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Iraq: Modified Sanctions Could Ease Civilians' Plight, But Weapons Program Likely To Persist

Britain is preparing to circulate within the UN Security Council next week a U.S.-backed plan to ease embargoes on civilian goods to Iraq while tightening bans on weapons-related materials. London and Washington hope the draft plan -- made public on 16 May -- will help prevent Iraq from pursuing its weapons-of-mass-destruction programs even as it refuses to readmit UN arms inspectors. RFE/RL's Iraqi Service Director David Newton recently spoke with Charles Duelfer, formerly the top U.S. weapons inspector in Iraq, about Baghdad's weapons programs and the new British proposal. RFE/RL's Charles Recknagel reports.

Prague, 18 May 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Charles Duelfer is former deputy chairman of the UN Special Commission on Iraq (UNSCOM) and now a guest scholar at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C. He spoke with RFE/RL Iraqi Service Director David Newton yesterday (17 May) during a visit to Prague.

Newton asked Duelfer if he sees any risks in the British-led proposal for a modified sanctions regime which would loosen controls on Iraq obtaining civilian goods but tighten them for military-use items.

Duelfer said he regards the proposal as an important step to ease the situation of ordinary Iraqis under the UN sanctions. But he warned that tighter controls alone may not be enough to keep Baghdad from pursuing weapons-of-mass-destruction (WMD) programs.

"I think what we are seeing is an effort by the international community to separate those steps which are being taken to try to constrain the weapons activities of the [Baghdad] regime from unintended effects on the Iraqi population. This approach of trying to have tailored or focused sanctions which will only apply to weapons, I think, is an important step because it will free up things to the civilian sector."

He continues:

"But I would not rely on those sanctions to stop Iraq from obtaining weapons of mass destruction or, indeed, rebuilding much of their conventional forces. I think as a defense planner someone would have to look at this and say 'we are going to have to depend on deterrence as well.'"

Baghdad has refused to allow the UN to exercise its most effective deterrent strategy -- on-site arms inspections -- for more than two years. The Iraqi government barred arms monitors from returning to work after the U.S. and Britain conducted air raids in December 1998 to punish Baghdad for not cooperating with UNSCOM. Since then, the UN has created a new arms-inspections agency, with the acronym UNMOVIC, in hopes of easing some of Iraq's complaints about UNSCOM, but Baghdad has continued to refuse to let arms inspections resume.

Newton asked Duelfer what future he sees for UNMOVIC as a deterrent to Iraqi arms programs given Baghdad's refusal to cooperate with it.

Duelfer said that for now, the future of UNMOVIC appears to be in Baghdad's hands:

"The future of [UNMOVIC] is really in the hands of Iraq. Iraq has steadfastly refused to accept any of these arms inspectors or in fact anything having to do with the [UN] resolution which created the new [arms control] organization. Iraq says that they have complied with everything the United Nations Security Council had demanded of it. They were not able to convince [UNSCOM] of it but in any case that is the statement they make. Frankly, I don't think the prognosis is very good for this new organization to enter Iraq and conduct serious inspection activity."

Duelfer says that Iraq remains determined to maintain its WMD programs and has deliberately sought to mislead the international community over the extent of its cooperation with UN demands to eliminate the programs following the 1990 to 1991 Gulf crisis and war.

"The best that we can understand is that Iraq took a decision in 1991 that they would reveal part of their program and conceal part of it, presumably under the assumption that we would think we had found everything. And they began with the missiles and chemical weapons which were obvious [because] everybody knew that they had them, and they denied that they had an offensive biological program until 1995."

He continues:

"The concealment activity was directed, as best we understand it, from the most senior parts of the government, from the presidency and his immediate security services: the Special Republican Guard and the Special Security Organization. But Iraq was never able to fully convince us that they had stopped concealment and in fact we were convinced of the opposite, that they still retain weapons."

With the UN and Iraq still deadlocked on disarmament more than a decade after sanctions were imposed over Baghdad's 1990 invasion of Kuwait, many analysts have wondered why Iraqi President Saddam Hussein never cooperated with UN arms inspectors to get the sanctions lifted. Newton, who noted that compliance is one way Saddam could have freed himself to still rearm later, asked Duelfer's opinion.

Duelfer said many arms inspectors believe the Iraqi regime attaches so much importance to its weapons of mass destruction that it is unable to give them up under any circumstances:

"We would often ask [that question to] some of our Iraqi counterparts -- and bear in mind we had a fairly good relationship with our Iraqi counterparts, you spend many years with these people and you can develop some very candid conversations. But that is one question we would ask and we never really got a full understanding, other than that these capabilities were seen as vitally important to the national security of Iraq."

Duelfer says that Iraqi defense officials believe that their use of chemical weapons against Iranian troops in the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war saved Iraq, and they also believe their possession of chemical weapons discouraged coalition forces from advancing upon Baghdad during the 1991 Gulf War. He continues:

"I think they can look at these capabilities and say that the survival of their government depends on them. And from that perspective you can see where they would probably pay a pretty high price to retain some amount of them. But, again, this is speculation, I don't know the real answer to the question."

Baghdad said yesterday it will reject the new British proposal on sanctions, which could be voted upon by the Security Council by the end of this month.