Prague, 4 November 1998 (RFE/RL) -- As the United Nations Security Council prepared yesterday to debate a resolution condemning Iraq for its latest challenge to UN weapons inspections, analysts said the new crisis with Baghdad may be more difficult to resolve diplomatically than earlier ones.
On Saturday (Oct. 31), Baghdad said it would cut off all remaining cooperation with inspectors from the UN Special Commission (UNSCOM) on disarming Iraq unless the Security Council ensured that a promised review of the country's weapons systems would lead to the lifting of trade sanctions.
So far, the Security Council has signaled it will take a tough line in response. In a statement shortly after receiving Baghdad's demands, the 15 council members unanimously called for Iraq to "immediately and unconditionally" rescind them.
Terrence Taylor, director of the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, said each new crisis makes it difficult for the international community to continue finding diplomatic solutions with Baghdad rather than resort to force. Taylor said, "I think it is becoming clearer and clearer there isn't a diplomatic solution which results in being certain that Iraq has disposed of its weapons of mass destruction programs and can be properly monitored in a way that will insure they won't restart them ....The deal that was struck last February between UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and (Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister) Tareq Aziz is now becoming unraveled and I think that has put (Secretary General Annan) in a very difficult situation and it is very hard for even those who sympathize with Iraq's position to stand up and speak for it."
February's crisis saw the U. S. and Britain rush warships to the Arabian Gulf to carry out air strikes if Baghdad did not provide full cooperation with arms inspectors. After Annan's last-minute personal intervention, Baghdad signed a compromise agreement which guaranteed access for arms inspectors to all sites. In return, Baghdad won the right to have diplomats accompany UNSCOM inspectors when they visited its most sensitive and secret facilities.
But any good will generated by that agreement began evaporating this summer as UNSCOM said it is still far from being able to certify Iraq has no more mass-destruction weapons, both chemical and biological. The commission's certification is a prerequisite for the UN to lift economic sanctions it imposed on Iraq following Baghdad's 1990 invasion of Kuwait.
The crisis which the Security Council is now addressing started in August, when Iraq said it would no longer cooperate with new UNSCOM inspections until the UN carried out a compliance review Baghdad hopes will lead to the end of sanctions. Now Iraq has raised the stakes further by saying it will not even cooperate with UNSCOM's ongoing electronic monitoring of previously inspected sites.
Many analysts predict that the international community may again have to mount a credible threat of punitive strikes against Baghdad to force Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein back into complying with UN resolutions. So far, the U.S. and Britain have stopped short of directly threatening to use force in the latest crisis. But they have not ruled it out.
U.S. President Bill Clinton said on Monday (Nov. 2) that his advisors have discussed the crisis and that, until the arms experts are "back on the job, no options are off the table."
Taylor said that how the showdown will end depends on two variables. One is how ready the international community is to take punitive actions despite what he calls its "Iraq fatigue," or weariness over constant crises with Baghdad. The other is Saddam Hussein's own readiness to engage once again in brinkmanship that could well lead to air strikes against facilities of the Iraqi regime. In Taylor's words, "It's really challenging for the democracies to maintain the will and stamina to see these things through (and) of course that is exactly what Saddam Hussein's regime is hoping for, that the fatigue will set in and the major powers will give up on this particular issue.
Taylor continued, On the other hand, the Iraqi regime is not as stable as one might believe looking from the outside. It does have real concerns about its own security and its survival in the longer term. So I don't rule out the possibility that the regime, which is used to playing this brinkmanship game, will go right up to the brink of action before withdrawing or doing some kind of deal --as we've seen time and time again over the past seven years."