Iraq: Weapons Inspections and the Blix Report
With Colum Lynch
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2003; 10 a.m. ET
On Monday, Jan. 27, U.N.'s chief weapons inspector Hans Blix reported to the U.N. Security Council that Iraq "appears not to have come to a genuine acceptance" of disarmament obligations. However, Blix and his inspectors strongly proposed that the security council allow more time for continued inspections in Iraq. He also credited Iraq with providing cooperation that enabled the inspectors to operate in Iraq with relative freedom and access to any site.
Washington Post United Nations reporter Colum Lynch will be online on Tuesday, Jan. 28, at 10 a.m. ET, to discuss the Blix report, the continuing inspections and U.S. reaction to the report.
The transcript follows.
Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.
Brussels, Belgium: How can war be justified when inspections, containment and deterrence will obviously work far far better, and furthermore, without killing thousands of innocent Iraqi civilians and destabilizing an entire region? And surely, would not going to war on the feeble excuse of "insufficient cooperation with UN resolutions" be a crime against humanity? What about Israel's refusal to comply with UN resolutions? Where is the clear and present danger in Iraq? Where is everybody's common sense?
Colum Lynch: A key Bush Administration's key concern with a containment policy is that it would require a massive and costly buildup of military force in the region. And that it would be untenable to maintain the forces levels require to compel Iraq to disarm over a long period of time. This is one of the administration's key gripes with the Europeans. German and French officials acknowledge that Iraq is cooperating now because it is faced with a present and immediate threat of military action from tens of thousands of American troops. But they have not been willing to provide the military support required for the containment policy to work. One of the Clinton Administration's greatest challenges in trying to compel Iraq to disarm was that cooperation ended as soon as CLinton ordered a drawdown of American forces in the region, forcing a crisis that required another military buildup: The Bush Administration does not want to go down that path/.
Golden Valley, Minnesota: Mr. Lynch,
I have three questions, but let me first acknowledge that your work has saved lives. Your reports had a role in embarrassing the Iraqi government into ordering infant nutritional supplements, and also in embarrassing the U.S. government into releasing holds on children's antibiotics. Thanks for your honest journalism.
(1) What's the latest conventional wisdom concerning Judith Miller's defector, tunnel-building civil engineer al-Hadieri. Is he now discounted?
(2) Does the following seem a fair assessment: "Inspections have not revealed significant Iraqi re-armament efforts. Rather, evidence points to Iraq's desire to retain technical expertise, to retain certain WMD precursor and component materials, and possibly to retain small caches of chemical munitions."
(3 - Unrelated, but I've always wondered ...) In your August 1999 report summarizing UNICEF's infant mortality survey in Iraq, the "excess death" estimate (500,000 lives) was omitted. If the omission was yours (and not an editor's), do you remember the rationale?
Thanks for your time and your body of work.
washingtonpost.com: U.N. Inspectors Issue Tough Report on Iraq Disarmament (Post, Jan. 27, 2003
Colum Lynch: I haven't written about al-Hadieri so I'll dodge that question on the basis of ignorance. It's true that the inspections have not revealed significant rearmament activities, particularly in the nuclear field. The head of the IAEA, Mohamed ElBaradei, has systematically shredded the claims by the Bush Administration that it has actively sought to reconstitute its nuclear weapons program. In particularly it cast doubt on American claims that Iraq has sought to import high strength aluminum tubes, and uranium yellow cakes that could be used in a nuclear weapons program. I don't know if I would agree that this is the case with relation to the biological and chemical areas; the Iraqis have admitted to producing considerable quantities of anthrax, VX nerve agent and other deadly gases and bugs. there is also considerable evidence that iraq is still seeking to develop missiles and other delivery systems that could give iraq's neighbors cause for concern. On the Unicef report, I truly can't remember: but I would really doubt it would have been an editorial decision: the omission would likely have been mine.
