Two former chief United Nations weapons inspectors said yesterday that the latest report on Saddam Hussein's weapons programs proved that U.N. sanctions, inspections and monitoring had succeeded in keeping the Iraqi leader's illicit arms programs in check from 1991 until the invasion of March 2003.

The report released Wednesday by U.S. weapons inspector Charles A. Duelfer confirmed that the Iraqi leader had destroyed his chemical and biological weapons stockpiles in the 1990s and had effectively ended his elementary efforts to pursue nuclear weapons.

"We can see today that the inspections worked," said Rolf Ekeus, the director of the first United Nations Special Commission and former Swedish ambassador to the United States, who led the first inspectors into Iraq in 1991. Ekeus said the report documented that most all of Hussein's weapons and prohibited production equipment and facilities had by 1995 either been destroyed or placed in non-weapons activities.

Hans Blix, the chief U.N. inspector from 2000 to 2003, said in a telephone interview from Sweden that Duelfer's report showed that "international inspection is another means of war without fighting."

Blix said that if his inspectors had been allowed to remain in Iraq and continue their work -- instead of having to leave on the eve of the U.S.-led invasion -- Hussein would have been effectively contained. If several more months of inspections had shown there were no weapons stockpiles, monitoring of Iraq's production facilities would have continued along with import controls and spot inspections.

"Saddam would have remained," Blix said, "but he would have become like [Fidel] Castro or [Moammar] Gaddafi, in power but not a threat to his neighbors."

While the U.N. inspections and sanctions had been sharply criticized as ineffective by the Bush administration before the war, U.S. officials are discussing going to the United Nations to seek broader sanctions against Iran. U.S. and European officials are concerned that Iran's nuclear program could be used for weapons, although Iran insists the program is peaceful.

Duelfer's report concludes that U.N. inspections and sanctions beginning in 1991 forced constraints on Hussein's weapons programs. This in turn forced the Iraqi leader to cut back on weapons programs and make his strategic goal the removing of the sanctions.

Ekeus said most people did not realize that the original U.N. resolutions on Iraq, which were part of the settlement of the 1991 Persian Gulf War, put a tight economic noose around Iraq. They allowed inspectors to limit what goods could be imported and destroy items with potential military use that came into the country to be tracked and destroyed if not used for civilian purposes.

He recalled that Russian gyroscopes were smuggled into the country and his U.N. inspectors got divers to go into the Tigris River to find them where the Iraqis had attempted to hide them.

Ekeus said senior officials in the administration of President George H.W. Bush considered the sanctions and inspections "their main legacy from the Gulf War," because it would disarm Hussein without sending U.S. troops into Baghdad.

By the late 1990s, however, Hussein began a campaign to end the sanctions. He used favorable contracts and bribes to undermine Security Council support and a public relations campaign to show the economic harm being done to the Iraqi people.

When the Bush administration came to office, newly named Secretary of State Colin L. Powell made one of his first goals the creation of "smart sanctions," limiting prohibited imports to items directly related to weapons. He said that the 10 years of sanctions worked.

"He [Hussein] has not developed any significant capability with respect to weapons of mass destruction," Powell said in February 2001. "He is unable to project conventional power against his neighbors. So in effect, our policies have strengthened the security of the neighbors of Iraq, and these are policies that we are going to keep in place."

Powell's new list of sanctioned materials was approved by the United Nations in the summer of 2001.

By that time, Duelfer told a congressional committee Wednesday, "My personal view is that the sanctions were in free fall. They were eroding. There was a lot of corruption. Were it not for 9/11, I don't know that they would exist today."

Hussein's apparent support for Osama bin Laden's attacks on the United States lost him support, not just within the United Nations but from many in the Arab world. Suddenly, as Duelfer put it, Hussein "saw U.N. sanctions, he saw forces around him, he saw diplomatic isolation, he saw his revenue streams dropping -- he chose at that point in time to allow U.N. inspectors in."

Duelfer said he believed when Hussein began discussions with the United Nations in late 2000 about readmitting inspectors, "to me that was a very key indicator that there probably wasn't large stocks there to be found." When the U.S. troop buildup began in the Gulf, it became "clear that Saddam chose not to have weapons at a point in time before the war," he added.

Rolf Ekeus says the new report on Iraqi weapons proves the U.N.'s effectiveness.