Mon, 10 Feb 2003

The inspectors have failed us

Khidhir Hamza Former Advisor Iraqi Atomic Energy Organization Former Director Iraq's Nuclear Weapons Program Project Syndicate

Faced with reports of their failure to cooperate with the heads of the two UN inspection teams, the Iraqis have abandoned their description of the inspectors as independent professionals. Amir Rashid, the former head of the Iraqi military industry and an adviser to Saddam Hussein, now openly describes the inspectors as spies.

It was this Iraqi attitude of implacable hostility that, in 1998, forced UN weapons inspectors to leave the country, leading to today's confrontation. In view of that precedent, and what has happened in Iraq since chiefs of the UN inspectors, Hans Blix and Mohammed al-Baradei, have filed reports that contain some troubling surprises.

The UN's Resolution 1441 requires Iraqi disarmament in terms of actual weapons of mass destruction and the ability to make them. This is where the inspectors have focused so far. But Resolution 1441 also empowers the inspectors to gather intelligence about Iraq's weapons and weapon-making capabilities through in-depth interviews with Iraqi experts, either inside or outside the country, but certainly without Iraqi-government minders present. To assure the experts that they could talk without fear, the Resolution gave the inspectors the authority to bring entire families out of the country.

Control of access to Iraqi experts has always been essential to uncovering the truth about weapons and weapon programs. Without independent access, the Iraqi government retains total control of the information supplied to inspectors. In fact, after inspections were suspended in 1998, Iraq worked tirelessly to build an impenetrable wall around the people responsible for its weapons programs. The small community of Iraqi experts was put under a harsh security regime. Some have been murdered; others have been imprisoned. Security officials keep constant tabs on the whereabouts of family members.

For the most part, these measures have succeeded. The outside world currently knows little about the inner workings of the Iraqi weapons program. Since 1998, there has not been a single defection from the upper levels of the program, despite low pay and substandard living conditions -- deteriorating medical care, erratic electricity supplies, and a ban on travel.

Incredibly, neither Blix nor al-Baradei pressed for any interviews with scientists outside Iraq, although they are fully aware that this is the only safe way to conduct effective inquiries. Both men understood disarmament as simply the removal of weapons and equipment, if and when they were found. Understanding the system that produces these weapons, and finding the means to disable this system, has not been on their agenda.

As a result, Iraq's refusal to cooperate in making the scientists available for interviews -- the key to its entire strategy of denial -- was mentioned only in passing at the end of the inspectors' reports. The fact that this entire exercise has told us nothing about Iraq's weapons infrastructure has simply been filed away for future reference.

The inspectors even managed to falter when they stumbled across hard evidence of Iraqi cheating. For example, the inspectors found a dozen chemical weapons warheads in mint condition in a relatively new warehouse, but minimized the significance of their discovery by arguing that the warheads were empty.

Never mind that storing warheads in this way is simply an elementary protocol of proper handling procedures. Storing warheads that are filled with chemicals would be dangerous and wasteful. Because the chemicals are likely to corrode the warhead over time, extended storage has a high probability of leakage and degradation of the weapon. But Blix dismissed this as "not a serious problem," and did not require Iraq to produce the poisons to be used to arm the warheads.

Al-Baradei was even more accommodating. Relying solely on radiation detection equipment at various sites and some environmental samples -- but without interviewing a single scientist in private, he declared that there was no evidence that Iraq had reconstituted its nuclear weapons program.

This is a lamentable repeat of the International Atomic Energy Agency's performance in both 1990 and 1994, when, under the leadership of Blix, Iraq was given a clean bill of health on nuclear weapons development. Only after the defection of Hussein Kamel, Saddam's son-in-law and head of the Iraqi military industry, did Blix get the clues to uncover the actual workings of Iraq's ambitious program.

Most shockingly, the inspector's reports failed to state clearly and unequivocally that Iraq remains unwilling to disarm. Neither Blix nor al-Baradei was willing to suspend the inspections until Iraq provides forthright, open cooperation.

These gentlemen inspectors fail to understand a fundamental point: To disarm a thuggish, murderous regime you need strict enforcement. Any concession will be interpreted as weakness.

Iraq's government knows exactly what it needs to do to hide its weapons of mass destruction. Unfortunately, the inspectors' reports make one thing clear: They will not take the bold steps that the international community needs to expose Iraqi cheating.

The writer is the co-author of Saddam's Bombmaker.