Gullsgate Minn.: Colum Lynch: the Blix Report can be debated by the right or the left but we have found nothing that justifies the death of our youth or the children of Iraq. We build enemies not friends daily with the statements coming out of the Bush administration. We trade with the Enemy even as we condemn them. Chevron, Rice's old boss, Exxon, Bp and Shell are sucking out oil for profit even as we increase sorties over Iraq killing citizens and damaging property under the guise of hitting the 'trouble spots'. Bush's speech tonight should be titled State of the Disunion, as thinking citizens try to effect wisdom over wreckage before its too late--which is what a president out-of-control will do to this nation as he goes beyond the scope of his powers. He is not listening to the masses of bodies who are speaking out across America. Is it unfair to say he doesn't care? I don't think so. In the small city of Duluth Minn., well over 2000 people of all ages and political persuasions stood in the cold after marching down mainstreet with a wind chill far below zero to plead for Peace. Cannot any thinking American admit we've got a simple, myopic man in the White House who is going way beyond his powers--and we can no longer contain him? Hussein is a dictator but must we follow suit? Depending on whose semantical wordplay wants to interpret the Blix Report...basically we have little to hang our nuclear missiles on...something that will happen as Bush Incorporated gets started-- playing war with one of his perceived enemies? Maybe the big question is ,will Blix move out; finish a very methodical task, before the bombs fall too heavily? If Blix doesn't get the report "right", is he and his fellow inspectors to become victims of media sophistry and maybe even of our preemptive strikes, which are happening with daily sorties already? Is it really a question of how to interpret the 'Report'--or how to interpret so it says what some from righteous right want to hear? We have gone beyond a reasonable understanding into the realm of sophistry in order find more than can been found? And do we say what is not found or cannot be found, exists on the basis that we have assumed it's there because we are searching for it even if we cannot find it? Is that not the fallacy when debating the nature of this Blix Report and its substance or lack of same?
Colum Lynch: It's true that the debate on Iraq where I am sitting has been somewhat narrowly focused on the question of whether Iraq is actively willing to give up chemical and biological weapons that most council members believe Iraq has. On those grounds, the Americans are on fairly solid ground. I think they have done a fairly good job of making the case that Iraq is not willing to give them up. The larger question about whether the presence of a somewhat degraded WMD program in Iraq represents a vital threat to our way of life is perhaps something that the administration has been less successful at conveying to the American public.
Rockville, Ill.: It seems evident to me (or maybe I'm mistaken) that there are negotiations underway between the Bush Administration and the other members of the Security Council to hash out a compromise, most likely the terms under which it would be acceptable for the Council to declare a material breach and authorize military action. Is this a baseless assumption? Is the Bush Administration really going to stick to a hardline in the face of international and domestic unease, or is there a chance they can hammer out a mutually acceptable timetable for action?
Colum Lynch: Those discussions are largely taking place between the British government, which is more keen than the U.S. on striking a compromise in the council. But I suspect that we will see the council more actively debating the prospects for a diplomatic compromise starting tomorrow, when the council meets to consider Blix's latest report and President Bush's State of the Union Address. But at this point it is by no means certain that a compromise can be reached. And the Bush Administration does appear intent on pursuing a military option if Iraq doesn't radically alter its behavior in the coming days.France, which has veto power, has hinted that it would use that power to stop the council from passing a war resolution.
Cumberland, Md.: Iraq has been dodging and playing hide and seek with the world for 12 years -- why should anyone think anything will change by increasing the length of time inspectors play cat and mouse on the ground?
Colum Lynch: I don't think many people on the council believe that Iraq will stop playing hide and seek. The issue is whether its worth the risk of launching a war against Iraq to force i to stop playing the game.
Washington, D.C.: Is there any possibility that Iraqi nuclear scientists fear meeting alone with UN weapons inspectors because they fear torture. It's a well-known fact that the CIA is paying people for information gained from torture, and while it may seem outlandish to us, we're not Iraqi scientists who are deep inside their country's most secure programs.
Colum Lynch: I would suspect that the Iraqis face a greater fear of being tortured by the Iraqi government. Hans Blix has said several times that inspections over the past decade in Iraq have been marked by an atmosphere of fear and intimidation.
Washington, D.C.: I'm not very knowledgeable about the delicacies of foreign policy, but doesn't it seem like we're saying that the only way to keep peace is to start a war? I feel like the United States' stance is, "we know you have these weapons and to keep you from MAYBE using them, we're going to fight with you, thus putting you in a position where you will DEFINITELY use them."
Am I missing a point? And what happened to us finding Osama Bin Laden, the person we were told was behind the Sept. 11 attacks?
