The following is an archived copy of a message sent to a Discussion List run by the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq.

Views expressed in this archived message are those of the author, not of the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq.

[Main archive index/search] [List information] [Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq Homepage]

[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]

[casi] A Case for Concern, Not a Case for War (Rangwala, Hurd and Millar - MERIP)

Source: Glen Rangwala, Nathaniel Hurd and Alistair Millar, "A Case for
Concern, Not a Case for War", Middle East Research and Information Project
(MERIP), 28 January 2003,


(Glen Rangwala is a lecturer in politics at Cambridge University. Nathaniel
Hurd is an NGO consultant on UN Iraq policy. Alistair Millar is vice
president of the Fourth Freedom Forum and director of the organization's
Washington office.)

On January 27, UNMOVIC Executive Chairman Hans Blix and IAEA Director
General Mohamed ElBaradei presented to the UN Security Council their
required updates on the progress of weapons inspections inside Iraq. The
updates arrive as the differences between the overt strategies of Security
Council members reach a new level of sharpness. Permanent members China,
France and Russia staked out their position over the preceding week: the
inspections are satisfactorily helping to provide the Council with
assurances regarding Iraq's non-conventional weapons and related programs, a
military assault may have grave consequences for regional stability and the
prevention of international terrorism, and the inspectors themselves must
declare their inability to work in Iraq before the Council can consider
changes in its policy. By contrast, the United States, along with Great
Britain, has acknowledged neither positive results from the inspections
process nor the inspectors' prerogative to assess the continued validity of
their own work. Both factions among the Security Council's Permanent Five
will find much in the Blix update to substantiate their positions.

The goal of successive Security Council resolutions, and thus the
inspectors' mandate under Resolution 1441 of November 8, 2002, is limited to
divesting Iraq of non-conventional weapons and dismantling the related
programs. Throughout the 1990s, US administrations vacillated between the
Security Council's goal of disarmament and Washington's goal of regime
change. Under the Clinton administration, the regime change agenda
persistently served to impede disarmament, most apparently for 14 days in
November 1998, when Iraq withdrew all cooperation with inspections in
response to the Iraq Liberation Act signed by President Bill Clinton.
Shortly after George W. Bush came into office in early 2001, his Secretary
of State, Colin Powell, was faced with a rapidly eroding sanctions regime.
Powell proposed a "re-energized" sanctions policy ostensibly aimed at
reducing restrictions on some civilian imports while streamlining controls
on Iraqi imports of proscribed military goods and dual-use goods. But, due
to pressure from within the Bush administration, this new policy was
short-lived. Regime change is strongly backed by Bush and by Congress, but
is not the official policy of any other Security Council member. The US
policy of regime change in Iraq is behind the crisis within the Security
Council over whether inspections or war are the way to secure Iraq's


By the standard of containing Iraq's non-conventional weapons capacity and
hence keeping Iraq's potential for aggression acceptably low, inspections
have worked. As a result of the ceasefire agreement with Iraq in 1991,
Resolutions 687 and later 715 established an ongoing long-term monitoring
and verification system (OMV), with an export/import control mechanism to
assure that Iraq did not reconstitute or retain its prohibited chemical and
biological weapons and missiles with a range greater than 150 km. From
1991-1998, the implementation of the OMV was a vital element of the
disarmament process, as UNSCOM personnel left tamper-resistant monitoring
equipment at sites and conducted frequent follow-up visits. The inspectors
collected valuable baseline information that has increased the speed and
effectiveness of the current UNMOVIC and IAEA inspection teams.

Vast improvements to surveillance and detection technologies over the last
five years will increase the effectiveness of a new OMV that could be
established as early as February 2003. Inspectors would also conduct
in-person OMV visits frequently enough to reassure the Security Council
about Iraq's non-conventional weapons capabilities. Ensuring the
re-establishment of an effective OMV is a more important goal than the hot
pursuit of unanswered questions, as it serves to deter the Iraqi government
from reconstructing its non-conventional facilities. It also provides the
Security Council with assurances that Iraq is not conducting activities
prohibited by Council resolutions.

Those who advocate the continuation of inspections would find much in the
January 27 updates to the Council to support their position. ElBaradei told
the Security Council that "we have to date found no evidence that Iraq has
revived its nuclear weapons program since the elimination of the program in
the 1990s." He also made his most direct pitch for a non-violent solution,
ending his presentation with a direct appeal to the US: "These few months
would be a valuable investment in peace because they could help us avoid a
war. We trust that we will continue to have your support as we make every
effort to verify Iraq's nuclear disarmament through peaceful means, and to
demonstrate that the inspection process can and does work, as a central
feature of the international nuclear arms control regime."

