Over a decade has passed since the Iraq invasion, and the security debate is still dominated by the success or failure of state-building and counter-insurgency in Iraq post-2003. What has been somewhat obscured are the roles of the United Nations Special Commission on Iraq (UNSCOM) and the IAEA in eliminating virtually all of Iraq’s residual nuclear, biological and chemical programmes in the decade before – and the mis-steps that led to war itself.
The IISS’ Alexa van Sickle recently interviewed Rolf Ekéus, executive chairman of UNSCOM from 1991–1997, for an article in the United Nations Association–UK magazine, New World, in which Ekéus reflected on his experiences in Iraq, particularly UNSCOM’s hard-won successes in disarmament and inspection.
‘In spite of various confrontations between UNSCOM and Iraq, the disarmament work [moved] forward in a steady pace,’ says Ekéus.
Indeed, UNSCOM managed to destroy key chemical weapon facilities and force the Iraqi regime to admit to the existence of its biological programmes. ‘[These] programmes had been kept secret by Iraq for years, but it was a brilliant, almost emotional effort by UNSCOM’s group of senior scientists that broke the net of secrets around Iraq’s biological weapons,’ he adds.
By 1998, Ekéus says, they were certain that Iraq’s prohibited weapons capabilities had been eliminated. But the appetite in Washington and among policy circles for regime change, regardless of the disarmament progress, removed any incentive for Iraq to cooperate further, and UNSCOM’s eventual withdrawal meant that there were four ‘inspection-free’ years, during and after which governments relied on ‘shaky intelligence’, assessments and guesswork.
It has since become clear, he explains, from the Saddam Tapes – taped conversations with his top staff – that there were no plans for renewing the weapons programme.
Ekéus also recounts that he was involved with a last-ditch effort to avoid the war. He thought the probability of renewed production was small, but could not be excluded. ‘That was why I, together with Jessica Mathews, Director of the Carnegie Endowment in Washington, and Charles Boyd, just-retired four-star general from the Pentagon, instead of an invasion proposed what we called “intrusive inspections” with military back-up, as a superior alternative to invasion.
‘To me personally,’ Ekéus says, ‘the lack of appreciation of the success for the UN with the complete disarmament of Iraq in accordance with the ceasefire resolution is the greatest disappointment.’
Read the full article at UNA-UK.