Iraq Hasn't Cooperated, Arms Inspector Reports
By Barton Gellman
Noting "no progress" on disarmament and "new forms of restrictions" by Iraq on the inspectors, Executive Chairman Richard Butler of the U.N. Special Commission wrote that his panel "is not able to conduct the substantive disarmament work mandated to it by the Security Council."
A White House statement last night said only that Iraq's resumed defiance is "a serious matter" that Clinton would take up with his advisers. Defense and national security officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that an American-led military strike on Iraq is now nearly inevitable, and may be imminent.
One official speaking authoritatively for the government described Iraqi promises as "worthless."
He expressed the likelihood of an attack as a logical consequence of the U.S. position: "The president said clearly that Iraq must cooperate. If they didn't, we would be prepared to take action. And Chairman Butler's report clearly states that Iraq failed to provide full cooperation."
A senior flag officer predicted hostilities "sooner rather than later," and a White House official rejected arguments that the United States could not bomb a Muslim country during the holy month of Ramadan, which begins this weekend. "What's good for the goose is good for the gander," a defense official said. "If you think of 1973, Ramadan was not a problem for the Arabs to attack Israel. The Iran-Iraq war ran through eight years without stopping."
The United States has 24,000 troops in the region, 22 ships and about 200 planes. U.S. officials have said the U.S. forces in the area would be sufficient to launch airstrikes against Iraq.
Butler's conclusions were welcome in Washington, which helped orchestrate the terms of the Australian diplomat's report. Sources in New York and Washington said Clinton administration officials played a direct role in shaping Butler's text during multiple conversations with him Monday at secure facilities in the U.S. mission to the United Nations. Spokesmen for Butler and the Clinton administration declined to comment on those conversations.
Iraq has intensified its struggle this year to break the bonds of the oil embargo and nonconventional disarmament imposed after the 1991 Persian Gulf War. In August and October, it closed down most and then all arms inspections and demanded Butler's firing. Clinton ordered a major air campaign on Nov. 13 in retaliation against Iraq. He called it off with minutes to spare when the Baghdad government promised unconditionally to cooperate with the special commission, or UNSCOM.
Butler's 10-page assessment, in a letter to U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan that Annan distributed to Security Council members last night, reported in unemotional tones that Iraq gave no substantial assistance to the inspectors and erected new bureaucratic barriers against their work.
Of 12 sets of documents requested by UNSCOM, Iraq provided only one, and preliminary analysis showed it did not answer the inspectors' questions. Iraq is ready to "consider" showing parts of another document, snatched from UNSCOM inspectors at Iraqi Air Force headquarters in July, but has not done so. Iraq told the commission that all the other documents "either do not exist, could not be found or are not relevant."
In the past, such claims "very often [have] been shown to be false" when inspectors found -- or Iraq decided to turn over -- documents previously described as nonexistent, Butler said.
Butler also reported that Iraq refused a request from inspectors to remove missile engine components for forensic study. Minders from Iraq's National Monitoring Directorate, who accompany inspectors in all their work, "routinely interrupted" the questioning of biology graduate students at a university where forbidden research is known to have taken place and prompted answers from those being questioned.
Iraq imposed new restrictions on the commission's monitoring of known sites of forbidden weapons work and equipment capable of producing such weapons. One, announced Dec. 11, was that inspections could not take place on Friday, the Muslim day of rest. Another was a refusal to provide test data from the production of missiles and their engines, as Iraq routinely did in the past.
Butler said Iraq did allow no-notice searches at all but one site, but many of the sites "had been emptied of any relevant materials" known to UNSCOM and "Iraq would not disclose where those materials were now held."
Diplomatic sources said Iraq's cleanup efforts were so obvious that Butler called off several attempted inspections, including one on Saturday adjacent to the Radwaniyeh Presidential Site southwest of Baghdad. Butler had summoned the required diplomatic observers, led by Pakistan's Baghdad ambassador, under procedures agreed last February. But Iraqi minders were so eager to expedite the search that Butler aborted it.
"They were falling all over themselves to cooperate at a site they would normally consider sensitive," said one official. "This led the inspectors to conclude they would not find anything there."
Butler wrote that his panel had "solid evidence" of "proscribed materials" at the Baath Party headquarters, which sources said included ballistic missile components. But Iraq refused entry to all but four inspectors, invoking limits agreed to by Butler's predecessor in 1996, and "protracted discussions between the chief inspector and his Iraqi counterpart failed to yield satisfactory access."
"As is evident from this report, Iraq did not provide the full cooperation it promised on 14 November 1998," Butler wrote.
A companion report by the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency, which is responsible for Iraq's nuclear disarmament, expressed broad satisfaction with Iraq's cooperation.
Annan, in a cover letter to Butler's report, told the Security Council last night that it might wish to proceed with a "comprehensive review" of Iraq's compliance with U.N. obligations -- a device Iraq has sought to give it a political forum in which to combat UNSCOM. But Annan, who Monday urged the review go forward, last night described it neutrally as one of three options available to the council. The other two are to abandon the review or give Iraq more time to demonstrate its cooperation.
Staff writers John Goshko at the United Nations and Bradley Graham in Washington contributed to this report.
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