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Wednesday, 1 March, 2000, 14:16 GMT
UN's new Iraq arms chief

The UN is tasked with destroying Iraq's WMDs and long-range missiles
By world affairs reporter Nick Childs

A new man has taken charge of the search for Iraq's banned weapons of mass destruction - the mission laid down by the United Nations Security Council following the 1991 Gulf War.

I have no doubt he will end up in the hall of enemies of Saddam Hussein

Prof Ruth Wedgwood
He is Hans Blix, a Swedish diplomat and arms control expert.

Not only is he a new man, but he also heads a new organisation - the controversial Unscom inspection commission has been replaced by Unmovic, the UN Monitoring, Verification and Control Commission.

Blix: Compromise chief inspector
Unscom left Iraq during the last major stand-off with Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein in November 1998, after which when the US and Britain punished Baghdad with bombing raids.

The inspectors had accused Iraq of blocking their work. Iraq said they were spies.

Since then UN policy on Baghdad has been paralysed by big-power disagreements in the Security Council.

No entry

A new compromise resolution on Iraq was passed in December 1999, setting up the new inspection system.

Iraq has rejected the resolution, arguing that it will not serve Iraqi interests or resolve the weapons issue.

The inspectors will not be let in, whatever the name of the organisation they work for.

The harm to Iraq civilians causes unease about sanctions
"Mr Blix (is) in charge of a commission which was formed by a resolution which Iraq has rejected," Iraq's ambassador in Vienna, Naji al-Hadithi, says. "So there is no point in dealing with a part of a whole which is rejected."

Mr Blix's first task is to create a whole new weapons inspection system with new staff.

Charles Duelfer, a former senior inspector with Unscom, says even that will not be easy and will tax all Mr Blix's diplomatic and technical skills.

"The history of our work in Iraq, the history of Iraq's relations with the Council, and in fact the internal deliberations of the Council, all point to continuing discussions and debate over each successive step," Mr Duelfer says.

Avoiding conflict

With growing public unease over continued sanctions against Iraq, even the US seems reluctant to press the issue of disarmament right now.

Until the US presidential election in November, analysts say, Washington is unlikely to want another major blow-up with Iraq, although there are avenues Mr Blix could pursue to relieve some of the disappointment over the failure of Unscom.

Butler: Failed mission
"What Blix could do is to try to spend more time looking at the supply side, building in Europe and Asia to try to cut off sources that Saddam relies upon," says Yale professor Ruth Wedgwood.

Two years ago Richard Butler, Hans Blix's controversial predecessor, was in Baghdad hailing a "new spirit of co-operation" with Baghdad, after a dramatic intervention by the UN Secretary General to try to restore UN-Iraqi relations.

In fact it was the beginning of the end for Mr Butler and his organisation.

Hardline critics say the creation of a new, weaker organisation is already a defeat for any hope of real disarmament.

No carrot, no stick

Some US sceptics have even complained about Hans Blix's appointment. A former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), he failed to uncover Iraq's secret nuclear programme.

"It's true that IAEA was caught unawares by Iraq initially," Prof Wedgwood says. "But after they were embarrassed by Saddam they tightened up their protocols and no longer simply look at declared sites."

US is unlikely to repeat bombing raids soon
The new UN resolution was meant to offer a carrot and stick approach to Iraq, but Charles Duelfer says there is much uncertainty about both elements - the prospect of sanctions being lifted and the willingness to use force to ensure inspections.

It is doubtful anyone drafting the UN Gulf War ceasefire resolution in 1991 really believed the UN would still be searching for illegal Iraqi weapons nine years on.

The passage of time alone means the new chief inspector may face the toughest task of any of those who have held the job so far.

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14 Feb 00 |  Middle East
'Lost generation' faces bleak future
15 Feb 00 |  Middle East
Iraq: Second UN official resigns
08 Feb 00 |  Middle East
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