By David Kay ~ From The Washington Post
WASHINGTON -- When it comes to the U.N. weapons inspection in Iraq, looking for a smoking gun is a fool's mission. That was true 11 years ago when I led the inspections there. It is no less true today -- even after the seemingly important discovery on Thursday of a dozen empty short-range missile warheads left over from the 1980s.
The only job the inspectors can expect to accomplish is confirming whether Iraq has voluntarily disarmed. That is not a task that need take months more. And last week's cache is irrelevant in answering that question, regardless of the U.N.'s final determination. That's because the answer is already clear: Iraqi is in breach of U.N. demands that it dismantle its weapons of mass destruction.
I am no apologist for the Iraqis, but not only are those warheads irrelevant to the larger argument, they could well be remnants that were overlooked, found as they were in a 25 square mile site that has a huge number of conventional warheads and rockets on it, rockets used principally in the Iran/Iraq war. The discovery was small -- the kind of thing inspectors often find -- and there's not much to be made of the warheads unless the testing shows they were once filled with VX gas.
The real problem lies with the way the searches are being conducted, period. The fact that day after day, the inspectors go to sites, most of which were inspected in the 1990s and put under long-term monitoring, has served Iraq's claims that it is complying with the inspections. It also ensures that these non-threatening inspections will continue for some time.
Hans Blix, the chief U.N. weapons inspector, said last week that his required Jan. 27 report (stating whether Baghdad is fully complying with U.N. demands to disclose and dismantle any weapons of mass destruction program) will simply be an interim one. It will mark, Blix said, "the beginning of the inspection and monitoring process, not the end of it." That statement no doubt came as a surprise in Washington: Many members of the Bush administration have told me they were expecting the report to provide the basis for Security Council endorsement of military action to compel Baghdad to disarm. Blix appears to be drawing a very different conclusion: In the face of Iraq's denials that it has weapons, the inspections must continue.
What Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, are not doing is even more damning. Recall that Iraq was required to submit a "full and complete declaration" of all its weapons programs to the U.N. Security Council early last December. But that 12,000-page declaration was hardly complete, and its omissions (as well as gaps identified in 1998 -- more about that in a moment) should have become the focus of the inspections process.
The U.N. Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission should use its limited resources to examine the seven gaps in the United Nations' knowledge and understanding of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, which were identified in 1998 by UNSCOM (the now defunct U.N. Special Commission) and an independent technical evaluation group. The gaps were alarming. They had to do with such things as anthrax, artillery shells filled with mustard gas, mobile biological weapons agent facilities and efforts to procure uranium.
By failing to address these concerns, Iraq mocked the United Nations with its declaration. It rejected what the Security Council, in Resolution 1441, insisted it must do -- that is, answer all outstanding questions about the program. And it had the gall to contend that it hasn't had a prohibited weapons program since the end of the Gulf War.
How quickly the experience of the first attempt to disarm Iraq by international inspections has been forgotten. That attempt, starting in 1991, also began with weapons declarations filled with lies and misstatements. As a result, the UNSCOM team I led was also forced to search for a smoking gun. It is a nearly impossible task, which is why is should never be the standard of mission success. Only two smoking guns were found during all the UNSCOM inspections in Iraq in the 1990s. The first -- Iraq's nuclear weapons complex -- came quickly in the summer and autumn of 1991. We were going after very large physical complexes that had been designed to deceive spy satellites -- but whose purpose could be detected by inspectors armed with good intelligence and aided by key Iraqi defectors.
In the next six years of UNSCOM inspections only one other such discovery was made -- when the existence of an Iraqi biological weapons program was finally uncovered in 1995. But it is often forgotten that the weapons themselves were not found by the inspectors. Iraq told the inspectors that it had destroyed the biological munitions, which, it said, had been stored inside abandoned railroad tunnels and buried along the runways at two military airfields. Even the best inspectors have almost no chance of discovering hidden weapons sites such as these in a country the size of Iraq.
We UNSCOM inspectors simply did not have the resources to win a game of hide and seek. The same is true today. The number of inspectors was always terribly small -- seldom more than 300 in the country at any one time. And we were totally outclassed by Iraqi security, which had managed to infiltrate the United Nations in Vienna and New York, as well as the Bahrain office of UNSCOM. In late 1991, when we seized more than 100,000 pages of information on Iraq's nuclear weapons program, we found one particularly surprising document. In it, the head of Iraqi security warned the chief security official of the facility holding the documents that in 10 days I would be leading a team to search his building and he should remove all sensitive material from this facility. The document was dated less than 48 hours after the decision had been made that I would lead this team! At the time fewer than 10 people in the United Nations and IAEA knew about this mission.
Much has been made of the value of surprise inspections, but little has been said about how hard they are to conduct. Between 1991 and 1998, UNSCOM conducted almost 500 inspections. Of those, only about six truly surprised Iraq. Then as now, the inspectors operated in an environment that was thoroughly monitored by Iraq. Hotel rooms, restaurants, offices and cars were all bugged. We understood that only with the most extraordinary measures could any of our conversations or documents elude Iraqi security officials.
By 1996, UNSCOM and the IAEA had switched almost entirely from searching for specific weapons to trying to limit the ease with which Iraq could use its permitted dual-use facilities to produce them.
The former inspectors I know react with disbelief to the list of sites the current inspectors have visited in the past seven weeks -- Taji, Daura, Al Hakam, Fallujah, Tarmiya, Rashdiya, Al Furat, Al Muthanna. No one, they say, should have believed that Saddam would ever let inspectors back into the country without ensuring that these sites, well monitored by UNSCOM until it left in '98, were thoroughly sanitized. Let's not forget that UNSCOM was never denied entry to a site it was monitoring. Far from denial, Iraq wanted UNSCOM and the IAEA to concentrate on the monitored sites and stop searching for clandestine facilities.
How did the inspectors get back into a game of hide and seek with the Iraqis? This time, the Bush administration was determined that, rather than a search and find mission, the inspections would verify Iraq's willingness to be disarmed. This would be completely unlike the long, frustrating game the Iraqis played and ultimately won with the first U.N. inspection regime. This was to be Iraq's last chance. Any "false statements or omissions" in its December declaration were, according to Resolution 1441, supposed to "constitute a further material breach of Iraq's obligations." And "material breach" is the Security Council's standard for measuring whether military force is required to compel disarmament.
Even such tantalizing discoveries as last week's should not be seen as a promise of more compelling evidence to come if we would only give the inspectors more time. The only evidence of Iraq's weapons program we need has been clear since early December, when it filed yet another weapons declaration that was anything but full, final and complete. Iraq continues to ignore its international obligations. Let's not give it more time to cheat and retreat.
David Kay is a senior fellow at the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies. In 1991, he served as chief nuclear weapons inspector of UNSCOM, the U.N. Special Commission on Iraq.