United Nations Special Commission

United Nations Special Commission

United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM) was an inspection regime created by the United Nations to ensure Iraq's compliance with policies concerning Iraqi production and use of weapons of mass destruction after the Gulf War.UN document|docid=S-RES-687(1991) |type=Resolution|body=Security Council|year=1991 |resolution_number=687|highlight=rect_160,903_488,1019|page=3|accessdate=2008-04-10|date=3 April 1991] Its director between 1991 and 1997 was Rolf Ekéus, and from 1997 to 1999 Richard Butler.

The commission found corroborating evidence that Rihab Rashid Taha, an Iraqi microbiologist educated in England, had produced biological weapons for Iraq in the 1980s. The destruction of proscribed weapons and the associated facilities was carried out mainly by Iraq but under constant supervision by UNSCOM. [ [http://www.armscontrol.org/act/2003_09/Cleminson_09.asp What Happened to Saddam's WMD?] Arms Control Today September, 2003]

Inspectors were withdrawn in 1998 and disbanded the following year amid allegations that the United States had used the commission's resources to spy on the Iraqi military. [ [http://www.cnn.com/WORLD/meast/9901/06/iraq.02/ Chief U.N. weapons inspector rejects spying allegations] CNN January 6 1999] [ [http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/250808.stm US silence on new Iraq spying allegations] BBC News January 7 1999] Weapons inspector Scott Ritter would state that Operation Rockingham had cherry-picked evidence found by the United Nations Special Commission; evidence, he says, that was later used as part of the casus belli for the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

The successor of the United Nations Special Commission is the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission.


The United Nations Special Commission on Iraq (UNSCOM) was headed by Rolf Ekéus and later Richard Butler. During several visits to Iraq by United Nations Special Committee (UNSCOM), set up after the 1990 invasion of Kuwait to inspect Iraqi weapons facilities, weapons inspectors were told by Rihab Rashid Taha that al-Hakam germ warfare center was a chicken-feed plant. "There were a few things that were peculiar about this animal-feed production plant," Charles Duelfer] , UNSCOM's deputy executive chairman, later told reporters, "beginning with the extensive air defenses surrounding it."

However, in 1995, UNSCOM's principal weapons inspector Dr. Rod Barton from Australia showed Taha documents obtained by UNSCOM from Israel that showed the Iraqi government had just purchased 10 tons of growth media from a British company called Oxoid. Growth media is a mixture of sugar, proteins and minerals that allows microscopic life to grow. It is used in hospitals, where swabs from patients are placed in dishes containing growth media, for diagnostic purposes. Iraq's hospital consumption of growth media was just 200 kg a year; yet in 1988, Iraq imported 39 tons of it.Shown this evidence by UNSCOM, Taha admitted to the inspectors that she had grown 19,000 litres of botulism toxin; 8,000 litres of anthrax; 2,000 litres of aflatoxins, which can cause liver cancer; clostridium perfringens, a bacterium that can cause gas gangrene; and ricin, a castor bean derivative which can kill by inhibiting protein synthesis. She also admitted conducting research into cholera, salmonella, foot and mouth disease, and camel pox, a disease that uses the same growth techniqes as smallpox, but which is safer for researchers to work with. It was because of the discovery of Taha's work with camel pox that the US and British intelligence services feared Saddam Hussein may have been planning to weaponize the smallpox virus. Iraq had a smallpox outbreak in the 70s and UNSCOM scientists believe the government would have retained contaminated material.

UNSCOM learned that, in August 1990, after Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, Taha's team was ordered to set up a program to weaponize the biological agents. By January 1991, a team of 100 scientists and support staff had filled 157 bombs and 16 missile warheads with botulin toxin, and 50 bombs and five missile warheads with anthrax. In an interview with the BBC, Taha denied the Iraqi government had weaponized the bacteria. "We never intended to use it," she told journalist Jane Corbin of the BBC's Panorama program. "We never wanted to cause harm or damage to anybody." UNSCOM found the munitions dumped in a river near al-Hakam. UNSCOM also discovered that Taha's team had conducted inhalation experiments on donkeys from England and on beagles from Germany. The inspectors seized photographs showing beagles having convulsions inside sealed containers.


