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Tuesday, November 17, 1998 Published at 16:10 GMT

Frustrated at every turn

It has been described as the ultimate game of cat and mouse, and the stakes could not be higher.

UNSCOM, the United Nation's Special Commission on Iraq, has steadily revealed the true extent of Saddam Hussein's secret arsenal of mass destruction. But it has been frustrated at every turn.

It has produced evidence that Iraq continues to manufacture and hide chemical and biological weapons. This is the direct cause of the current crisis.

On several occasions Iraq has made a "full, final and complete disclosure" of its weapons programme, only for the UNSCOM experts to find something new.

Nerve gas evidence found

[ image:  ]
One such instance occured in June this year when UN weapons inspectors discovered traces of the deadly VX nerve gas on Iraqi missile fragments.

The chief United Nations weapons inspector, Richard Butler, said the unambiguous results were serious because Iraq had always insisted it never weaponsied VX.

The claims were denied by Iraq with an official in Baghdad suggesting that the test results from an American laboratory were faked.

But US President Bill Clinton said the evidence had reinforced his determination to keep UN sanctions against Iraq in place.

Experts in their field

UNSCOM's work was established and approved by UN resolution 715. At its core are about 20 scientists and experts in nuclear physics, chemistry, biology and missile technology.

[ image: UNSCOM chairman Richard Butler is accused of bias by the Iraqis.]
UNSCOM chairman Richard Butler is accused of bias by the Iraqis.
Central to the dispute are the unannounced visits the inspectors make to suspected manufacturing and storage facilities.

Often these visits ended at the front gate - the Iraqis refused point-blank to allow the inspectors to see many installations including presidential palaces.

On other occasions the UNSCOM teams would be kept waiting at the front gate while trucks and equipment left by the back.

UNSCOM has used the latest technology, sensors and remote cameras to monitor many locations. But the Iraqis have regularly tampered with this equipment.

Civilian and military use

The problem for UNSCOM has been the dual-nature of many of the sites they have inspected. The fermenters and centrifuges used every day in dairies, wineries and pharmaceutical houses, for example, can be quickly converted to churning out lethal weapons, and then switched back to innocent uses before inspectors show up.

[ image: Inspectors have installed remote cameras at more than 100 sites.]
Inspectors have installed remote cameras at more than 100 sites.
However, it is the size and quantity of some of the discoveries which has aroused suspicion.

For example, UNSCOM has located tonnes of biological growth medium.

This is the substance in which microbes breed, and is used by hospitals and laboratories to do diagnostic tests. But the volume involved makes UNSCOM think it is being used to make biological weapons - civilian agencies could never make use of so much medium.

Iraq's defence of sovereignty

To Iraq, UNSCOM's work is seen as an invasion of national sovereignty. Tariq Aziz, the deputy prime minister, said: "The United States and the British governments....use the commission to procrastinate the work, to give a wrong assessment of what has been achieved and what has remained, to disinform the Security Council and the world.

"So no matter what we do, what we implement of the Security Council resolutions, the position they impose is that it's not enough."

Iraq has complained about the make-up of the inspection teams, accusing them of being overloaded with Americans and Britons.

Of 150 staff UNSCOM may have at any one time, roughly 15-20% will be from the US. Its chairman, Richard Butler, is an Australian.

The United States argues that specialist knowledge is required, which can only come from those countries that have themselves manufactured chemical and biological weapons, and this includes the US and Britain.

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In this section

Timeline of the Iraqi crisis

Frustrated at every turn

Oil-for-food scheme no cure-all

A people suffering under sanctions

Busting Iraq's oil smugglers