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Confrontation With Iraq

Iraq has been subjected to United Nations sanctions since its 1990 invasion of Kuwait. Sanctions ban all exports, except for oil sales under the Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 986 "oil for food" program, and allow imports only of food, medicine, and other humanitarian goods for essential civilian needs. The Government's failure to comply with U.N. Security Council resolutions has resulted in the maintenance of the sanctions.

Under UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 687 (April 1991), which set out the cease-fire terms for ending the Gulf War, Iraq is obliged to: (a) accept the destruction, removal, or rendering harmless of all its - nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons, and ballistic missiles with a range over 150 kilometers; and - research, development, and manufacturing facilities associated with the above; and (b) undertake not to develop such weapons in the future. The United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM) oversees these processes. Iraq must give full cooperation, in particular immediate, unrestricted access to any site UNSCOM needs to inspect.

Iraq has consistently tried to evade its responsibilities. Its required full disclosure document on missiles was not produced until July 1996, five years after it was demanded. It has so far produced three versions on chemical weapons and four on biological weapons, all shown to be seriously inaccurate.

In particular, UNSCOM was concerned that:

  • Iraq may still have operational SCUD-type missiles with chemical and biological warheads. Critical missile components, warheads, and propellant are not accounted for.
  • UNSCOM strongly suspected that admitted Iraqi figures for production of BW agent are still too low. Over Nor are 17 tons of growth media for BW agents are not accounted for - enough to produce more than three times the amount of anthrax Iraq admits it had.
  • Iraq's CW program was on an enormous scale. 4,000 tonnes of CW precursors are not accounted for. These could have produced several hundred tons of CW agents, enough to fill several thousand munitions. Over 31,000 CW munitions are not accounted for. Key items of CW production equipment are also missing.
  • Over 600 tonnes of VX precursors are also not accounted for. These could make 200 tons of VX. One drop is enough to kill. 200 tons could wipe out the world's population.

Iraq consistently denied UNSCOM inspectors the access they need to follow up these and other concerns and locate both WMD capabilities and documentation which might reveal more about Iraq's WMD programmes. Documents and material have been removed from and destroyed inside sites while UNSCOM inspectors have been held outside prevented from entering. The pattern of defiance worsened over time.

Iraq has been badly damaged by economic sanctions and previous bombardments, and needs in the neighborhood of $30 billion / year to meet its current requirements for food, medicine, and infrastructure. Currently, the UN is offering to allow Iraq to sell $5.26 billion worth of oil every six months. However, Iraq said it cannot pump more than $4 billion worth of oil because of the deterioration of oil field equipment under sanctions. Public health services are near total collapse - basic medicines, life-saving drugs and essential medical supplies are lacking throughout the country. In December 1995, United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization team members estimated that over a half million children under the age of five had died in Iraq as a direct result of economic sanctions. In October 1996, UNICEF reported that 4,500 children die each month from hunger and disease.

There are mechanisms in place meant to address the humanitarian situation, primarily the oil-for-food deal permitted under United Nations Security Council Resolution 986. Iraq contains 112 billion barrels of proven oil reserves, along with roughly 215 billion barrels of probable and possible resources. Iraq's oil resources are the world's second largest, exceeded only by Saudi Arabia's. Prior to its invasion of Kuwait in August 1990, Iraqi oil production had just recovered from the costly Iran-Iraq War. By July 1990, Iraqi crude oil output had reached 3.5 million barrels per day [MMBD], with production capacity at 4.5 MMBD -- the highest levels since 1979. Following Iraq's invasion of Kuwait and the embargo on Iraqi oil exports, though, oil production fell to around 300,000 bbl/d. In 1997, Iraqi oil production averaged about 1.2 MMBD. The UN Security Council Resolution UNSCR 986 (originally passed in April 1995) allows Iraq to sell specified amounts of crude oil over six-month periods. Much of the revenue from these sales is allocated for the purchase of humanitarian supplies for distribution in Iraq under the UN supervision. The remaining proceeds are used to pay compensation for Gulf War victims, pipeline transit fees for Turkey, and funding for the UN special commission (UNSCOM). In December 1996, after a nearly a year and a half of obstruction and delay, the Government began to implement UNSCR 986. A significant part of the "oil for food" program was delayed during 1997 because the Government refused to pump oil for extended periods. The Government interfered with the international community's provision of humanitarian assistance to the Iraqi people routinely by placing a higher priority on importing industrial items than on food and medicine, diverting goods to benefit the regime, and restricting the work of U.N. personnel and relief workers. On January 20, 1998, the UN Security Council voted unanimously to more than double (to $5.26 billion) the amount of oil Iraq can sell over six months.

Iraqi officials repeatedly stated their hopes that U.N. Resolution 986 will lead to a complete lifting of U.N. sanctions. However, the position of the U.N. Security Council is that sanctions will continue until Iraq complied fully with a number of resolutions. Resolution 687, for instance, stipulates (among other things) that Iraq destroy all of its weapons of mass destruction. Until U.N. sanctions are lifted, Iraq will not be able to attract the foreign investment it wants or to trade freely.

