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"we have a vacuum and it continues

U.S., Iraq Deadlocked on Weapons Inspections, Officials Say
By Howard Schneider
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, January 25, 2000; Page A16 

 A sign advertising the U.N. weapons inspection team hangs outside the
run-down Baghdad hotel that served as its headquarters until a year ago.
The group's fleet of white vehicles waits in the parking lot, tagged and
ready to resume the hunt. 

But that is unlikely any time soon. The assessment from Iraqi officials
and foreign diplomats here is that the debate over weapons
inspection--urgent enough 13 months ago to spark a four-day U.S. bombing
campaign against Iraq--has reached a deadlock that neither the Americans
nor the Iraqis have much incentive to break.

Viewed from Baghdad, the recent U.N. debate over renewal of a weapons
inspection program showed no change in America's demand for a tough
inspection regime as a condition for relaxing the economic sanctions
imposed on Iraq after its invasion of Kuwait in August 1990 and the
Persian Gulf War that followed in early 1991.

Iraqi officials have concluded, meanwhile, that they can get enough food,
medicine and other supplies under existing rules to meet immediate needs.
Despite a U.S. commitment to "regime change" in Iraq--presumably meaning
overthrowing President Saddam Hussein and his Baath Socialist Party
rule--there is likewise enough sense of political stability for the Iraqi
government to simply wait and argue for the least onerous inspection
system--and the most ensured end to sanctions--that it can get.

"There is no sense of urgency," said Nizar Hamdoon, a former ambassador to
Washington and the United Nations and now undersecretary in the Ministry
of Foreign Affairs. "The understanding here in the government and at the
street level is that America is not going to change its mind."

The expectation that sanctions will remain in place, Hamdoon added, leaves
Iraq little incentive to accept a new inspection regime and little
alternative but to plod along under existing economic restrictions. The
result is a status quo that could go on indefinitely, with the Iraqi
government entrenched, the United States publicly committed to sanctions
and funding Iraqi opposition groups and no third party willing or able to

Humanitarian officials here said the situation for Iraqis is one of a
society barely coping. The sanctions allow Iraq to trade a U.N.-specified
amount of oil for survival levels of food and, in one notable improvement,
enough medicine to create a stockpile near the level recommended by the
World Health Organization. But at the same time resources are stretched
too thin to address problems like child malnutrition, infant mortality and
water-borne diseases that all skyrocketed in the years following the war.

That has become the norm here now, nearly 10 years after the cease-fire
placed Iraq under strict economic sanctions until it completed the
dismantling of its chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programs.

Over the ensuing years, Iraq sparred continually with the inspection
teams, concealing records and data until the work of the inspectors and
information supplied by high-level defectors made disclosure unavoidable.
The program of biological and chemical weapons eventually uncovered was
more extensive than originally thought, creating a climate so rife with
suspicion that Iraq was recently questioned over its request to import
several bulls because of worries about whether accompanying vaccines would
be useful in biological weapons research. Many imports into Iraq are
reviewed by a U.N. committee to ensure that items are put to their
specified end and that no weapons materials or components are brought in
under the guise of a civilian use.

>From the Iraqi side, the links between U.N. inspectors and American and
Israeli intelligence services created similar mistrust.

In December 1998, after the United States and Britain concluded that Iraq
was not going to fulfill its promises to give weapons inspectors
unfettered access, an intensive bombing campaign targeted dozens of sites
around the country that U.N. inspectors had listed as possible weapons
storage or research facilities. The inspection teams were withdrawn and
their organization, the U.N. Special Commission, or UNSCOM, was
effectively abolished.

The recent U.N. discussion over a new inspection program showed how
hardened the sides have become. Although a new inspection unit has been
approved, the Security Council remains divided over who should run it. And
there is little sense yet of whether a mission for it can be found that
reconciles U.S. hesitancy to lift sanctions with Iraq's hesitancy to
accept what one diplomat here called the "headache" of renewed

"It is going to be a very painful process," said the diplomat.
"Practically, we have a vacuum, and it continues."

) 2000 The Washington Post Company 

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