Israeli peace process, as countries like Saudi Arabia would cease to turn to countries like Syria or Iran for help in dealing with an increasingly resurgent Iraq. Furthermore, the American public loathes Saddam and a future revival of Iraq’s threats and ambitions would be very costly to the U.S. government in terms of both domestic political and international prestige.
On the other hand, the Clinton administration can, like the British and French governments in the 1930s, try to disregard all the evidence that suggests the party thought defeated is bent on reversing the last war’s outcome and succeeding in doing so. If the consequence were some disaster or another, those governments urging unilateral concessions to Iraq would also be at fault. But the United States, as the coalition’s leader and the only power able to counter Saddam or persuade others to stand firm, would alone bear responsibility.
1. Fred Ikle, ‘The Next Lenin: On the Cusp of Truly Revolutionary Warfare,’ The National Interest, Spring 1977.
2. Los Angeles Times, 9 December 1996.
3. William S. Cohen, ‘In the Age of Terror Weapons,’ The Washington Post, 26 November 1997.
4. James Woolsey, Sam Nunn Policy Forum on Terrorism, Weapons of Mass Destruction and US Security, 28 April 1997.
5. R. Jeffrey Smith, ‘Iraq’s Drive for Biological Arsenal,’ Washington Post, 21 November 1997.
6. London Press Association, 4 December 1997.
7. Lori Rozsa, ‘Plot to sell Helicopters to Iraq foiled,’ Miami Herald, 22 July 1997.
8. Transcript of talk by Ambassador. Rolf Ekeus to The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 29 January 1997. The head of the institute responded, ‘I must admit that’s truly frightening.’
9. Iraqi Broadcasting Corporation, 23 July 1997
10. Theresa Hitchens, ‘Wargames Find U.S. Short in Bio War,’ Defense News, August 28-September 3, 1995.
11. Paul Levental and Edwin S. Lyman, ‘Who Says Iraq Isn’t Making a Bomb?,’ International Herald Tribune, 2 November, 1995; most recently, Amb. Rolf Ekeus in The Indepependent, 22 September 1997.
12. Professor Gerald M. Steinberg, Bar-Ilan University, to author, November 1997.
13. Washington Times, ‘Diplomatic borscht,’ 20 November 1997.
14. Jim Hoagland, ‘Saddam Prevailed,’ 29 September 1996.
15. Iraq Television, 16 March 1997, FBIS-NES-97075.
16. AFP, 25 July 1997.
17. Reuters, 23 October 1997.
18. AFP, 25 October 1997.
19. White House statement, 12 November 1997.
20. AFP, 12 November 1997
21. Charles Krauthammer, ‘Munich on the Tigris,’ Washington Post, 19 November, 1997.
22. New York Times, 21 November 1997.
23. United States Information Service, 20 November 1997.
24. AFP, 7 December 1997
25. Reuters, 9 December 1997
26. This points was made most strongly by the former UN weapons inspector, David Kay, in Aviation Week and Space Technology, 24 November, 1997.
27. Among them: Zalmay Khalilzad and Paul Wolfowitz, Washington Post, 8 November 1997; the Center for Security Policy, 10 November 1997; Howard Teicher, The Los Angeles Times, 16 November, 1997; David Wurmser, The Wall Street Journal, 12 November 1997, The Jerusalem Post Editors, 16 November 1997.
Laurie Mylroie is a research associate of the Foreign Policy Research Institute, Philadelphia PA, co-author of Saddam Hussein and the Crisis in the Gulf [Random House, 1990], and editor of ‘Iraq News.’ To subscribe, write: <firstname.lastname@example.org>
The crisis precipitated by Iraq’s October 29 decision to expel American members of the UN Special Commission [UNSCOM] working there brought to public attention the very serious danger posed by Iraq’s continued possession of large stockpiles of biological and chemical agents. That arsenal was proscribed under the terms of UN Security Council Resolution 687, the formal ceasefire to the Gulf war. As the crisis made clear, Saddam Hussein wants economic sanctions lifted even though he retains those weapons.
Volume 1, Number 4 – December 1997