Iraq's Weapons of Mass Destruction/Part 2

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  1. During the 1990s, beginning in April 1991 immediately after the end of the Gulf War, the UN Security Council passed a series of resolutions [see box] establishing the authority of UNSCOM and the IAEA to carry out the work of dismantling Iraq’s arsenal of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programmes and long-range ballistic missiles.

    UN Security Council Resolutions relating to Weapons of Mass Destruction

    UNSCR 687, April 1991 created the UN Special Commission (UNSCOM) and required Iraq to accept, unconditionally, “the destruction, removal or rendering harmless, under international supervision” of its chemical and biological weapons, ballistic missiles with a range greater than 150km, and their associated programmes, stocks, components, research and facilities. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) was charged with abolition of Iraq’s nuclear weapons programme. UNSCOM and the IAEA must report that their mission has been achieved before the Security Council can end sanctions. They have not yet done so.

    UNSCR 707, August 1991, stated that Iraq must provide full, final and complete disclosure of all its programmes for weapons of mass destruction and provide unconditional and unrestricted access to UN inspectors. For over a decade Iraq has been in breach of this resolution. Iraq must also cease all nuclear activities of any kind other than civil use of isotopes.

    UNSCR 715, October 1991 approved plans prepared by UNSCOM and IAEA for the ongoing monitoring and verification (OMV) arrangements to implement UNSCR 687. Iraq did not accede to this until November 1993. OMV was conducted from April 1995 to 15 December 1998, when the UN left Iraq.

    UNSCR 1051, March 1996 stated that Iraq must declare the shipment of dual-use goods which could be used for mass destruction weaponry programmes.

    These resolutions were passed under Chapter VII of the UN Charter which is the instrument that allows the UN Security Council to authorise the use of military force to enforce its resolutions.
  2. As outlined in UNSCR 687, Iraq’s chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programmes were also a breach of Iraq’s commitments under:
    • The 1925 Geneva Protocol which bans the use of chemical and biological weapons;
    • the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention which bans the development, production, stockpiling, acquisition or retention of biological weapons;
    • the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty which prohibits Iraq from manufacturing or otherwise acquiring nuclear weapons.
  3. UNSCR 687 obliged Iraq to provide declarations on all aspects of its weapons of mass destruction programmes within 15 days and accept the destruction, removal or rendering harmless under international supervision of its chemical, biological and nuclear programmes, and all ballistic missiles with a range beyond 150km. Iraq did not make a satisfactory declaration within the specified time-frame.
    Iraq accepted the UNSCRs and agreed to co-operate with UNSCOM. The history of the UN weapons inspections was characterised by persistent Iraqi obstruction.

    UNSCOM and the IAEA were given the remit to designate any locations for inspection at any time, review any document and interview any scientist, technician or other individual and seize any prohibited items for destruction.

Iraqi Non-Co-operation with the Inspectors

  1. The former Chairman of UNSCOM, Richard Butler, reported to the UN Security Council in January 1999 that in 1991 a decision was taken by a high- level Iraqi Government committee to provide inspectors with only a portion of its proscribed weapons, components, production capabilities and stocks. UNSCOM concluded that Iraqi policy was based on the following actions:
    • to provide only a portion of extant weapons stocks, releasing for destruction only those that were least modern;
    • to retain the production capability and documentation necessary to revive programmes when possible;
    • to conceal the full extent of its chemical weapons programme, including the VX nerve agent project; to conceal the number and type of chemical and biological warheads for proscribed long-range missiles;
    • and to conceal the existence of its biological weapons programme.
  2. In December 1997 Richard Butler reported to the UN Security Council that Iraq had created a new category of sites, “Presidential” and “sovereign”, from which it claimed that UNSCOM inspectors would henceforth be barred. The terms of the ceasefire in 1991 foresaw no such limitation. However, Iraq consistently refused to allow UNSCOM inspectors access to any of these eight Presidential sites. Many of these so-called “palaces” are in fact large compounds which are an integral part of Iraqi counter-measures designed to hide weapons material (see photograph on p35).
  3. A photograph of a “presidential site” or what have been called “palaces”.