Between 1991 and 1995, UN inspectors uncovered a massive program to develop biological and nuclear weapons and a large amount of equipment was confiscated and destroyed. The al-Hakam germ warfare center, headed by the British-educated Iraqi biologist Dr. Rihab Rashid Taha, was blown up by UNSCOM in 1996. According to a 1999 report from the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency, the normally mild-mannered Taha exploded into violent rages whenever UNSCOM questioned her about al-Hakam, shouting, screaming and, on one occasion, smashing a chair, while insisting that al-Hakam was a chicken-feed plant. [cite news|title=The Inspections Maze|publisher=Christian Science Monitor|url=http://www.csmonitor.com/specials/inspections/suspicions.html|accessdate=2006-04-28|year=2002]

"There were a few things that were peculiar about this animal-feed production plant," Charles Duelfer, UNSCOM's deputy executive chairman, later told reporters, "beginning with the extensive air defenses surrounding it."

Iraq charged that the commission was a cover for US espionage and refused UNSCOM access to certain sites like Baath Party headquarters. [cite web|url=http://www.arabicnews.com/ansub/Daily/Day/981211/1998121109.html|publisher=Arabic News.com|title=Baghdad prevents inspections at Baath party headquarters|year=12/11/1998|accessdate=2006-04-28] Although Ekéus has said that he resisted attempts at such espionage, many allegations have since been made against the agency commission under Butler [http://books.google.com/books?id=2zMjWaTqkTsC&pg=PA272&lpg=PA272&dq=unscom+espionage&source=web&ots=IJ2zZj7q5S&sig=q9noWiT2DnZ6cb58qmou0-v8ZsA&hl=en&sa=X&oi=book_result&resnum=7&ct=result] charges which Butler has denied. Within the UN establishment in Iraq, UNSCOM was not without its critics, with the UN's humanitarian staff informally calling the inspectors 'UN-Scum' and being called "bunny-huggers" in return. [cite news|url=http://svaradarajan.blogspot.com/1998/02/unscum-vs-bunny-huggers-in-iraq.html|title='UNSCUM' versus 'Bunny-huggers' in Iraq|publisher=The Times of India|first=Siddharth|last=Varadarajan|date=26 February 1998]

1998 Airstrikes

ecurity Council Meeting

On the evening of 15 December 1998 the Security Council convened to consider two letters from the weapons inspectors. [UN document|code=S-PV-3955|body=S | type=PV|number=3955|date=1998-12-16|year=1998|accessdate=2007-04-04 ] The IAEA report by Mohamed El Baradei stated that Iraq "has provided the necessary level of cooperation to enable... [our] activities to be completed efficiently and effectively". The UNSCOM report, authored by Richard Butler, deplored the restrictions, lack of disclosure, and concealment. While conceding that " [i] n statistical terms, the majority of the inspections of facilities and sites under the ongoing monitoring system were carried out with Iraq's cooperation," his letter listed a number of instances where unspecificed "undeclared dual-capable items" had been discovered, and where inspections had been held up so that buildings could be cleared of sensitive material. [http://www.un.org/Depts/unscom/s98-1172.htm] [UN document|code=S-1998-1172|body=S|number=1172|date=1998-12-15|year=1998|accessdate=2007-04-04 ]

Since Operation Desert Fox had already begun at the time of the meeting (just hours after the inspectors had been evacuated), [cite news|url=http://www.guardian.co.uk/Iraq/Story/0,,209995,00.html|title=Missile blitz on Iraq|publisher=The Guardian|date=17 December 1998|author=Julian Borger] the Security Council debated about who was to blame for the military action, rather than whether they should authorized it. The Iraqi representative said:

