U.N. shuts down Iraq weapons monitoring

/ Source: The Associated Press

More than four years after Saddam Hussein’s ouster, the Security Council voted Friday to shut down the U.N. inspection bodies that helped uncover his illegal weapons programs but were then banned from Iraq by the United States.

The U.S. had been trying since 2005 to get the Security Council to wrap up the work of the inspectors. Iraq’s new leaders had also been lobbying for the council to stop using the country’s oil revenue to pay the salaries of the inspectors, and the resolution adopted by the council frees up $60 million dollars for transfer to the Iraqi government.

The resolution terminates the mandate of two U.N. bodies responsible for overseeing the dismantling of Saddam’s programs to develop nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and long-range missiles. It was approved by a vote of 14-0 with Russia abstaining.

Britain’s U.N. Ambassador Emyr Jones Parry said that for some time neither of the U.N. bodies “have been in a position to carry out their functions in a way which serves the aim of disarmament and nonproliferation.” The focus must now be on ensuring Iraq itself supports international efforts to prevent the spread of weapons of mass destruction, he said.

The inspectors pulled out of Iraq just before the March 2003 U.S.-led invasion and were barred by the U.S. from returning. In a letter to the council in May 2003, the U.S. and Britain said they were taking over responsibility for Iraq’s disarmament.

Work continued despite lack of WMD
Since leaving Iraq, the U.N. Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission known as UNMOVIC has continued to study satellite imagery in efforts to keep track of equipment with dual civilian and military uses that could be used in biological, chemical and missile programs. On Thursday, the commission published a 1,200-page account of Iraq’s weapons programs and the lessons learned in the verification process.

UNMOVIC is the outgrowth of a U.N. inspections process created after the 1991 Gulf War in which a U.S.-led coalition force ousted invading Iraqi troops from Kuwait. Under terms of the cease-fire, Iraq agreed to dismantle its unconventional weapons programs and long-range missiles.

In the 1990s, U.N. inspectors uncovered significant undeclared banned weapons programs, including a biological warfare program that Saddam sought to conceal, the chemical nerve agent VX and other advanced chemical weapons capabilities, and the indigenous production of long-range ballistic missile engines.

Inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency helped unravel the true extent of Iraq’s clandestine nuclear program, which never succeeded in producing a working weapon.

Risk of militants getting chemicals
The IAEA’s Director General Mohamed ElBaradei recalled that he reported in early March 2003 that the IAEA “had found no evidence or plausible indication of the revival of a nuclear weapons program in Iraq” — and would have been able to provide “an objective and thorough assessment of Iraq’s nuclear-related capabilities within a few months.”

What ElBaradei left unsaid was that soon after U.S. forces invaded and toppled Saddam.

UNMOVIC’s Acting Executive Chairman Demetrius Perricos warned the council in a final briefing Friday that the possibility of terrorists or insurgents getting their hands on toxic chemical agents “is real,” especially in the present security environment in Iraq.

He also cited a number of outstanding issues that “cannot be resolved and therefore contribute to the residue of uncertainty” about Iraq’s chemical, biological and missile programs. These included the fate and whereabouts of 25 Al Samoud II missiles that were not destroyed before inspectors left in 2003, 326 SA2 missile engines, the status of the Muthanna chemical weapons facility, and the fate of liquid anthrax dumped in Baghdad in 1991.

Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin objected to the council’s failure to comply with previous resolutions demanding that the inspectors certify that Iraq has no weapons of mass destruction before terminating their mandate.

“The adoption of this resolution does not give any clear answers to the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq,” Churkin said.

U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said the efforts of the U.S.-led multinational force in Iraq and the U.S. Iraq Survey Group, which investigated Iraq’s weapons programs from 2003-2005, “have demonstrated that the current government of Iraq does not possess any weapons of mass destruction or delivery systems.”

“This is an historic day, it turns a new page, opens a new chapter with regard to Iraq” and weapons of mass destruction.

Iraq’s U.N. Ambassador Hamid Al-Bayati said the adoption of the resolution turns the page on “an appalling chapter in Iraq’s modern history, which had a destructive impact on the people of Iraq.”