A disturbing report

THE REPORT SUBMITTED by the head of the international weapons inspection team, charged with tracking down and destroying Iraq's stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons and the infrastructure for the production of the same, has come as a setback for those who hoped that yet another West Asian war could be avoided. In submitting his report, the chairman of the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC), Hans Blix, charged Iraq with not fully accepting the Security Council's resolution on the dismantling of its chemical and biological weapons programme. While Baghdad had cooperated with the process of inspections, especially in terms of providing access to sites and facilities used for the production of these weapons, it had to do a lot more in relation to the substantive aspects of this exercise, UNMOVIC observed. In elaborating on this observation, Mr. Blix noted that Iraq had not adequately answered questions pertaining to the past production of the nerve agent VX and ingredients for the germ agent, anthrax. Iraq had also failed to help the inspection teams track down stocks of artillery shells filled with mustard gas and 6,500 chemical bombs, the existence of which had been indicated by inspections undertaken in the past. The conclusions drawn by UNMOVIC do add weight to the accusation levelled by the U. S. administration that Baghdad is leading the U.N. inspectors on a wild goose chase even as it continues to hide its weapons of mass destruction (WMD) stockpiles. A parallel report submitted by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), to the effect that its inspection teams had not found any evidence to show that Iraq had revived its nuclear weapons programme, does not counter-weigh the UNMOVIC report since concerns on this score were much more muted.

With UNMOVIC having tabled a negative report on Iraqi compliance, Washington can be expected to become more vehement in its argument that military action is necessary since Baghdad will not give up its WMD programme voluntarily by cooperating with the inspection teams. This need not necessarily mean that an outbreak of war is imminent since the U.S. has apparently not completed the build up of the forces with which it intends to invade Iraq, destroy its WMD stockpiles and re-cast its regime. But the UNMOVIC report has weakened the case of those countries, such as Germany and France, which have insisted that Baghdad must be given every opportunity to cooperate with the weapons inspection teams. Mr. Blix's assessment, that Iraq did not appear to have come to a genuine acceptance of its disarmament obligations even though more than a decade had passed since it first gave its assent, would add strength to Washington's arguments. While it is imperative that the rest of the global community insist that the Security Council consider the issue once again before a decision is taken to initiate military action against Iraq, those seeking to forestall a war have to first deal with the implications of the UNMOVIC report.

Even before the UNMOVIC report had been tabled Iraq had declared that it had cooperated fully with the weapons inspectors. But it will be difficult for Baghdad to convince its audience since Mr. Blix has a reputation for impartiality quite unmatched by others who led the inspection efforts in the past. It is possible that Iraq's continued insistence on its innocence, especially when it contrasts with the assessment of impartial monitors, might be attributable to an accounting problem. Whatever the truth may be, it is now essential that Baghdad takes its friends in the international community, and neutral nations, into its confidence and come forth with a complete disclosure of its non-conventional weapons programme. It would be unwise for Baghdad to believe that the nascent anti-war sentiment in the West will build with sufficient speed and strength to block a U.S. administration that appears to be bent on war.

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