The Russian ambassador added:

The view of the Council was split, with many countries placing the responsibility on Iraq, with the United States stating that "Iraq's policy of unremitting defiance and non-compliance necessitated the resort to military force", [ UN document|code=S-PV-3955|body=S | type=PV|number=3955|date=1998-12-16|year=1998|anchor=pg008-bk02-pa16|page=8|accessdate=2007-04-04 ] and the United Kingom declaring that the objectives of the action were: "to degrade Iraq's capability to build and use weapons of mass destruction, and to diminish the military threat Iraq poses to its neighbours. The targets chosen, therefore, are targets connected with his military capability, his weapons of mass destruction and his ability to threaten his neighbours." [ UN document|code=S-PV-3955|body=S | type=PV|number=3955|date=1998-12-16|year=1998|anchor=pg005-bk02-pa11|page=5|accessdate=2007-04-04 ]

Allegations of CIA infiltration of UNSCOM

Evidence that UNSCOM had been used by US intelligence to penetrate Iraqi security and track President Saddam Hussein's movements emerged in January 1999. [cite news|date=7 January 1999|title=UN 'spied on Iraq'|publisher=The Guardian|author=Mark Tran|url=http://www.guardian.co.uk/international/story/0,,323391,00.html] An investigation by the "Washington Post" claimed that CIA engineers, working as UN technicians, installed equipment to spy on Iraqi sites without Butler's knowledge, and that this explained the unidentified "burst transmissions" that had been noted by the inspectors. [cite news|author=Julian Borger|date=3 March 1999|publisher=The Guardian|title=UN 'kept in dark' about US spying in Iraq|url=UN 'kept in dark' about US spying in Iraq]

Former UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter later accused some UNSCOM personnel of spying, [cite news|url=http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/301168.stm|date=March 23, 1999|title=Unscom 'infiltrated by spies'|publisher=BBC News|accessdate=2006-04-28] and also alleged that the purpose of the spying was to target Saddam in the bombing. Butler, on the other hand, denied allegations that foreign intelligence agencies "piggybacked" UNSCOM and questioned the factual accuracy of several of Ritter's statements.cite web|url=http://www.iraqwatch.org/perspectives/act-unscom-6-99.htm|title=The Lessons and Legacy of UNSCOM, an Interview with Ambassador Richard Butler|publisher=Arms Control Today|month=June | year=1999]

On 31 August 1998, Ritter said: "Iraq still has proscribed weapons capability. There needs to be a careful distinction here. Iraq today is challenging the special commission to come up with a weapon and say where is the weapon in Iraq, and yet part of their efforts to conceal their capabilities, I believe, have been to disassemble weapons into various components and to hide these components throughout Iraq. I think the danger right now is that without effective inspections, without effective monitoring, Iraq can in a very short period of time measure the months, reconstitute chemical biological weapons, long-range ballistic missiles to deliver these weapons, and even certain aspects of their nuclear weaponization program."

Almost a year later, in June 1999, Ritter responded to an interviewer saying: "When you ask the question, 'Does Iraq possess militarily viable biological or chemical weapons?' the answer is no! It is a resounding NO. Can Iraq produce today chemical weapons on a meaningful scale? No! Can Iraq produce biological weapons on a meaningful scale? No! Ballistic missiles? No! It is 'no' across the board. So from a qualitative standpoint, Iraq has been disarmed. Iraq today possesses no meaningful weapons of mass destruction capability. [cite web | author=Arons, Nicholas|date=June 24, 1999|title=Interview with Scot Ritter |format=|work=Federation of American Scientists, June 24, 1999|url=http://www.fas.org/news/iraq/1999/07/990712-for.htm|accessdate=2008-09-06]

Butler resigned from UNSCOM on 30 June 1999.


UNSCOM was replaced in 1999 with the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission.