Colum Lynch: That's a fair enough point. But the counterargument would be that it is safer to act militarily now than to wait until Iraq has developed even more deadly weapons in ten years.
Mt. Rainier, Md.: Can we hope that this president is playing a skilled game of chicken in hopes of getting other Arab countries to put pressure on Iraq? I wish I thought Bush was capable of that much strategy - he appears to be transparently eager for war.
washingtonpost.com: U.S. to Make Iraq Intelligence Public (Post, Jan. 28, 2003)
Colum Lynch: It is doubtful that the Iraqi regime would have begun to cooperate with the inspectors unless they truly believed that Bush was willing to go war to disarm it. It has so far contributed to increasingly international pressure on Iraq. It is still possible that this strategy could build sufficient pressure to force a mass exile of Iraq's leadership or to force them to radically alter their behavior. But this is real brinksmanship and I can't read Bush's mind.
Boulder, Colo.: Why has there been so little discussion of the meetings that took place this past week in Ankara? They included diplomats from Turkey, Iran, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Jordan –indeed, those who count most in the current conflict— and produced what seemed to me like a most startling result: political and diplomatic cover by which those countries actually will be able to cooperate in the geopolitical aftermath an invasion of Iraq. Didn't the statement that Saddam needed “to demonstrate a more active approach” toward U.N. weapons inspectors sort of place the blame on Saddam and not the U.S., as if to say, “you are not doing enough, and unless you do better, war will come and you are in large part to blame”? The Saudi diplomat involved made an even stronger statement, going so far as subtly to urge Saddam’s exile: “It’s hard to be optimistic. Unless something happens to Saddam –he steps down, gets away and saves his country. Everything is possible at the last moment.”
If this is true, shouldn't stop paying so much attention to Germany and France --who probably stand where they do for domestic political reasons mostly-- and listen to those who really would be affected by the war, those in Turkey, Iran, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Jordan?
Colum Lynch: I think it has been overshadowed by the intense focus on Blix and ElBaradei briefing to the council. There is a sense that two inspectors assessment will have a larger impact on whether we go to war or not than the regional players. But you're right that it was a very important meeting.
Sarajevo, Bih: I've read that one unofficial reason for the war is to set an example in the Middle East by putting in a democratic and (hopefully) pro-Western government. Of course this causes consternation and anger that the U.S. would have the arrogance to interfere in the affairs of an Arab country. Is this something that is discussed in the security council, or is it just too touchy and too far beyond the mandate of the inspection process?
Colum Lynch: It's clear that the Bush Administration wants to put a pro-western government in Iraq. I suspect that they would probably be satisfied with a stable, if not necessarily democratic, government in place that could prevent the country from fragmenting along ethnic and religious lines.
Rockville, Md.: The Washington Post has reported UN Inspectors as saying that cooperation by Bagdad continued to be often withheld.
Did they (UNInspectors)quote any specific instances to support their statement?
Colum Lynch: They have refused to allow the inspectors to use U-2 airplanes to conduct aerial surveillance operations in Iraq.
Washington, D.C.: Mr. Lynch: What is the timetable for war? When (since it seems inevitable now) do you think we will attack? All of this back and forth is disconcerning. Even though I don't agree with Bush's foreign policy, I'd almost rather him attack and get it over with it.
Colum Lynch: Administration officials have privately indicated that they will let the inspections and the diplomatic proceedings continue for another 5 to 6 weeks. So that would put you into mid march. But a lot could happen before that could prevent a war.
Easley, S.C.: Assuming regime change becomes a fait accompli as a result of unilateral action? What role does the U.N. have at that stage? Does the cost, moral and economic, for occupying Iraq fall entirely on us? Thanks.
Colum Lynch: The U.N. expects to play a major role in providing humanitarian relief. It has also begun contingency planning for the creation of some sort of U.N.-administered civil government along the lines of the Afghanistan model. However, the US may decide to administer the country itself. The major share of the cost will like be paid by the United States. If the Bush administration is successful in persuading the sec council to support military action it will be easier to convince other to help shoulder the burden.
Colum Lynch: I'm afraid I have to run off to an interview. Thanks for writing in.
That wraps up today's show. Thanks to everyone who joined the discussion.
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