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The History of UN's Effort to Inspect Iraq's Weapons of Mass Destruction - 2002-10-03

The ongoing debate over U.N. inspections in Iraq and how best to ensure the destruction of Saddam Hussein's banned weapons program is not new. There has been more than a decade of U.N. inspection demands and a pattern of confrontation over those demands from Iraq.

When Iraq invaded neighboring Kuwait in August of 1990, the U.N. Security Council condemned the aggression and imposed tough economic sanctions on Baghdad.

After a U.S. led international coalition ousted Iraq from Kuwait in 1991, the U.N. Security Council issued another resolution, No. 687, which formally declared a cease-fire and established the U.N. Special Commission, known as UNSCOM.

That resolution demanded that Iraq scrap its weapons of mass destruction and open its weapons and research facilities to U.N. inspection. In return for Iraq's full cooperation, economic sanctions would be lifted.

From the start, Iraq's relationship with the inspection teams was like a roller coaster ride careening from cooperation to confrontation.

U.N. inspectors did manage to locate and destroy much of Iraq's non-conventional arsenal, including tons of chemical and biological weapons and more than 800 Scud missiles between 1991 and 1998 when they left the country.

But, former weapons inspector David Albright says, Iraq did not make their job easy. The U.N. Security Council has issued more than a half dozen resolutions criticizing Iraq's non-compliance.

"It wouldn't honestly tell inspectors what it had done," he said. "It refused to turn over documents, claiming they were destroyed in the bombings in 1991. They would deny inspectors access to sites. They would deny inspectors access to key personnel."

Mr. Albright, who now runs the Institute for Science and International Security, says even when Iraqi officials did cooperate, their information was never complete.

"Iraq got the message that it could defy the word of the Security Council without too much fear of the consequences," he said.

The pattern of confrontation reached a peak in 1997 when Saddam Hussein accused American members of the U.N. inspection team of being spies and expelled most of them.

Iraq let the inspectors return in November, 1997 under threat of U.S. and British military action.

Still, under the terms of a deal between the U.N. and Iraq, Saddam Hussein's presidential palaces have been exempted from inspection, even though U.N. weapons experts suspected they were being used to conceal weapons of mass destruction.

Baghdad insisted it had complied with the U.N. resolutions and demanded that economic sanctions be lifted. But the semi-annual report from the inspection teams never could give Iraq a clean record.

Late in 1998, the U.N. removed most of its staff after then-chief inspector Richard Butler reported to U.N. headquarters that Iraq was still obstructing inspections and hiding equipment and vital documents from the inspection teams.

On December 16, U.S. and British warplanes launched massive air strikes against the suspected military targets.

The U.N. inspectors never returned.

Faced with the threat of U.S. military action once again, Iraq now says the weapons inspectors are welcome back. But chief U.N. inspector Hans Blix says existing U.N. resolutions still exempt the presidential compounds.

"All sites are subject to immediate, unconditional and unrestricted access," he said. "However, the memorandum of understanding of 1998 establishes special procedures for access to eight presidential sites."

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell says Iraq's latest announcement does not persuade him Saddam Hussein is serious.

"We will not be satisfied with Iraqi half-truths or Iraqi compromises, or Iraqi efforts to get us back into the same swamp that they took the United Nations into back in 1998," he said.

Washington is seeking a tougher U.N. resolution that will not exclude any area from inspection, shortens the timetable for compliance, and threatens the use of force if Iraq does not comply with the 11-year-old demand that it destroy its arsenal of toxic weapons.