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Tuesday, 12 November, 2002, 15:17 GMT
Q&A: Inspecting arms in Iraq
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A United Nations team is preparing to return to Iraq to search for weapons of mass destruction. Former weapons inspector Chris Cobb-Smith, who organised operations in Iraq for two and a half years, answers key questions about the team's mission.

Do the inspectors themselves believe they can do the job effectively ?

Yes, but only if they are given the resources and ultimately, the unconditional backing of the United Nations Security Council.

In the past the manipulation and interference of nations has had as much to do with compromising the inspections teams and inhibiting the inspection process as Iraqi obstruction.

How do you think they will be feeling as they wait to go in?

Excited but apprehensive, and hopefully confident.

On the surface this is "the big one" but I have been in this situation on several occasions before when we have supposedly been embarking on Iraq's last chance, or the "trigger mission", but it has seldom turned out that way.

Hopefully the team will have been well trained, fully briefed and have had the chance to bond together as a unit - so important when going into a confrontational and uncompromising environment.

What were the main obstacles you faced last time in Iraq?

The most obvious is of course the physical obstruction and denial of access to facilities by the Iraqi authorities. A particular challenge is the security of the mission - which is paramount.

Information about the actual targets, and the facilities identified and listed for inspection will be limited to just a couple of individuals.

Although there is no rank structure, team members will have to accept that they will be working on a "need to know" basis and the team inspector does not need to know where he is going until the morning of the inspection.

If this information has been promulgated already the inspection will have already been compromised.

What do you think will be different this time?

Potentially the finality of the issue and the united resolve of the Security Council. The Americans see war as inevitable and consider it only a matter of time. They are just waiting for the excuse to pull the trigger.

There is a lot riding on what the chief arms inspector Hans Blix and his team report back - how much pressure are they under?

Huge pressure. They will come under intense scrutiny by the Americans, who will be doing everything they can to ensure that any obstruction by the Iraqis is seen as just that.

Potentially it is a black and white situation: they go to Iraq, they attempt to inspect their target list and have every gate opened to them immediately.

If there is any obstruction they report it, return to base, pack and leave the country prior to the initiation of military action.

I still can't help feeling that it won't be either - Iraq will throw in something to blur the issue, to play for time and attempt to regain some sympathy from its old friends, Syria, France, Russia.

How will the inspectors choose which sites to visit ?

This should be based on intelligence gathered and analysed over the past four years, and earlier.

The size of the team, quoted as upwards of 200, implies that it will be split into a number of elements.

One will probably be made up of specialist chemical, biological and missile experts to make baseline inspections of the previously "declared" sites.

Another will probably be an intrusive element to act on intelligence and go for the sites where they believe recent proscribed activity may be taking place or where items may be concealed.

In a vast country, how easy is it to hide facilities and stockpiles? Isn't it like looking for a needle in a haystack?

Absolutely, but by careful analysis they should have a good idea where to start. They have had four years to prepare for this mission.

If it is not successful, or has shortcomings, serious questions will need to be asked of the very effectiveness and credibility of this department of the United Nations which inspects arms.

It has already been revealed that the team does not have not enough CBR (chemical, biological, radiological) protective suits.

This in itself questions the preparedness of the team.

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See also:

12 Nov 02 | Middle East
10 Nov 02 | Middle East
08 Nov 02 | Middle East
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