    Boundary of presidential site

    The total area taken by Buckingham Palace and its grounds has been superimposed to demonstrate their comparative size

    Iraq’s policy of deception

    Iraq has admitted to UNSCOM to having a large, effective, system for hiding proscribed material including documentation, components, production equipment and possibly biological and chemical agents and weapons from the UN. Shortly after the adoption of UNSCR 687 in April 1991, an Administrative Security Committee (ASC) was formed with responsibility for advising Saddam on the information which could be released to UNSCOM and the IAEA. The Committee consisted of senior Military Industrial Commission (MIC) scientists from all of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction programmes. The Higher Security Committee (HSC) of the Presidential Office was in overall command of deception operations. The system was directed from the very highest political levels within the Presidential Office and involved, if not Saddam himself, his youngest son, Qusai. The system for hiding proscribed material relies on high mobility and good command and control. It uses lorries to move items at short notice and most hide sites appear to be located close to good road links and telecommunications. The Baghdad area was particularly favoured. In addition to active measures to hide material from the UN, Iraq has attempted to monitor, delay and collect intelligence on UN operations to aid its overall deception plan.

  1. Once inspectors had arrived in Iraq, it quickly became apparent that the Iraqis would resort to a range of measures (including physical threats and psychological intimidation of inspectors) to prevent UNSCOM and the IAEA from fulfilling their mandate.
  2. In response to such incidents, the President of the Security Council issued frequent statements calling on Iraq to comply with its disarmament and monitoring obligations.

    Iraqi obstruction of UN weapons inspection teams

    • firing warning shots in the air to prevent IAEA inspectors from intercepting nuclear related equipment (June 1991);
    • keeping IAEA inspectors in a car park for 4 days and refusing to allow them to leave with incriminating documents on Iraq’s nuclear weapons programme (September 1991);
    • announcing that UN monitoring and verification plans were “unlawful” (October 1991);
    • refusing UNSCOM inspectors access to the Iraqi Ministry of Agriculture. Threats were made to inspectors who remained on watch outside the building. The inspection team had reliable evidence that the site contained archives related to proscribed activities;
    • in 1991–2 Iraq objected to UNSCOM using its own helicopters and choosing its own flight plans. In January 1993 it refused to allow UNSCOM the use of its own aircraft to fly into Iraq;
    • refusing to allow UNSCOM to install remote-controlled monitoring cameras at two key missile sites (June-July 1993);
    • repeatedly denying access to inspection teams (1991- December 1998);
    • interfering with UNSCOM’s helicopter operations, threatening the safety of the aircraft and their crews (June 1997);
    • demanding the end of U2 overflights and the withdrawal of US UNSCOM staff (October 1997);
    • destroying documentary evidence of programmes for weapons of mass destruction (September 1997).


  1. Iraq denied that it had pursued a biological weapons programme until July 1995. In July 1995, Iraq acknowledged that biological agents had been produced on an industrial scale at al-Hakam. Following the defection in August 1995 of Hussein Kamil, Saddam’s son-in-law and former Director of the Military Industrialisation Commission, Iraq released over 2 million documents relating to its mass destruction weaponry programmes and acknowledged that it had pursued a biological programme that led to the deployment of actual weapons. Iraq admitted producing 183 biological weapons with a reserve of agent to fill considerably more.

    Inspection of Iraq’s biological weapons programme

    In the course of the first biological weapons inspection in August 1991, Iraq claimed that it had merely conducted a military biological research programme. At the site visited, al-Salman, Iraq had removed equipment, documents and even entire buildings. Later in the year, during a visit to the al-Hakam site, Iraq declared to UNSCOM inspectors that the facility was used as a factory to produce proteins derived from yeast to feed animals. Inspectors subsequently discovered that the plant was a central site for the production of anthrax spores and botulinum toxin for weapons. The factory had also been sanitised by Iraqi officials to deceive inspectors. Iraq continued to develop the al-Hakam site into the 1990s, misleading UNSCOM about its true purpose.

