U.N. Sanctions Didn’t Stop Iraq From Buying Weapons

The New York Times
June 18, 2001, p. A6

Two American arms control experts, combing through unpublished reports by a disbanded arms inspection commission, say they found evidence that Iraq continued to buy prohibited weapons or parts long after United Nations sanctions were imposed in 1990.

Many of the purchases appear to have been made in Central and Eastern Europe, the experts, Gary Milhollin, director of the Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control in Washington, and Kelly Motz, a project researcher, say in a new independent report. They found documents concerning illegal sales or potential sales by companies in Ukraine, Belarus and Romania. Among the purchases made by the government of Saddam Hussein were missile components and high-technology machine tools.

In the past, United Nations arms inspectors for Iraq had been reluctant to identify countries in public reports, in part because there have also been suspicions of illegal trading by companies in Russia, a powerful member of the Security Council.

The report by the Wisconsin Project, to be published on Wednesday in the magazine Commentary, appears as the United Nations Security Council is debating a new “oil for food” program for Iraq that would lift most restrictions on sales of civilian goods to Iraq.

The Council is stymied over American insistence that, given Iraq’s past subterfuges in acquiring weapons of mass destruction, the plan must include an extensive list of items that could only be sold after a review to make sure they were not intended for military use.

“What this shows is that Saddam’s procurement network is alive and well and has been working steadily despite the sanctions,” Mr. Milhollin said in an interview on Thursday. “To stop it, we need to do better.

“There are a lot of companies out there willing to break the embargo, and they’re also going to be willing to take advantages of weaknesses in this list, which means the list ought to be as strong as we can make it. Given his proclivities to divert things and to stop selling oil for his people in order to leverage us out of controlling his money, if there are going to be mistakes made, we ought to make them on the side of being more careful about what he is allowed to buy.”

The sanctions were imposed on Iraq in 1990, after it invaded Kuwait. The oil for food program allows Iraq to sell oil to alleviate suffering of the civilian population under the sanctions. The United Nations monitors expenditure of the profits, with part going to Kurds in the north and reparations for the Persian Gulf war.

France, Russia and China are objecting to the American list of items that would have to be reviewed under the broadened program.

They contend that some items, beyond clearly prohibited arms, are unnecessarily restrictive and will prolong hardships in Iraq that the new oil-sales plan was intended to alleviate.

Some independent experts say United States intelligence agencies are trying to keep certain items out of Iraq that it could use to make American eavesdropping harder, if not impossible.

In negotiations this week in Paris and New York, the Americans agreed to trim the list somewhat, diplomats said. But continuing disagreements over its scope it could cause the Council to miss another deadline, July 3, for establishing the new oil-sales program.

In their article, Mr. Milhollin and Dr. Motz dismiss the debate over the new plan as largely irrelevant. “The new proposal — whether adopted by the U.N. or not — has little hope of stopping the Iraqis from sneaking in what they need to rebuild their weapons sites and sneaking out the oil to pay for it,” they wrote. “For the truth is that even when the U.N. inspections regime was in place, the Iraqis had figured out how to do just that.”

Iraq continues to argue that it has disarmed as required by the Security Council and that sanctions should be lifted without further preconditions. Russia and France, the Council members with the closest ties to Iraq, say that while an automatic lifting of sanctions is not possible, Iraq should be told clearly what it still needs to do so that sanctions can at least be suspended as soon as possible.

A United Nations commission was set up after the gulf war to monitor Iraq’s weapons, but the inspectors were withdrawn in late 1998, in advance of American and British bombing of Iraq. It was that commission’s documents that Mr. Milhollin and Dr. Motz reviewed.

A new arms inspection system was established, but this week its director, Hans Blix of Sweden, told the Security Council again that inspectors from his new United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission must go to Iraq before a suspension can be considered. Mr. Hussein has barred them.

“The completion of both the inventory of unresolved disarmament issues and the identification of the key remaining disarmament tasks,” he wrote in a report to the Council, “will only be possible after the commission’s experts have commenced work in Iraq and have been able to assess what changes may have occurred during the almost two-and-a-half years when there have been no on-site inspections or monitoring in Iraq.”

Among the examples drawn from the documents of the now defunct United Nations Special Commission was a case that began in 1995 when a delegation of Iraqi specialists from the Badr State Establishment, which made sophisticated machine tools, arrived in Belarus with a shopping list that included diamond-cutting tools. They can be used for making precision parts for nuclear weapons and long-range missiles. Those tools and other materials were bought outside United Nations rules, the authors say, and shipped to Iraq by way of the Jordanian free-trade port of Aqaba.

As late as 1998, before arms inspectors were withdrawn from Iraq, the Wisconsin Project article says, United Nations experts saw high-technology lens-making machinery from Belarus being unloaded in Iraq. In Ukraine, the Iraqis wanted to acquire whole laboratories, with training assistance and computer software. The Iraqis say they never made the purchases, and United Nations inspectors never found evidence of them at missile sites or other places.

Ukraine continues to be publicly active in Iraq, however. This year, according to news reports from Kiev, more than 100 Ukrainian companies, some selling space and aviation equipment, exhibited their goods at a Baghdad trade fair.