In 2002, Ritter stated that, as of 1998, 90–95% of Iraq's nuclear, biological, and chemical capabilities, and long-range ballistic missiles capable of delivering such weapons, had been verified as destroyed. Technical 100% verification was not possible, said Ritter, not because Iraq still had any hidden weapons, but because Iraq had preemptively destroyed some stockpiles and claimed they had never existed. Many people were surprised by what they regarded as Ritter's "bizarre turnaround" in his view of Iraq during a period when no inspections were made. [cite journal|url=http://www.library.cornell.edu/colldev/mideast/rittrdoc.htm|title=Ex-U.N. Inspector Ritter to Tour Iraq, Make Documentary|first=Colum|last=Lynch| journal=The Washington Post| month=July 27|year=2000|pages=A18|accessdate=2006-04-28|format=dead link|date=June 2008 – [http://scholar.google.co.uk/scholar?hl=en&lr=&q=author%3ALynch+intitle%3AEx-U.N.+Inspector+Ritter+to+Tour+Iraq%2C+Make+Documentary&as_publication=The+Washington+Post&as_ylo=2000&as_yhi=2000&btnG=Search Scholar search] ] In 2000, Ritter produced a film that portrayed Iraq as fully disarmed. The film was funded by an Iraqi-American businessman who had received Oil-for-Food coupons from Saddam Hussein that he sold for $400,000. [cite journal|url=http://weeklystandard.com/Content/Public/Articles/000/000/000/524dplvk.asp?pg=2| journal=The Weekly Standard|title=Saddam Hussein's American Apologist| month=November 19|year=2001|first=Stephen F.|last=Hayes|volume=7|issue=10|accessdate=2006-04-28] [cite journal|url=http://weeklystandard.com/Content/Public/Articles/000/000/002/605fgcob.asp|title=Saddam's Cash| month=May 5|year=2003| journal=The Weekly Standard|first=Stephen F.|last=Hayes|volume=8|issue=33|accessdate=2006-04-28]

During the 2002–2003 build-up to war Ritter criticized the Bush administration and maintained that it had provided no credible evidence that Iraq had reconstituted a significant WMD capability. In an interview with "Time" in September 2002 [cite web | author=Calabresi, Massimo|date= September 12, 2002|title=Exclusive: Scott Ritter in His Own Words|format=|work=Time Magazine|url=http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,351165,00.html|accessdate=2006-06-09] he stated:

We have tremendous capabilities to detect any effort by Iraq to obtain prohibited capability. The fact that no one has shown that he has acquired that capability doesn't necessarily translate into incompetence on the part of the intelligence community. It may mean that he hasn't done anything.
In the same interview Ritter had this to say on accusations of UNSCOM being used for illegitimate spying on Iraq:
It's ironic that everyone has focused on the struggle of the inspectors vs. Iraq. Not too many people speak of the struggle between the weapons inspectors and the U.S. to beat back the forces of U.S. intelligence which were seeking to infiltrate the weapons inspectors program and use the unique access the inspectors enjoyed in Iraq for purposes other than disarmament. Iraq has a clear case that under this past inspection regime unfortunately it was misused for purposes other than set out by the Security Council resolution.
Ritter was widely denounced in the United States for his supposed "defection" and "lack of patriotism". Also in the interview, Ritter countered that he had given 12 years of service to his country as a Marine and that he was willing to put his record of service up against anyone.

ee also

*Iraq disarmament crisis 1990-1996 1997-2000 2001-2003
* - documentary film directed by Scott Ritter


External links

* [http://www.un.org/Depts/unscom/ United Nations on UNSCOM]
* [http://web.archive.org/web/20060928033239/www.thebulletin.org/print.php?art_ofn=mj99wright The Hijacking of UNSCOM] by Susan Wright
* [http://www.counterpunch.org/andrew09292007.html Why Clinton is Culpable] by Andrew Cockburn

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