International weapons hunters crossed a threshold today, paying an unannounced visit to a military post once declared “sensitive” and restricted by the Iraqi government.
It was their first visit to a previously declared “sensitive site” since the inspections resumed on Wednesday after a four-year break.
On the third day of renewed inspections, the UN monitors got unrestricted access to the Chemical Corps base, as mandated by the UN Security Council when it sent them back to Iraq last month with greater powers to inspect any place, anytime.
Another team, meanwhile, inspected a complex that once was the heart of Iraq’s aborted effort to build nuclear bombs.
In both cases, as expected, the UN teams did not disclose their findings, holding them for later reports. But their spokesman indicated afterwards they were satisfied with Iraqi co-operation. “They were able to conduct inspections as they planned,” Hiro Ueki said.
“They found nothing,” said the commander of the Balad military post north of Baghdad.
The inspections have resumed under a new Security Council resolution giving Iraq a “final opportunity” to shut down any chemical, biological or nuclear weapons programmes, or face “serious consequences”.
Inspections in the 1990s, after the Gulf War, led to destruction of many tons of Iraqi chemical and biological weapons, and equipment to produce them. UN teams also dismantled Iraq’s nuclear weapons programme before it could produce a bomb. But that inspection regime collapsed in 1998 amid disputes over access to sites and infiltration of the UN operation by US spies.
Those inspectors believed they never found all the Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, particularly chemical arms. The United States now threatens war to disarm the Baghdad government if the new inspections do not.
In their first field missions, the UN teams mostly revisited sites with well-known involvement in Iraq’s past weapons programmes – places where equipment had been disabled or chemical or biological weapons material destroyed after UN inspections in the 1990s.