    Another key site, the Foot and Mouth Disease Vaccine Institute at al-Dawrah which produced botulinum toxin and probably anthrax was not divulged as part of the programme. Five years later, after intense pressure, Iraq acknowledged that tens of tonnes of bacteriological warfare agent had been produced there and at al-Hakam.

    As documents recovered in August 1995 were assessed, it became apparent that the full disclosure required by the UN was far from complete. Successive inspection teams went to Iraq to try to gain greater understanding of the programme and to obtain credible supporting evidence. In July 1996 Iraq refused to discuss its past programme and doctrine forcing the team to withdraw in protest. Monitoring teams were at the same time finding undisclosed equipment and materials associated with the past programme. In response, Iraq grudgingly provided successive disclosures of its programme which were judged by UNSCOM and specially convened international panels to be technically inadequate.

    In late 1995 Iraq acknowledged weapons testing the biological agent ricin, but did not provide production information. Two years later, in early 1997, UNSCOM discovered evidence that Iraq had produced ricin.

  2. Iraq tried to obstruct UNSCOM’s efforts to investigate the scale of its biological weapons programme. It created forged documents to account for bacterial growth media, imported in the late 1980s, specifically for the production of anthrax, botulinum toxin and probably plague. The documents were created to indicate that the material had been imported by the State Company for Drugs and Medical Appliances Marketing for use in hospitals and distribution to local authorities. Iraq also censored documents and scientific papers provided to the first UN inspection team, removing all references to key individuals, weapons and industrial production of agents.
  3. Iraq has yet to provide any documents concerning production of agent and subsequent weaponisation. Iraq destroyed, unilaterally and illegally, some biological weapons in 1991 and 1992 making accounting for these weapons impossible. In addition, Iraq cleansed a key site at al-Muthanna, its main research and development, production and weaponisation facility for chemical warfare agents, of all evidence of a biological programme in the toxicology department, the animal-house and weapons filling station.
  4. Iraq refused to elaborate further on the programme during inspections in 1997 and 1998, confining discussion to previous topics. In July 1998 Tariq Aziz personally intervened in the inspection process stating that the biological programme was more secret and more closed than other mass destruction weaponry programmes. He also played down the significance of the programme. Iraq has presented the biological weapons programme as the personal undertaking of a few misguided scientists.
  5. At the same time, Iraq tried to maintain its nuclear weapons programme via a concerted campaign to deceive IAEA inspectors. In 1997 the IAEA Director General stated that the IAEA was “severely hampered by Iraq’s persistence in a policy of concealment and understatement of the programme’s scope”.

Inspection achievements

  1. Despite the conduct of the Iraqi authorities towards them, both UNSCOM and the IAEA Action Team have valuable records of achievement in discovering and exposing Iraq’s biological weapons programme and destroying very large quantities of chemical weapons stocks and missiles as well as the infrastructure for Iraq’s nuclear weapons programme.
  2. Despite UNSCOM’s efforts, following the effective ejection of UN inspectors in December 1998 there remained a series of significant unresolved disarmament issues. In summarising the situation in a report to the UN Security Council, the UNSCOM Chairman, Richard Butler, indicated that:
    • contrary to the requirement that destruction be conducted under international supervision “Iraq undertook extensive, unilateral and secret destruction of large quantities of proscribed weapons and items”;
    • and Iraq “also pursued a practice of concealment of proscribed items, including weapons, and a cover up of its activities in contravention of Council resolutions”.
    Overall, Richard Butler declared that obstructive Iraqi activity had had “a significant impact upon the Commission’s disarmament work”.
  3. UNSCOM and IAEA achievements