Blix, too, endorsed elements of the Iraqi approach, mentioning how "Iraq has
on the whole cooperated rather well," and how inspectors' "reports do not
contend that weapons of mass destruction remain in Iraq." Blix did not
acknowledge that large-scale production of prohibited weapons is extremely
unlikely while Iraq sits in the full glare of international scrutiny. But
the negative findings of inspectors inside Iraq -- who have investigated all
the sites named by the US and Britain as potential weapons production
facilities -- imply that the Iraqi threat is, at least, contained.


But the overt goal of the Security Council -- containing Iraq -- has been
abandoned by the US, most clearly in Bush's National Security Strategy
launched in September 2002. The Bush team argues that even a contained Iraq
can equip terrorists. Further, administration officials have explicitly
articulated regime change and enhanced control over the Persian Gulf region
as US policy goals. Naturally, the Bush administration cannot make their
case for war internationally on this basis. But it does not need to.

Instead, the Bush team can also draw upon the nature of the inspectors'
mandate to justify military action. As US officials argue again and again,
inspections have not verified Iraq's claims to have either destroyed its
proscribed weapons or refrained from resuming their production. This line of
argument dovetails with the inspections process: as Blix has repeatedly
stated, under the terms of the Security Council resolutions, the burden of
proof is on Iraq to demonstrate that it has disposed of the weapons stocks
it held before 1991, and is not developing them again.

One day before Blix's update, Powell said at the World Economic Forum in
Davos: "Where is the evidence -- where is the evidence -- that Iraq has
destroyed the tens of thousands of liters of anthrax and botulinum we know
it had before it expelled the previous inspectors? [...] We're talking about
the most deadly things one can imagine, that can kill thousands, millions of

Blix has been more reticent about the "missing anthrax," but has said enough
to appear to endorse the administration's point. In his update, the chief
inspector referred to how anthrax "might still exist" in Iraq, though the
maximum possible quantities he mentioned were less than a fifth of the
alleged "stockpile" of anthrax Powell had adduced in December 2002.
Inspectors have to account for the possibility that the "missing anthrax"
might still exist, without pronouncing judgment upon how likely that is.
Seizing upon this ambiguity, the Bush administration transforms a case for
concern into a case for war.


The confusion is between what Iraq could have produced before 1991, and what
it actually did produce. Iraq could have produced considerably more
biological agents than it declared if, firstly, all of Iraq's claims to have
lost, damaged and destroyed growth media were untrue; and, furthermore, if
its claim that its fermentors (turning the growth media into weaponizable
agents) were not used for certain periods of time was also untrue. Taking
the maximalist position that Iraq could have fully utilized all imported
growth media, without any failed or destroyed batches, and engaged its
fermentors at top production continuously, UNSCOM stated in its January 1999
report that Iraq could have produced three times as many anthrax spores as
it declared.

UNSCOM's calculation used a figure of 520 kg of yeast extract that was
unaccounted for. This seemingly large quantity amounts to less than 11
percent of the total amount of yeast extract destroyed under UNSCOM
supervision in 1996 (4,942 kg). The Iraqi government claimed that it
unilaterally destroyed a quantity of growth media at a site adjacent to
al-Hakam prior to the arrival of inspectors in 1991. This explanation holds
some credibility, as UNSCOM was able to conclude that it "confirmed that
media was burnt and buried there but the types and quantities are not
known," and thus could not reduce the quantity of material still classified
as unaccounted for. Therefore, whether the quantity of unaccounted-for
material is within a reasonable error margin -- particularly given that
UNSCOM acknowledged its understanding of Iraq's destruction of its weapons
in 1991 was of "considerable uncertainty" -- is itself open to question.
Nevertheless, it is impossible for UNMOVIC to come to a firm conclusion on
this matter, leaving the way open for the Bush administration to allege that
Iraq still holds a deadly stockpile.

One further problem with the US argument is that any anthrax spores produced
before 1991 would probably no longer be infectious. As Middle East military
expert Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International
Studies wrote in a 1998 report on the status of Iraq's biological weapons
programs, "the shelf-life and lethality of Iraq's weapons is unknown, but it
seems likely that the shelf-life was limited. In balance, it seems probable
that any agents Iraq retained after the Gulf war now have very limited
lethality, if any." Even if Iraq did retain growth media for biological
weapons, that growth media would long since have passed its expiry date by
1999, and would thus have a markedly reduced efficiency in producing
biological agents.


