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Please send responses to firstname.lastname@example.org The impasse of Iraq The UN security council meets this week to discuss one of its most intractable problems but there seems little hope of consensus Ian Black, Diplomatic Editor Thursday July 1, 1999 Jan 1991 Gulf war Apr 1991 Resolution 687 orders destruction of weapons Jun 1991 Unscom starts first chemical weapons inspection Feb 1992 Security Council condemns lack of full compliance Jan 1993 Air raids on southern Iraq by France, UK and the US Jun 1994 Unscom destroys chemical warfare agents Jul 1995 Iraq admits offensive biological weapons programme Nov 1995 Jordan intercepts missile components for Iraq Jun 1997 Iraq again blocks Unscom from certain sites Oct 1997 Iraq refuses to deal with US personnel working for Unscom Nov 1997 Resolution 1137 condemns continued violation by Iraq Nov 1997 Russians secure return of Unscom Jan 1998 Iraq continues to block inspection teams Feb 1998 Kofi Annan visits Iraq Oct 1998 Iraq ends all forms of interaction with Unscom Nov 1998 Resolution 1205 unanimously condemns Iraq Dec 1998 Unscom withdraws staff. Renewed bombing Unemployed international arms control experts have a rare job opportunity coming up: the United Nations needs someone to oversee the disarmament of Iraq, close to a decade after Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait. The successful candidate will need enormous patience and an impressive CV. Political skills will be as important as understanding ballistic missiles and chemical, nuclear and biological weapons, because running the proposed UN commission on inspection and monitoring (Uncim) is linked umbilically to the lifting of punitive sanctions. With the UN security council meeting this week for its first discussion in months on how to find a way out of the impasse, prospects for early agreement on the way forward are depressingly poor. If you thought securing consensus on the Kosovo crisis was difficult - watch this space. Richard Butler, the outgoing chairman of the UN special commission (Unscom), knows just how difficult. He finally retired yesterday, bruised by accusations that the CIA and Britain's MI6 piggy-backed on his inspectors' legitimate work of tracking down, destroying and monitoring Iraq's once formidable arsenal of biological and chemical weapons to pry secrets from the dark heart of the Ba'athist regime. Uncim is meant to do the same difficult job under a soothingly anodyne name and a less outspoken chairman. It is to be less suscepti ble to charges of being hijacked by Washington and London for their own nefarious purposes. Most important of all, it is meant finally to get the task finished. Iraq insists hotly that it has already disarmed completely and so the US-British claim that it has not is merely an excuse for maintaining the sanctions they hope will bring down the regime. Russia and China agree with Iraq - for the same sort of reasons they sided with Yugoslavia over Kosovo - but still acknowledge that a final accounting must take place. France is thinking about lucrative post-sanctions oil deals and deeply resents the Anglo-saxon hard line. British diplomats argue that the security council must unite around a set of minimum demands or Saddam will exploit differences to buy time and provoke new crises - as he has so often. And divisions are as sharp as ever - worse, perhaps, in the post-Kosovo constellation. Discussions began on Monday on a British-Dutch proposal that would suspend sanctions only on Iraqi oil exports - for renewable periods - while a French draft proposes to suspend the embargoes on most imports as well. Moscow and Beijing want the carrot to be large, juicy and immediate; they are calling for the oil export embargo to be suspended as soon as Iraq allows UN inspectors to return to work. These are important manoeuvres, but Iraq underlines the old chestnut that the world, never mind the media, only has the concentration to handle one crisis at a time. Deadlock set in last December, after Operation Desert Fox was launched by the US and Britain to punish Baghdad's repeated non-compliance with the UN. It was then that the Unscom teams were withdrawn and not allowed back. It was a decision akin to the fateful one that removed the civilian observers from Kosovo to allow Nato air strikes to go ahead. Bold but uncheckable claims were made about the degree of damage inflicted on Iraq's security forces and the weapons Saddam seems determined to keep. Since then, low-level war has gone on. Nearly every day as Nato planes roamed the skies over Yugoslavia, US and British jets were blasting Iraqi radar and anti-aircraft sites. Without international consensus, this double act cannot go on indefinitely. The grand coalition that ejected Saddam from Kuwait in 1991 was possible because it had the blessing of the dying Soviet Union. Now, in a more divided world, diplomacy must paper over the cracks and move on. The chief victims are millions of ordinary Iraqis - malnourished and humiliated because sanctions work in cruel combination with a brutal regime. George Galloway, the Labour MP, was right to ask recently what was the point of allowing diarrhoea, typhoid and cholera medicines into Iraq while banning equipment to repair the water and sanitation system whose collapse has bred epidemics of water-borne disease. But the UN says Saddam has stockpiled medicines that his people desperately need: what is the point? Recent weeks have seen reports of intensifying resistance activity, especially in the Basra area. Intriguingly, exile sources speak of a falling out between Saddam's powerful son Qusay and Ali Hassan al-Majid, the notorious "Chemical Ali" who killed thousands of Kurds with those very weapons the UN is tasked to destroy. Iraq was quick to reject Britain's middle-way approach as refinement to prolonged torture. But it does offer a chance of a way out of the paralysis that has seized the security council. Saddam Hussein still rules in Baghdad - a lesson and a taunt for those who predict that Slobodan Milosevic will fall - and his people still suffer. Two things need to happen: the security council must agree on what to do. And Iraq must comply. The alternative is continued suffering and the further erosion of the credibility of the only world body we have. Ian Black is the Guardian's diplomatic editor. -- ------------------------------------------------------------------------- This is a discussion list run by the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq. To be removed/added, email email@example.com, NOT the whole list. Please do not sent emails with attached files to the list *** Archived at http://linux.clare.cam.ac.uk/~saw27/casi/discuss.html ***