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Friday, February 13, 1998 Published at 18:21 GMT

Special Report

Full background briefing

NEW - Gulf Commander profile

  • Diplomatic failure: a chronology of the crisis
  • Is it legal to bomb Iraq?
  • Frustration at every turn for inspectors
  • Accurate to within a metre
  • Kofi Annan: Man with a mission

    Yet again Saddam Hussein is on a collision course with the United Nations - and the United States in particular. But how dangerous is this confrontation? Why now? and what will be the implications for what is already a deeply unstable region? In this special section BBC correspondents and analysts explore the background and context of the crisis. Below we offer a simple guide to the main issues.

    Why has this blown up again now?
    The latest crisis, just like the one that erupted last October, was prompted by Iraqi opposition to the make up of the UN weapons inspection teams, set up after the Gulf War. In particular Iraq objects to heavy US representation and sees Washington's involvement in the inspection regime as a means of spying on Iraq's strategic secrets.

    For its part, the United States says there is compelling evidence that Iraq has been continuing to build its chemical and biological weaponry, in defiance of UN resolutions and is now again becoming a major threat to regional stability.
    More detail:
    Crisis fabricated says Iraq
    Cook says Saddam lying over terror arsenal
    Diplomatic failure: a chronology of the crisis

    Has Iraq really got chemical, biological and nuclear weapons?

    [ image: United States fly reconaissance missions over Iraq]
    United States fly reconaissance missions over Iraq
    Iraq almost certainly does not have nuclear weapons, though it has tried to develop them in the past. But the UN team has produced evidence that Iraq has produced biological weapons (sometimes called "the poor man's nuke") and chemical weapons. The British Foreign Secretary says Iraq has 8,400 litres of anthrax and at least 4 tonnes of lethal VX nerve gas. Iraq says that such statements are untrue and part of a campaign of "deception and exaggeration".

    Iraq has shown it is prepared to use chemical weapons in the past, notably against the Kurds in 1988.
    More detail:
    UN evidence: Iraq's weapons of mass destruction
    Frustration at every turn for inspectors

    So will it come to war?
    Official briefings indicate that the United States is planning an intense three-to-four day air bombardment of key weapon sites and elite Iraqi military formations. A full-scale war is unlikely. The United States has not garnered support of the international community, including Security Council members, France, Russia and China, and many Arab states.

    It not clear that such attacks will solve the crisis. Bombing alone cannot eradicate Iraq's weapons programmes. Long-term monitoring is essential. And the Iraqi government's permission will be as necessary as ever, if the weapons inspectors are to resume their task.
    More detail:
    Analysis: the military options
    The military balance: facts, figures, links
    Precision weapons: how smart?

    Does Saddam Hussein really want to push this to the brink?

    [ image: Saddam Hussein]
    Saddam Hussein
    In the past the Iraqi leader's confrontations with the United States have increased his popularity at home - and in the wider Arab world. On the other hand, Saddam's renewed defiance is also seen by some analysts as a sign of desperation. More than seven years of UN sanctions have crippled the Iraqi economy and Iraq believes there is growing international sympathy in support of lifting them.
    More detail:
    Saddam profile: by former BBC Correspondent Gerald Butt
    Saddam's War of Words: from BBC Monitoring

    Do the Iraqis have a case?
    A recent UN report revealed that nearly 1 million children are suffering from chronic malnutrition - a 72% increase since sanctions were imposed. Huge increases in the costs of basic foodstuffs and the collapse of the Iraqi currency have made begging common.

    The United Nations has now initiated an "oil for food" deal, which allows Iraq to sell some of its oil to buy medicines and essential foodstuffs and lessen the impact of the sanctions on ordinary Iraqis. Western nations have said the oil-for-food deal has given Baghdad enough funds to buy food and medicine, and have criticised Saddam Hussein for building palaces while his people suffer.
    More detail:
    UN chief proposes increasing size of oil for food deal
    Iraqi children starving under sanctions
    Iraqi culture suffers as sanctions bite

    What is the UN's view

    [ image: Kofi Annan]
    Kofi Annan
    The UN will not lift sanctions until it is satisfied that all Iraqi weapons of mass destruction have been destroyed and that none are in production.

    After the Gulf War, the United Nations set up a UN Special Commission (UNSCOM) to ensure compliance, together with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

    It is this inspections programme, along with UN's authority, that is now in question. The UN has passed a number of resolutions over Iraq's refusal to co-operate but international will to enforce them has often been lacking.
    More detail:
    The UN mandate
    Is it legal to bomb Iraq?

    Do the Americans have support for military action?

    [ image: Madeline Albright]
    Madeline Albright
    Saddam Hussein rightly senses that America's allies are growing weary of the stand-off with Iraq. The unity that existed during the 1990-91 Gulf War no longer exists.

    Many, including US allies France and Russia, would like more normal relations. Both countries stand to make billions of dollars from oil deals they have made with Iraq.

    Most Arab states remain publicly opposed to action believing it would only serve Israel and add to the suffering of the Iraqi people.

    Kuwait has made positive noises but Saudi Arabia, one of the most influential Gulf states, is more cautious.
    More detail:
    Background: Iraq's relations with the neighbours
    Commander in the Gulf: General Anthony Zinni
    Analysis: The British view

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