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Dr. Hans Blix is Executive Chairman of the United Nations Monitoring and Verification Inspection Committee (UNMOVIC), the agency that monitors Iraqi weapons; he was appointed to this position by U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan in January 2000. From 1963 to 1976, Dr. Blix headed the department at the Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs and served as legal advisor on international law. He was appointed minister for foreign affairs in October 1978. From 1981 until 1997, he was Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna. Dr. Blix studied at the University of Uppsala, at Columbia University, and at Cambridge University, where he received his Ph.D. He spoke to the Middle East Forum on May 10, 2002.
Although no weapons of mass destruction (WMD) were used by Iraq during the Gulf War, their existence in Iraq is well known. Iraq's president, Saddam Husayn, used WMD during his war with Iran (1980-88). He also dropped mustard gas and an unidentified nerve agent on the Kurdish population of northern Iraq in 1988. Most worrisome are the estimates of Khidhir Hamza, the former director general of Saddam Husayn's nuclear program, who believes that Saddam will have between three to five nuclear weapons by 2005. Measures have been taken in the past decade to cut Saddam's WMD capabilities, but some analysts see Iraq representing the greatest threat to international security today.

Sanctions on Iraq

Following Iraq's attack on Kuwait in 1990, international sanctions were placed on Iraq prohibiting the purchase of Iraqi oil by member states. Sanctions on Iraq initially resulted in a decline of oil revenue from $7 billion prior to the Gulf War to just $1 billion. In 1996, Iraq accepted an "Oil-for-Food" program through which Iraq was allowed to apply oil proceeds toward the purchase of food and medicines. This program significantly reduced the previous economic pressures on Iraq. Although Baghdad would very much like to rid itself of the sanctions, the Oil-for-Food program has alleviated much of the economic pressure on Iraq.

UNSCOM Inspections

As part of the cease-fire agreement after the 1991 Gulf War, U.N. Resolution 687 stated that Iraq had to declare all WMD in its possession. To enforce the inspections, the United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM) was granted very strong rights, allowing for its immediate and unrestricted access to any suspected WMD site in Iraq.

The U.N. believed that the Iraqi sanctions would force Iraqi compliance with the U.N. resolutions. But this was not the case. Iraq engaged in a "cat-and-mouse" game with the U.N. inspectors and was never forthcoming with relevant information.

Nonetheless, as President Bill Clinton acknowledged, more WMD were destroyed by UNSCOM than were destroyed during the Gulf War. Vast chemical stockpiles and Iraq's nuclear program infrastructure were destroyed. Indeed, many documents were discovered in 1995, revealing that Iraq had planned to build nuclear weapons by the end of 1991, and that this program was disrupted by the U.S. bombing of Iraq.

As part of U.N. Resolution 687 passed in 1991, sanctions against Iraq were to be lifted if Iraq's weapons programs were completely disassembled. Subsequent resolutions call for a suspension of sanctions if Iraq were to comply with U.N. resolutions in all respects.

The weapons inspection program was successful for several years. But in 1998, things took a turn for the worse as Baghdad denied inspectors access to its facilities (falsely claiming that they were involved in espionage activities). From that time, no inspectors have been on the ground in Iraq.

Enter UNMOVIC

In 1999, a new U.N.-sponsored inspections resolution and committee was adopted and set into motion, which I chair. Although some critics claim that the new committee is "UNSCOM-light," the new committee shares the same weight and mandate.

UNMOVIC differs from UNSCOM in many important respects. UNSCOM has been perceived as being dominated by the West, but this new committee has twice the international representation and trains over 230 people in how to perform their job functions. UNMOVIC also trains its personnel in the nuances of Iraqi culture, with the intention of providing better preparation for their responsibilities in Iraq.

And although UNMOVIC is still barred from inspecting Iraqi facilities on the ground, it utilizes satellite imagery, interviews defectors, and has analyzed approximately one million previously confiscated documents. There is much work for us to do.

The U.N. Plan for Iraq

While inspections cannot offer 100 percent guarantees, and certainly cannot guard against small or underground installations, they can monitor Iraq's activities on a large scale. U.S. officials have suggested that a change of regime resulting from an invasion of Iraq is needed. But an invasion of Iraq is not the only course of action that can be taken and has not been decided on.

In fact, compliance with inspections becomes nonsensical were the military invasion of Iraq a foregone conclusion. An inevitable attack gives Iraq nothing to work towards and therefore gives it no reason to comply with demands for inspection. Threats of military repercussions in the event of noncompliance are more likely to prompt Iraq to agree to weapons inspections in the future.

Peaceful means are always preferable to military means. Accordingly, political solutions to the Iraqi problem remain our best recourse, especially when considering the inherent drawbacks to a military operation. For one, Iraq can seize this opportunity to re-establish that it does not have WMD and thereby rebuild the confidence of the international community at large.

Summary account by Ira Stickler, research assistant at the Middle East Forum.