In the wake of Iraq's invitation to the chief U.N. weapons inspector to visit Baghdad, U.S. experts are expressing skepticism about Iraqi intentions and even questioning the effectiveness of more arms inspections.
Former U.N. weapons inspection chief Richard Butler says he is not surprised by Iraq's invitation to the current head of the U.N. inspection team to discuss the possibility of resuming inspections.
Mr. Butler tells the Cable News Network he believes the Iraqi move is a response to recent Senate hearings dealing with a possible U.S. invasion to topple Saddam Hussein. He explains that the Iraqis can hear 'the drums of war beating.'
President Bush, who accuses Iraq of being part of an 'axis of evil,' has openly talked about possible military action to oust Saddam Hussein.
Mr. Butler says he would like to see U.N. weapons inspections resume in Iraq after a nearly four-year lapse. But he says only if Iraq grants inspectors full and unfettered access. It is a point he made in testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Wednesday.
"Clearly an ideal situation would be the resumption of arms control in Iraq inspections and serious arms control," he said. "But, Mr. chairman, not if that means the shell game, phony inspections, more deceit, more concealment. That would in fact, I suggest, be deeply dangerous, providing an illusion of security."
But Mr. Butler says that, based on previous experience, he doubts Iraq would give inspectors full access to suspected weapons sites.
Khidir Hamza, who worked on Iraq's nuclear program before he defected to the United States, agrees, saying new inspections would be a waste of time. He also testified at the Senate hearing Wednesday.
"If the inspectors go back now there is very little human intelligence that will help them locate the new weapons sites," he said. "Spread widely among the government infrastructure and smaller, hard-to-detect units, the inspectors will have a hard time locating all the programs' components."
But some experts say U.N. inspectors can play a role in containing Iraq's weapons development, even if they are unable to discover and expose hidden capabilities.
Robert Einhorn, a former U.S. assistant secretary of state for non-proliferation who is now with the Center for Strategic and International Studies here in Washington.
"The installation of sophisticated monitoring equipment at hundreds of locations and a constant movement of inspection teams around the country would complicate Iraq's covert programs, making it somewhat harder and more expensive to keep those efforts hidden, and probably slowing the pace, and decreasing the scale of those programs," said Mr. Einhorn. "Monitors would give us a better appreciation of Iraq's missile programs and their break-out potential. They would also give us assurance, as long as they had access and their equipment was operating, that illicit production was not taking place at known dual-use and other suspect facilities."
Some experts say that, while inspections may give the world community a better idea of what is going on in Iraq, they cannot compel Baghdad to comply with U.N. resolutions calling for an end to its weapons programs.
It is a view shared by David Kay, another former U.N. arms inspection chief, who would support U.S. action to topple Saddam Hussein. "The only way to end the Iraqi WMD [weapons of mass destruction] program is to end the rule of Saddam Hussein."
Bush administration officials, while acknowledging they are considering a range of options aimed at ousting the Iraqi leader, insist there are no imminent plans for such action.