Other known aspects of the US-British case for Iraqi non-compliance are
similarly flawed. Allegations by Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair
about rebuilt facilities at former nuclear sites have been effectively
quashed through IAEA inspections. The US claimed that Iraq was importing
aluminium tubes to use in enrichment centrifuges. The IAEA has provisionally
concluded that these were used to produce short-range rockets. US and
British claims that Iraq had attempted to import uranium from Africa have
not been substantiated by the two governments, despite numerous requests
from the IAEA. It seems most likely that the reference was to an attempt in
1981-82 to import uranium from Niger.

Claims about Iraq's retention of stocks of VX nerve agent -- invoked by
National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice in her January 23 op-ed in the
New York Times -- seem dubious. From 1997, UNSCOM repeatedly confirmed
Iraq's claim that it had dumped its stock of VX by taking samples from the
dump site. Despite the evidence of destruction, it was not able to verify
the quantity of material dumped. Sites that the US and Britain alleged were
involved in the production of biological or chemical weapons have been
repeatedly inspected by UNMOVIC. These include Falluja II, at which
inspectors found the chlorine plant at the focus of concern not even in
operation, and al-Dawra Foot and Mouth Disease Vaccine Facility, which
appeared to journalists as having not been reconstructed since its
destruction in the mid-1990s. The inspectors have not reported any evidence
of the production of proscribed agents at any of these sites.

In the face of the declining credibility of US claims about particular
weapons programs, the Bush team has reverted to claiming that the Iraqi
government is inherently untrustworthy, exhibit A being Iraq's failure to
unconditionally fulfill all the obligations mandated by UNSC 1441. Clearly,
the Iraqis government was highly secretive about its weapons programs since
the inception of the inspections process. From the 1980s, the Iraqi economy
was built around the military and its ambitious development. Exposing all
past activities to inspections runs up against entrenched hostility. But the
habits of secrecy are not the same as continuing programs of illicit

US reliance on claims about full and unconditional compliance with UNSC 1441
rather than about disarmament per se demonstrates that the claim of Iraq's
threat is becoming increasingly hard to justify. Throughout the period in
which inspections made substantial progress from 1992 to 1997, the Clinton
administration labeled extensive though incomplete compliance as
non-compliance. This strategy was taken a step further by the White House
spokesman on the morning of Blix's update, who reaffirmed that compliance
must be absolute. "If the answer is only partially yes, then the answer is
no," he said.


The British government has claimed that the Iraqi government structures its
identity around non-conventional weapons. There is no evidence for this, and
it seems highly unlikely. The Iraqi government has long had a survivalist
strategy, by projecting an image of strength exercised to the patrimonial
benefit of its support base. This strategy has served the government well,
with only the briefest of hiatuses, as when Iran retook Abadan in September
1981 and made the government's terrible miscalculation to launch war against
Iran apparent.

It is not at all apparent how the retention of proscribed weapons could
serve this survivalist strategy. If inspectors uncover non-conventional
programs, then this would lead to the government's ouster. From 1999-2002,
Iraq pushed at boundaries only indirectly related to the proscribed weapons.
Iraqi weapons program personnel extended the al-Samoud missile range and
imported missile engines and raw material to produce solid missile fuel. The
Iraqi government acknowledged these transgressions in its December 7
declaration, and since this date has agreed to halt these programs.

Instead, the Iraqi government has sought to reinforce its image by rewarding
the citizenry. Examples include the prison releases of October 2002, the
doubling of the food ration, extensive resource distribution through tribal
networks and the prospect of political reforms. This tactic of purported
munificence has been used previously by the Iraqi government, most notably
in 1991 in the wake of the Iraqi uprisings. Then, the benefits were
withdrawn as soon as the hold of the loyalist military was secured over
south and central Iraq. The May 1991 program of political liberalization was
reversed and forgotten by September.

The survivalist approach of the Iraqi government has been most manifest in
its cooperation with inspectors. The relative luxury enjoyed by the regime
in the 1990s -- hindering inspectors while fearing no more than further
justification for the continuation of economic sanctions -- no longer
exists. The regime's cooperation may be insincere, or "given grudgingly" in
Blix's words. The key question is not whether this grudging cooperation fits
the formal requirement of unconditional compliance with UNSC 1441, but
whether it will lead to the effective disarmament of Iraq.


Nathaniel Hurd
NGO Consultant on United Nations Iraq policy
Tel. (Mobile): 917-407-3389
Fax: 718-504-4224
Residential Address:
90 7th Ave.
Apt. #6
Brooklyn, NY  11217

MSN 8 helps eliminate e-mail viruses. Get 2 months FREE*.

Sent via the discussion list of the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq.
To unsubscribe, visit
To contact the list manager, email
All postings are archived on CASI's website:

[Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq Homepage]