President Saddam Hussein's government, apparently emboldened by antiwar sentiment at the U.N. Security Council and in worldwide street protests, has not followed through on its promises of increased cooperation with U.N. arms inspectors, according to inspectors in Iraq.
No Iraqi scientist involved in biological, chemical or missile technology has consented to a private interview with the inspectors since Feb. 7, the day before the two chief U.N. inspectors arrived here for talks with Iraqi officials. The United Nations also has not received additional documents about past weapons programs, despite the government's pledge to set up a commission to scour the country for evidence sought by the inspectors, U.N. officials said.
One U.N. official here said that since Friday's Security Council meeting, "we have not seen any positive moves on the part of Iraq." Another charged, "They are not fulfilling their promises."
If Iraq does not move quickly to arrange more private interviews and provide more evidence, the chief inspector, Hans Blix, likely will deliver a more downcast assessment of Iraqi cooperation when he next reports to the Security Council, a U.N. official said. A critical report from Blix could prove instrumental to U.S. and British efforts to build support for a new council resolution authorizing force against Iraq.
In news conferences and interviews, Iraqi officials have glossed over warnings from Blix -- and from governments of Security Council members opposed to war -- that Iraq must take additional steps to satisfy a disarmament resolution the council passed unanimously on Nov. 8. The overriding analysis among officials here is that Iraq has complied and that everyone, save the U.S. and British governments, now views Iraq as the aggrieved party.
"We have done what was asked of us -- and the whole world sees that," a senior Iraqi official said, noting that Iraq last week acceded to U.N. demands for a presidential decree banning weapons of mass destruction and to allow U-2 surveillance planes to fly over the country. "All these criticisms are just raised by the Americans as a way to justify their aggression."
Newspapers here, which are state-controlled, have pushed a similar line in the wake of the protests, proclaiming that Hussein's government parried U.S. efforts to forge an international coalition to confront Iraq. Babel, a paper run by Hussein's eldest son, Uday, said the United States and Britain face "humiliating international isolation."
"The antiwar demonstrations across the world reflect a new chapter in the global balance of power," the paper said in an editorial earlier this week. "Everyone has noted that a new multipolar world is emerging. Iraq, with its oil, its resistance, its wise leaders and its strategic vision is an important and fundamental actor in this multipolar world."
Iraqi officials, displaying a similar confidence, have shifted their message from "We are complying" to a more insistent call for the lifting of economic sanctions imposed after Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait.
U.N. officials and diplomats here express belief that Hussein's government may have misread the position of most council members or may be seeking to continue a game of brinkmanship by parceling out concessions at the last minute to stymie U.S. efforts to generate consensus for military action.
"They are feeling: The world opinion is with us. We can resist further pressure. We have time. We can play with the U.S. and U.K.," a U.N. official said. "This is very dangerous."
Among the most visible issues testing Iraq's compliance is the ability of inspectors to conduct private interviews with Iraqi scientists.
The U.N. resolution authorizing the latest round of inspections requires Iraq to provide "private access" to anyone the inspectors wish to interview. But for weeks, as the inspectors asked to conduct confidential sessions, every scientist they approached insisted on having a government official present.
Iraqi officials said the scientists were worried about having their testimony mischaracterized. But U.N. and U.S. officials contend that Hussein's government prevented scientists from speaking in private because of fear they might spill secrets about banned weapons programs.
Then, on Feb. 6, as Iraq was facing growing pressure to demonstrate more cooperation with the inspectors, it announced that one of its scientists had agreed to conduct a private interview. The next day, two others also consented to confidential questioning.
But since then, the inspectors have been unable to interview any other nuclear, biological or missile expert in private. They have asked to question 28 non-nuclear scientists, but most have insisted on having a government representative present. Although five non-nuclear scientists did agree to questioning without a government representative, they each insisted on making a tape recording of the session. The inspectors refused to go forward with those interviews because of concern that making a tape, which likely would wind up in the government's hands, would dissuade the scientists from providing candid answers.
"The tape recorder has been the stumbling block," one U.N. official said.
The International Atomic Energy Agency has conducted several taped interviews of nuclear scientists. It has agreed in some cases to allow the scientists to retain the tape; in other cases, the agency kept the tape. The interviews with nuclear scientists, however, are less controversial because U.N. experts already have said they do not believe Iraq has an active nuclear weapons program.
Another test of Iraq's compliance likely will emerge when Blix formally informs Iraq that its Al Samoud 2 missiles violate a 93-mile range limit imposed by U.N. resolutions after the 1991 Persian Gulf War, U.N. officials said.
Blix has not revealed what he will demand of Hussein's government. U.N. officials said he could insist that Iraq destroy the missiles, modify them to reduce their range or disassemble them.
Over the past few days, U.N. inspectors have visited several military facilities where the missiles are assembled, tested and stored. A U.N. spokesman here said metallic identification tags have been placed on "dozens" of the missiles. The inspectors have identified and tagged 380 rocket engines that Blix said were illegally imported for use in the Al Samoud missiles.
Iraqi officials have not said what they would do if they were ordered to destroy the missiles, which could be a potentially valuable asset in fighting any invading U.S. forces. Foreign Minister Naji Sabri on Tuesday called the issue too hypothetical for a response now.
Blix also has requested that the government turn over a list of people who participated in what Iraq said was the destruction of its biological weapons in the early 1990s. Iraq handed over a list earlier this month of those involved in the destruction of chemical weapons.
The U.N. official here said he expects Iraq eventually to relent on the interviews and perhaps the missiles only if demands from Blix and Security Council members are aggressive enough. "What we've seen is that without pressure, Iraq is not going to cooperate with the inspectors," he said.