    UNSCOM surveyed 1015 sites in Iraq, carrying out 272 separate inspections. Despite Iraqi obstruction and intimidation, UN inspectors uncovered details of chemical, biological, nuclear and ballistic missile programmes. Major UNSCOM/IAEA achievements included:

    • the destruction of 40,000 munitions for chemical weapons, 2,610 tonnes of chemical precursors and 411 tonnes of chemical warfare agent;
    • the dismantling of Iraq’s prime chemical weapons development and production complex at al-Muthanna and a range of key production equipment;
    • the destruction of 48 SCUD-type missiles, 11 mobile launchers and 56 sites, 30 warheads filled with chemical agents, and 20 conventional warheads;
    • the destruction of the al-Hakam biological weapons facility and a range of production equipment, seed stocks and growth media for biological weapons;
    • the discovery in 1991 of samples of indigenously-produced highly enriched uranium, forcing Iraq’s acknowledgement of uranium enrichment programmes and attempts to preserve key components of its prohibited nuclear weapons programme;
    • the removal and destruction of the infrastructure for the nuclear weapons programme, including the al-Athir weaponisation/testing facility.

Withdrawal of the inspectors

  1. By the end of 1998 UNSCOM was in direct confrontation with the Iraqi Government which was refusing to co-operate. The US and the UK had made clear that anything short of full co-operation would make military action unavoidable. Richard Butler was requested to report to the UN Security Council in December 1998 and stated that, following a series of direct confrontations, coupled with the systematic refusal by Iraq to co-operate, UNSCOM was no longer able to perform its disarmament mandate. As a direct result on 16 December the weapons inspectors were withdrawn. Operation Desert Fox was launched by the US and the UK a few hours afterwards.

    Operation Desert Fox (16–19 December 1998)

    Operation Desert Fox targeted industrial facilities related to Iraq’s ballistic missile programme and a suspect biological warfare facility as well as military airfields and sites used by Iraq’s security organisations which are involved in its weapons of mass destruction programmes. Key facilities associated with Saddam Hussein’s ballistic missile programme were significantly degraded.

The situation since 1998
  1. There have been no UN-mandated weapons inspections in Iraq since 1998. In an effort to enforce Iraqi compliance with its disarmament and monitoring obligations, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 1284 in December 1999. This established the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) as a successor organisation to UNSCOM and called on Iraq to give UNMOVIC inspectors “immediate, unconditional and unrestricted access to any and all areas, facilities, equipment, records and means of transport”. It also set out the steps Iraq needed to take in return for the eventual suspension and lifting of sanctions. A key measure of Iraqi compliance would be full co-operation with UN inspectors, including unconditional, immediate and unrestricted access to any and all sites, personnel and documents.
  2. For the past three years, Iraq has allowed the IAEA to carry out an annual inspection of a stockpile of nuclear material (depleted natural and low-enriched uranium). This has led some countries and western commentators to conclude erroneously that Iraq is meeting its nuclear disarmament and monitoring obligations. As the IAEA has pointed out in recent weeks, this annual inspection does “not serve as a substitute for the verification activities required by the relevant resolutions of the UN Security Council”.
  3. Dr Hans Blix, the Executive Chairman of UNMOVIC, and Dr Mohammed El- Baradei, the Director General of the IAEA, have declared that in the absence of inspections it is impossible to verify Iraqi compliance with its UN disarmament and monitoring obligations. In April 1999 an independent UN panel of experts noted that “the longer inspection and monitoring activities remain suspended, the more difficult the comprehensive implementation of Security Council resolutions becomes, increasing the risk that Iraq might reconstitute its proscribed weapons programmes”.
  4. The departure of the inspectors greatly diminished the ability of the international community to monitor and assess Iraq’s continuing attempts to reconstitute its chemical, biological, nuclear and ballistic missile programmes.