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Next U.N. Inspection Will Test Iraq

December 2, 1997

UNITED NATIONS (AP) _ The test of Iraqi cooperation won’t come when U.N. arms inspectors knock on the door of one of Saddam Hussein’s palaces. It will come the next time the team conducts a ``concealment investigation″ _ its most secretive mission.

Since the inspectors returned to work on Nov. 22, they have checked dozens of sites, seeking to verify Iraq’s claims that it has destroyed all its long-range missiles and mass destruction weapons, the chief condition for ending seven years of economic sanctions.

Such inspections have been routine since the program was imposed in 1991 after the Persian Gulf War. The exceptions have been what the U.N. Special Commission calls ``concealment investigations″ _ directed not at specific weapons programs, but at the covert system Iraq has developed to hide them.

Most of the serious incidents between Iraq and the U.N. weapons teams in recent months have involved such concealment inspections.

They are also the basis for Iraq’s allegation the United States is using the United Nations as a cover for conducting espionage that has nothing to do with the presence of banned weapons.

Before last month’s crisis, Iraq repeatedly refused to admit inspectors to selected sites targeted for concealment investigations _ prompting the United States to seek additional sanctions against Baghdad. That in turn prompted Iraq to expel the American inspectors, triggering the crisis.

Concealment investigations have long been a source of friction. In June, Iraq’s deputy prime minister, Tariq Aziz, accused an American inspector, Scott Ritter, of spying for the U.S. Army. Ritter, a former Marine major, was among the inspectors who led anti-concealment missions.

Aziz has often raised the espionage charge to explain why Iraq blocked U.N. inspectors from ``sensitive sites.″

In a letter to the United Nations in June, Aziz said Iraq refused to let a U.N. team enter two military garrisons because the inspection was ``a cover to detect the security systems of Iraq ... and the security of its leadership.″

The U.N. commission has acknowledged that concealment investigations may infringe on ``legitimate security functions″ of the Iraqi state. But it insists the operations are necessary to determine whether Iraq is still hiding banned weapons.

Citing security concerns, the commission has released few details of its concealment investigations and refuses to announce them in advance. It appears, however, that none have been attempted since the inspectors returned to Baghdad last month.

Based on statements from the commission and other sources, concealment missions usually involve visiting military bases, government compounds and other sensitive areas to see how the Iraqis react.

The technique is similar to the one used by U.S. and Soviet forces during the Cold War, when aircraft from each country would fly dangerously close to the other’s airspace to see how the other side would respond.

At times, the U.N. commission has relied on American-manned U-2 flights: Some U-2 pictures have revealed that while inspectors were stopped at the entrance to a site, the Iraqis were driving convoys out the rear.

Even if the inspectors are barred from entering a site, they often can piece together a picture of Iraqi concealment tactics, including the units and personalities involved. From that, they can extrapolate whether Iraq is still hiding proscribed materials.

Last month, the U.N. commission’s deputy chief, Charles Duelfer, identified three Iraqi organizations involved in hiding weapons: the Iraqi intelligence service, the Mukhabarat; the Amn al-Khass, a security unit organized to hide information, and the 170,000 Special Republican Guards who provide security for Iraq’s top leadership.

The latter explains the interest in Saddam’s palaces and presidential retreats _ the inspection target may not be the palace buildings themselves, but the elite units that surround them.

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