Iraq: Monitoring its Future

Iraq’s drive to lift the U.N. oil embargo is raising the specter that Iraq may soon get the petrodollars it needs to rebuild its mass destruction war machine the factories and laboratories that the United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM) has worked to dismantle since the Gulf War.

When that day comes, UNSCOM plans to have a new export control system that will deny Saddam Hussein access to sensitive imported goods.

“We need to be ready,” says Charles Duelfer, deputy chairman of UNSCOM. He adds that the system will not be needed until sanctions are lifted, but “if you ask the question of when that might happen, you could get an answer of six months to 60 years.”

UNSCOM’s monitoring plan, which is being circulated among U.N. members, would require the world’s exporters to consult a list of items known as “Annex 3” before making sales to Iraq. Annex 3 lists items banned for sale to Iraq plus items that could only be exported with notification to UNSCOM. The task is complicated because some items on Annex 3 are not specifically controlled for export by other international agreements, like the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), and may not appear on national control lists.

The Commission’s proposal for overseeing Iraqi imports focuses heavily on an item’s declared end-use, with UNSCOM inspectors prepared to escort dual-use items across Iraq to their approved destination and seize or destroy the item if it isn’t used for an approved purpose.

Once sanctions are lifted, UNSCOM cannot restrict trade, so a company could tell UNSCOM of a sale, collect its money and then let Iraq worry about keeping the product from being destroyed. For Iraq to cheat, it would have to defeat U.S. and European export control regimes and the world intelligence gathering effort now aimed at Iraq.

Fear of Iraqi cheating is one of the reasons the United States opposes lifting the embargo. However, Russia, France and China, three permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, have been lobbying in favor of at least lifting the oil embargo.

Before the oil embargo or trade sanctions can be lifted, UNSCOM must have eliminated all mass destruction weapon sites, a task that still may not be complete. After visiting Baghdad in late February, Rolf Ekeus, the U.N. official in charge of dismantling Iraq’s banned weapons, said Iraq had failed to account for material that could be used to produce two to three tons of bacteria for biological weapons, a finding that could delay lifting the oil embargo.

UNSCOM expects to have the required monitoring program in place by April to ensure that plants with weapon of mass destruction capabilities are used only for approved purposes, said Tim Trevan, special advisor to UNSCOM. But the Commission may not know about all the weapon sites. “There’s a potential clandestine capability,” Trevan said.

Trevan believes the U.N. system will work, but that Iraq may challenge it. “It’s a hell of a lot of risk they are going to take,” Trevan says, but “we have to plan for them cheating.”