U.N. inspectors- less experienced, running out of time

Sunday, March 16, 2003

UNITED NATIONS -- What has Hans Blix uncovered during more than four months of weapons inspections in Iraq? Not an awful lot, according to his latest report, which nonetheless runs 173 dense pages.

Former U.N. inspectors say it is not surprising. The new experts who arrived in November are far less experienced in the ways of chemical warfare than their predecessors, and they have far less time.

And, like the inspectors who arrived after the 1991 Persian Gulf War, these experts work in the surreal atmosphere of being misled by the Iraqis who are required to help them.

"It took us 4 1/2 years to find they had a biological weapons program," said former inspector Terence Taylor, a retired British Army colonel. "It's ridiculous to think that this can be done in a few months."

A separate document on chemical agents was delivered by Iraq to inspectors on Friday, but its contents haven't been made public. On Monday, Blix will present yet another report to the Security Council, this one laying out a work schedule for inspectors in Iraq.

"It's all a charade, as far as I'm concerned," said Richard Spertzel, former head investigator for biochemical weapons under the United Nations Special Committee (UNSCOM), the previous inspection team, who made 40 trips to Iraq before inspectors left the country in 1998.

"So they've agreed to destroy Al Samoud 2 missiles and maybe once every few days they let them talk to a scientist," Spertzel said. "At that rate, maybe in 2103, we'll get Iraq disarmed."

'Wild goose chase'

There are about 150 inspectors and staff currently in Iraq. Before the current round of inspections began in November, the country had not been monitored since 1998, when UNSCOM chief weapons inspector Richard Butler ordered inspectors to leave Iraq without consulting the Security Council.

Butler's aggressive team had fallen apart amid accusations that inspectors were spying for Israel and the United States. That taint, former inspectors said, resulted in many UNSCOM observers not being allowed into Iraq with Blix's new team.

"There is a lack of expertise," said Jonathan Tucker, a former inspector. Most of the new inspectors "came from chemical or biochemical technology and had no experience with weapons systems."

The inspectors are not identified to protect their safety and credibility. Tucker said a good friend is on the new team and describes his efforts as "running from one wild goose chase to another because the intelligence they're getting is just terrible."

In at least one case, that intelligence was a lie.

Mohamed ElBaradei, the chief U.N. nuclear inspector, told the council that correspondence purporting to show that Iraq attempted to purchase enriched uranium from Niger was found to be forged.

Tucker called the false documents "an embarrassment," saying the incident "raises the question of who forged the documents" and whether the inspectors are deliberately being fed wrong information.

Neither Blix nor ElBaradei has disclosed the source of the fake documents. Blix told the council on March 7 that despite intelligence information about mobile biological weapons and laboratories, no evidence supporting those claims had been found.

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