Iraq crisis: How Iraq yet again broke its promises to the UN

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The Independent Online
BRITAIN AND the United States find themselves once more on a war footing in the Gulf because of a 10-page report that landed on the desk of Kofi Annan, Secretary-General of the United Nations, late on Tuesday.

It made grim reading: one month after Iraq had averted military calamity by promising to resume full co-operation with UN weapons inspectors, the evidence indicated that it was failing to do so.

This was the conclusion of the report compiled by Richard Butler, chairman of Unscom, the special UN commission charged with rooting out all weapons of mass destruction from Iraq.

In it, Mr Butler notes that contrary to Iraq's pledge on 14 November, its government has continued to impede his inspectors. Indeed, he said, in the past few weeks, Unscom had made "no progress" on uncovering proscribed arms.

The report appeared yesterday to have taken all sides by surprise. At the behest of Russia, an emergency, closed-door meeting of the Security Council was convened to consider what should come next.

It was a meeting, however, against a background of growing resignation that a bombing campaign may be inevitable this time, whatever diplomatic contortions are attempted in New York.

The release of Mr Butler's report was, ostensibly, the moment when council members were due to consider their own promise to begin a comprehensive review of the crippling UN sanctions that have been weighing on Iraq since its invasion of Kuwait in 1990. In a letter to the council, Mr Annan suggested that that option could still be exercised. But in these circumstances, a review seems unlikely to happen soon.

Few had expected Mr Butler, an Australian diplomat with an often harsh tongue, to give more than a reluctant pass to Iraq for the good behaviour test that it has effectively been taking for the past four weeks.

However, nobody, not even the British or the Americans, appeared to have been ready for the single-mindedness of his conclusions. As one council member put it: "I did not expect the degree of non-cooperation which there is in the report. Butler's conclusions are much more clear-cut."

Mr Butler wrote: "In spite of the opportunity presented by the circumstances of the last month, including the prospect of a comprehensive review, Iraq's conduct ensured that no progress was able to be made in either the fields of disarmament or accounting for its prohibited weapons programmes." And he went on: "In the light of this experience, that is the absence of full cooperation by Iraq, it must regrettably be recorded again that the commission is not able to conduct the substantive disarmament work mandated to it by the Security Council."

Suspicions were inevitably voiced that President Clinton will be tempted, in "wag-the-dog" fashion, into military action to deflect attention from his impeachment predicament. But in reality, the tenor and substance of Mr Butler's report allows Washington and London little space for manoeuvre.

On 14 November, when an attack was cancelled at the last minute, Mr Clinton, in particular, left little room for doubt: if Iraq failed to give full and unfettered access to the inspectors in the coming weeks, military strikes would follow.

The impediments thrown up by Iraq are described in Mr Butler's report in clear detail. First, there is the issue of the serial documents that Unscom has been seeking for months, which, according to Mr Butler and his experts, could shed important light on what armaments Iraq may have held in the past and, indeed, may still have.

Most important among these is a document found this summer by inspectors at the headquarters of the Iraqi Air Force, which was seized by Iraqi officials and withheld from Unscom. The document, Mr Butler wrote, is "directly related to verification of the material balance of Iraq's chemical weapons munitions. Iraq refused to return the sealed envelope with the document".

Of a number of other documents sought by Unscom since mid-November, he added, only one has been handed over.

Inspectors, meanwhile, have also found once more that their access to certain sites under suspicion was far from unfettered. Probably the most serious incident came two weeks ago, when inspectors were turned away from the Baghdad headquarters of Saddam Hussein's ruling Baath party. The building, Mr Butler reported, was "designated for inspection on the basis of solid evidence of the presence of proscribed materials".

But Mr Butler catalogued other difficulties experienced by his inspectors. Among them was the discovery that some sites they visited had visibly been cleared of all possibly incriminating evidence before the inspectors gained access.

One such site was the former headquarters of the Special Security Organisation in Baghdad. Mr Butler complained of "clear evidence that Iraq had taken advance actions at certain locations planned for inspection in order to defeat the purposes of inspection".

Main Points of the

Butler Report

The Butler report says Iraq is not cooperating with his inspectors and that "no progress" has been possible on hunting down its weapons of mass destruction. These were the principal obstacles:

Access - Unscom inspectors were refused free access to the Baath Party HQ in Baghdad. Unscom had "solid evidence" that it contained important evidence of weapons concealment.

Cleansing and photography - Some sites had been cleaned by Iraq before inspectors arrived to see them, making inspections a waste of time. Iraq placed new restrictions on photographs that inspectors can take of important materials.

Friday prayers - Iraq announced that inspectors could not visit one site because it was on a Friday, the Islamic sabbath.

Withholding documents - Of multiple documents demanded by Unscom, Iraq produced just one during the past four weeks. It also turned down an Unscom request to remove missile engine components for inspection.