Saddam's double snub for UN

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The Independent Online
ACCORDING to the United Nations, Iraq was doubly in breach of its authority when it sent raiding parties across the border into Kuwait to pick up arms and other material.

First, it was under instruction to notify the United Nations Iraqi- Kuwaiti Observation Mission (Unikom) of its intention to remove any material. And second, it was in violation of a decision - not a resolution - of the UN Security Council not to retrieve arms. On 3 November, in an exchange of letters, the Security Council laid down that the weapons should be destroyed. This despite the fact that none of them were covered by the Gulf war ceasefire resolution, 687, calling for the destruction of weapons of mass destruction and any ballistic missiles with a range of more than 150km.

Iraq followed up its raid on Sunday by sending up to 150 workers into Kuwaiti territory yesterday to dismantle warehouses and other facilities. A spokesman for Unikom, Abdellatif Kabbaj, said the Iraqi workers took apart five buildings about half a mile from where they had ransacked arms bunkers on Sunday.

Both incursions were only a few hundred yards over the newly demarcated border, but infringed Kuwaiti sovereignty none the less.

A special UN envoy, Richard Foran, arrived in Baghdad yesterday to seek the immediate return of all the seized materials, UN sources said.

At the United Nations, Iraq's envoy, Nizar Hamdoon, said that Iraq had UN consent to remove material from its side of the demilitarised zone with Kuwait ahead of a 15 January deadline.

The most significant weapons seized on Sunday by the Iraqis were four Silkworm anti-ship missiles, a little like a shore-based Exocet. The Chinese Silkworm, based on the Soviet Styx, has a range of 50 miles, and even if modified to give it longer range cannot be described as a ballistic missile. The missiles are 6.5m (21ft) long, 0.78m (2.5ft) in diameter and carry a half-ton high-explosive warhead.

During the 1991 Gulf war a number of Iraqi Silkworms were destroyed by allied air attack. One, fired at allied shipping, was shot down on 25 February by HMS Gloucester.

The UN special commission was going to destroy the Iraqi weapons, according to Western officials.

All the equipment seized by Iraq was in territory which even before it invaded Kuwait on 2 August 1990 had been Iraqi-controlled. Over the years Iraq had encroached southwards, without much fuss being made. What it was trying to retrieve was equipment it had had there for years.

The land boundary line between Kuwait and Iraq which the Iraqis crossed on Sunday and again yesterday dates back to 1951. In June 1961, days after Kuwait gained independence, Iraq laid claim to all of Kuwait. In 1963, Iraq relinquished its claim and recognised Kuwait as a sovereign state. The boundary, which originally ran south of Umm Qasr, has not moved: Umm Qasr has expanded southwards, with the construction of Iraqi naval facilities during the l980-88 Iran-Iraq war.

Iraq's main route to the sea was the Shatt-al-Arab waterway - the border with Iran, and vulnerable to attack. During the 1980-88 war, the Iraqis therefore developed the Khawr az-Zubayr waterway, which is 25 miles from the Iranian border at the closest point, as a safe alternative.

Because Iran, and not Iraq, was seen as the main threat, nobody much minded the Iraqi development spilling over the vague border. After the 1991 Gulf war, the land boundary was not moved, merely defined more clearly, with the construction of concrete markers through the town which had expanded southwards. A large section of the naval dockyard is in Kuwaiti territory.

The only boundary which has been redefined is that along the sea shore, once the frontier hits the coast. The boundary runs along the low water mark, giving Iraq all the Khawr az-Zubayr - a demarcation very much in its favour.

The demarcation line further out to sea is to be discussed in March. Here, it is likely to be the median line, or the Thalweg line - the term for the deepest channel (from the German for the bottom of a valley).

Unikom was established in April 1991 to monitor a demilitarised zone extending 10km (6.25 miles) into Iraq and 5km into Kuwait from the agreed 1963 boundary between the states. Its mission is to 'deter violations of the boundary and to observe hostile or potentially hostile actions'. It failed to do the former. It is unarmed, and its main purpose is to report infractions of the boundary to the United Nations.

Unikom has about 300 members, including 14 Britons. The US has about 17,000 military and naval personnel in the Gulf area but only 1,300 army and a small number in Unikom.

Iraq was allowed to remove its non-military assets from Kuwaiti territory. So why all the fuss? The technical factor which precipitated Iraq's action, quite apart from any political impulse, was the 15 January deadline set for the removal of its assets from Kuwait.

What the Iraqi action demonstrated, however, is the scant regard which it has either for the border with Kuwait, the writ of the United Nations, or the threat of retaliation by the United States and its coalition allies.

(Map omitted)