Saddam Hussain Did Not Expel U.N. Weapons Inspectors

By Scott Ritter, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, May 2002, p23.

As the secretary-general of the United Nations prepares to sit down once more with representatives of the Iraqi government to discuss, among other issues, the possible return of U.N. weapons inspectors to Iraq, it is useful to reflect on the reasons such a dialogue is necessary to begin with. Weapons inspectors have not been in Iraq since mid-December 1998. Since their departure, there has been no end to the speculation as to what mischief Saddam Hussain and his scientists have been up to, with rumors running rampant about stockpiles of deadly chemical and biological agents, a resurrected nuclear weapons programs, and secret missile factories. Setting aside the technical merits (or lack thereof) for such speculation, the fear factor engendered by this rhetoric is further inflamed by a bit of popular mythology spread by those advocating confrontation with Iraq over the issue of weapons inspectors—namely, that it was Saddam Hussain who expelled the inspectors back in December 1998.

This mythology is useful since it reinforces the logical construct that Saddam wanted the inspectors removed so he could reconstitute his lethal arsenal without the inconvenience of the prying eyes of international monitors. However, like all myths, this one isn’t true. It wasn’t Saddam Hussain or the Iraqi government who gave the boot to weapons inspectors from the United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM). Rather, it was the United States. In the person of former President Bill Clinton, Washington ordered the inspectors removed from Iraq on the eve of Operation Desert Fox, a unilateral 72-hour aerial bombardment of Iraq conducted without the approval of, or even in consultation with, the U.N. Security Council, which—in theory at least—was the organization overseeing the work of UNSCOM.

Even this fact isn’t seen as shocking by most. The U.S., so the argument goes, was justified in ordering the UNSCOM inspectors removed for their own safety. Repeated Iraqi obstruction of the inspectors’ work, up to and including the critical denial of access to an UNSCOM inspection team trying to gain entry to an arms cache in downtown Baghdad, made the continued work of the inspection teams impossible. Iraq’s repeated flouting of its disarmament obligation, and its demonstrated unwillingness to part with its prohibited weapons, made it a menace to international peace and security that no longer could be ignored. The U.S. therefore had no choice but to bomb Iraq, destroying the very arms factories Saddam was trying to preserve.

A convincing piece of fiction, but fiction nonetheless. To begin to dismember this particular story, one needs to go back to the summer of 1996, where UNSCOM inspectors (I was the deputy of this team) were stopped outside several military barracks associated with Saddam Hussain’s security. Rolf Ekeus, the distinguished Swedish diplomat who had headed UNSCOM since 1991, flew into Baghdad to resolve the stand-off. The solution came in the form of the so-called “Modalities for the Inspection of Sensitive Sites,” which required Iraq to provide immediate access to any site designated for inspection, with the proviso that the inspection team would be limited in size to four inspectors (unless something of a proscribed nature was discovered, in which case the site was fair game for as many inspectors as deemed required).

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