Hard life and times on the arms trail inspector

Unscom's inspectors aren't merely unpopular with Iraqis. They fight other UN factions too, finds Richard Downes

BACK ONCE MORE in the Canal Hotel, on the outskirts of Baghdad, the weapons inspectors and monitors of the United Nations Special Commission (Unscom) had every reason last week to feel depressed by the videotapes they were watching.

At a number of plants around Iraq, Unscom has cameras permanently trained on machinery that could be used to restart Saddam Hussein's weapons production programme. They were left running while the inspectors were hastily evacuated to the Holiday Inn in Bahrain, and the tapes showed that while the Unscom teams were lounging round the pool hundreds of miles away, the machinery was being moved out of sight.

Wearily resuming a programme started seven years ago and still far from complete, the monitors checked air-sampling instruments at the same sites. They showed nothing untoward, but a number of devices had run out of paper or had failed in the absence of maintenance.

The regular showdowns between Iraq and the UN are just another burden for Unscom's 100-odd staff in Baghdad, who in "normal" periods are reinforced by four or five separate teams of up to 20 each, visiting from New York. The mobile teams are meant to be the lightning force of Unscom, sent out to conduct spot inspections. But their job is almost impossible now, according to one diplomat resident in Baghdad.

"For all we know, there are refrigerated trucks travelling the country full of anthrax, to evade the inspectors. We know they are hiding things. Every time Unscom gets close to something the Iraqis cause a crisis and the inspectors have to go back to New York," he said.

Members of the Iraqi Monitoring Agency accompany the inspectors on each visit, leaving the Unscom compound at 8am and following the teams wherever they go. Frustrated and infuriated by the way they are controlled, two leading members of Unscom's inspectorate have resigned so far this year.

Within the UN headquarters there are divisions over Unscom. France, Russia and China believe it to be too aggressive and unnecessarily intrusive, while for Britain and the US, its work is essential. Other UN agencies resent what is seen as the special arrangements for Unscom, including its high cost. "They cost $1m per person every year. I could save half of the dying children in Iraq with that money," said one aid worker.

All these strains are evident in the UN compound in Baghdad, which is more like a ghetto than a holiday resort. The factions fight furiously among themselves, and Unscom's personnel are no more popular with their UN colleagues than they are with the Iraqis. Drawn from the military of more than half a dozen countries, the Unscom inspectors' frolics in the UN bar would make a rugby club social look mild. Bad language, prodigious drinking and general rowdiness have distinguished them from their more gentle counterparts in the "softer" agencies.

There is a profound clash of cultures with UN cultural and humanitarian workers, who have boycotted the nightly sessions in disgust. "I haven't spoken to anyone from Unscom for a year, and I have no intention of talking to them ever again," one said curtly. But no one can dispute the importance of Unscom's work.

The ability of Iraq, the Arab world's most ambitious military power, to make weapons of mass destruction is proven. The Iran-Iraq war showed how its chemical and biological weapons programme had developed, and by the 1990s the Baghdad regime had produced more than 1 million lb of mustard gas, 330,000 lb of nerve agents such as sarin and 8,800 lb of VX nerve gas.

Unscom initially concentrated on Scud missiles and chemical weapons, and after some superficial checks was ready in 1994 to declare Iraq free of biological weapons. But that was before another team discovered a huge discrepancy between the amount of biological growth media ordered and the amount reportedly destroyed. The media is used to grow bacteria which can be used in biological weapons. It can also be used in hospitals, but the annual consumption of Iraqi hospitals when they functioned properly was less than 200lb; Iraq imported more than 68,000lb in the 1980s, and over 7,000lb is still missing.

The US State Department spokesman, James Rubin made it clear last week this discrepancy will be the main focus of Unscom's next phase of inspections.

Isolated in their own headquarters, and working against the odds to track down what is left of Saddam's weapons programme, the inspectors must feel they are looking for a needle in a haystack. Iraq is a huge country, with tens of thousands of government buildings and hundreds of army and police barracks.

Caroline Cross, Unscom's British spokeswoman, maintains a steely silence when asked how the Iraqis are co-operating now. "We are carrying out our activities. This is between the UN and Iraq, and not for the international media," she says.

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksNow available in paperback
Johnny Handle, Northumberland, Ted Relph, President of Lakeland Dialect Society, and Sid Calderbank, Lancashire, founder of the National Dialect Day
newsMeet the enthusiasts determined to stop them dying out
The data shows that the number of “unlawfully” large infant classes has doubled in the last 12 months alone
i100Mike Stuchbery, a teacher in Great Yarmouth, said he received abuse
Arts and Entertainment
The starship in Star Wars: The Force Awakens
filmsThe first glimpse of JJ Abrams' new film has been released online
Rio Ferdinand returns for QPR
sportRio Ferdinand returns from his three-game suspension today
The Speaker of the House will takes his turn as guest editor of the Today programme
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
St Peter’s Seminary in Cardross. Argyll, has remained derelict for more than 25 years
arts + ents

Watch the spoof Thanksgiving segment filmed for Live!
Billy Twelvetrees will start for England against Australia tomorrow with Owen Farrell dropping to the bench
rugbyEngland need a victory against Australia today
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of The Guest Cat – expect to see it everywhere
Tyson Fury poses outside the Imperial War Museum in south London ahead of his fight against Dereck Chisora
boxingAll British heavyweight clash gets underway on Saturday night
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Opilio Recruitment: QA Automation Engineer

£30k - 38k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: An award-winning consume...

Opilio Recruitment: UX & Design Specialist

£40k - 45k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Opilio Recruitment: Publishing Application Support Analyst

£30k - 35k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: We’re currently re...

Opilio Recruitment: Digital Marketing Manager

£35k - 45k per year + benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game