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Commentary: UNMVIC Will Have A Difficult Time Looking For Weapons Of Mass Destruction In Iraq

All Things Considered: September 17, 2002

Conflicting Timetables


When and if inspectors do return to Iraq, they will do so as part of the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission. That's UNMVIC for short, the successor to UNSCOM, the agency that inspected Iraqi weapons development until 1998. NPR News analyst Daniel Schorr says it's not just the name that's changed and that UNMVIC will have an even tougher time uncovering Iraqi weapons than its predecessor.


Saddam Hussein's astutely timed move to let the inspectors in is very bad news for President Bush, who talks disarmament but means regime change. Some of the momentum for action against the Iraqi dictator generated by the president's hard-hitting speech to the UN assembly last Thursday is already starting to dissipate. And it's very unlikely that especially after Saddam Hussein has had four unmonitored years to refine his arms of concealment, UNMVIC will be able to root out any existing weapons development programs.

Unlike UNSCOM, staffed by experts from national governments with access to their intelligence sources, UNMVIC works for the United Nations and is subject to UN bureaucracy. It will not be able to carry out the kind of aggressive surveillance that UNSCOM did. According to The New York Times, UNSCOM once flew a U-2 spy plane over a site it was preparing to inspect and photographed the parade of Iraqi vehicles carrying off the material being worked on at that site.

The UNMVIC team is actually two teams: 63 biochemical experts of 27 nationalities based in New York and 16 nuclear experts based in Vienna. Whether they are all still available after four years of waiting remains to be seen. Under the UN resolution that created UNMVIC, once on the ground in Iraq, the commission gets 60 days to develop its work plan for the UN secretariat and then six months to reach preliminary conclusions about whether Iraq is working on forbidden weapons.

American experts doubt that much will be learned. But more to the point, the timetable comes no where near meeting the timetable of the Bush administration, which is apparently thinking of some kind of military operation to oust Saddam Hussein before the end of the year. In short, the Bush team has its work cut out for it trying to trump Saddam's ace. This is Daniel Schorr.

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