It remains to be seen if the latest mission by United Nations arms inspectors to Iraq can prevent war from breaking out in the region. Although there is hope that the inspection team’s visit will stabilize the environment, it is too early to assert that the possibility of an American attack against Iraq is over. This is the first visit by a UN arms inspection team to Iraq in four years, and the visit is mandated by the UN security council resolution 1441, passed in early November. Most of the inspectors are drawn from the UN monitoring, verification and inspection commission, while the rest belong to the International Atomic Energy Agency. UNMOVIC inspectors will seek to find evidence of any Iraqi development of chemical or biological weapons while the IAEA personnel will focus on nuclear weapons. The team is expected to submit its first report by the end of January.
There are two aspects of the UNSC resolution 1441 which are noteworthy. First, the inspection regime is probably the most intrusive ever faced by any sovereign country in recent history. No site, including Mr Saddam Hussein’s palaces, is out of bounds for the inspectors. Indeed, there are reports to suggest that the inspectors may specifically target these “presidential sites”. Second, Iraq is bound by the resolution to submit by December 8 a list of non-conventional weapons and related infrastructure in its possession. Any false declaration by Baghdad will be taken as a material breach of the resolution. Iraq has so far denied that it has any such weapons in its arsenal. But if Iraq continues the policy of denial, and the inspectors find evidence to the contrary, it will be seen to have violated the UNSC resolution. Past experience suggests that Mr Hussein’s government is unlikely to submit gently to the wishes of the UN inspection team. Although at present, Iraq has few diplomatic options left, it will probably count on the growing resentment against the unilateralist trends in American foreign policy, even amongst the United States of America’s traditional allies. The Bush administration is more determined than ever before to ensure that it achieves success in Iraq. And success, it must be clear, is not measured merely in terms of achieving Iraqi compliance with the UNSC resolution 1441. The real aim is to ensure a regime change in Iraq. Paradoxically, therefore, the US may not be particularly unhappy if the UN mission fails. Once this happens, the US will hope to have demonstrated to its allies that all diplomatic options have been exhausted, and only the use of force can lead to stability in the region.