On February 23, 1998, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan reached an agreement with Iraq on the issue of free and unrestricted access for U.N. weapons inspectors. This agreement follows several months of increasing tensions, including a large U.S. military buildup in the Persian Gulf region, since Iraq escalated its interference with U.N. inspectors particularly during the fall of 1997.

UNSCOM's April 1998 report to the Security Council recorded little progress in the six months since his previous report, thanks to the time lost through two Iraqi- induced crises and to Iraq's failure to answer any of UNSCOM's outstanding questions. Another report by Mr Butler to the Security Council, on 24 June, revealed that SCUD missile warhead fragments dug up outside Baghdad had showed traces of VX. Iraq has consistently denied weaponising VX. A document seized by Iraq from UNSCOM during an inspection contained an account of use of so-called special weapons (CW or BW) by Iraq during its war with Iran. It had denied the existence of such accounts. The Security Council demanded, on 23 July, that Iraq allow UNSCOM full access to this document. Iraq has still not complied.

In June 1998 UNSCOM's Chairman Butler gave a technical presentation to the Security Council, elaborating on the gaps in Iraq's WMD disclosures and setting out the priority issues in the form of a 'road map' for Iraq. He explained that, if Iraq provided the information requested, UNSCOM would be substantially closer to reporting Iraqi compliance with the provisions of SCR 687. The Council would then be able to recommend a move to ongoing monitoring and verification by UNSCOM and the IAEA and consider the easing of the oil embargo. Mr Butler then visited Baghdad for talks with Tariq Aziz, the Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister. Although Mr Aziz initially rejected the road map, he eventually agreed to a two-month programme of work. Mr Butler made clear to the Security Council, however, that the agreed programme excluded some priority issues (eg missile propellants), because Iraq had unilaterally and unacceptably declared these issues closed. Mr Butler returned to Baghdad on 3 August to discuss progress against the agreed two-month programme. His assessment was that, while some progress had been made on missiles and CW, very little had been made on BW. In response, Mr Aziz said that the talks could only proceed if Mr Butler agreed to inform the Security Council that Iraq had met its disarmament obligations. Mr Butler said he was unable to do so, and the talks broke down.

Four Technical Evaluation Meetings (TEMs) were held during February/March and July 1998 in Baghdad, to discuss aspects of Iraq's WMD programs. The meetings, which included independent experts from a broad range of countries as well as UNSCOM's own staff, covered Iraq's production of VX, its accounting for production and disposal of missile warheads, and its BW programme. Iraq had requested these meetings, asserting that UNSCOM was biased and that independent experts would quickly verify Iraq's side of the story. In the event, the experts in all three areas concluded unanimously that there were major discrepancies in Iraq's disclosures, and clear evidence of continuing Iraqi concealment and deceit.

On 5 August 1998 Iraq went back on the agreement made with the Secretary-General in February and suspended all cooperation with UNSCOM and the IAEA, other than on monitoring activities at sites already visited. It also made various demands, including the relocation of UNSCOM offices from New York to either Geneva or Vienna, away from the 'direct influence of the US'. The reasons behind the Iraqi announcement are unclear, though it may have decided to return to obstruction tactics because of alarm at recent UNSCOM discoveries. The Iraqi decision followed moves by the United States to continue embargo even if Iraq complied with weapons demands, unless Baghdad also fulfiled other UN-imposed requirements. The following day, the Security Council unanimously rejected Iraq's announcement as totally unacceptable and contravening both the February agreement and SCRs.

In letters to the Security Council on 12 August 1998, Mr Butler and Mohammed El Baradei, the Egyptian Director-General of the IAEA, said that despite claiming that it would continue cooperating with monitoring activities, Iraq was refusing to allow access to some previously-inspected sites. This was already weakening ongoing monitoring and verification. (UNSCOM had suspended inspections of new sites on 9 August.) The UN Secretary-General sent his Special Representative for Iraq, Prakash Shah of India, to Baghdad on 13 August, with a firm message urging the resumption of cooperation.

Following Iraq's failure to respond to all calls to resume cooperation, the Security Council unanimously adopted SCR 1194 on 9 September 1998, suspending further reviews of sanctions indefinitely. The Council also agreed to the Secretary General's proposal for a comprehensive review of Iraq's compliance with its obligations under all relevant SCRs, but made clear that such a review could not begin until Iraq had resumed full cooperation with both UNSCOM and the IAEA.

On 31 October 1998 Iraq announced that it had decided to stop all forms of cooperation with UNSCOM and its chairman and to stop all its activities inside Iraq, including monitoring, until the Security Council reviewed the lifting of sanctions. Iraq demanded that UNSCOM Chairman Richard Butler be sacked, and UNSCOM restructured to distance itself from the 'espionage, deliberate harm, and agentry' of the United States. The Security Council unanimously condemned the decision and demanded that it be reversed "immediately and unconditionally".


  • 1991 -- Following the end of DESERT STORM in March, Shiite Muslims in southern Iraq rebel, but are defeated by Iraq's elite Republican Guard. This is followed by a Kurdish insurrection that is also defeated. The United States, Great Britain and France create a safe haven for the Kurds north of the 36th parallel and ban Iraqi planes from the area.
  • 1992 -- In August, the United Nations establishes a no-fly zone along the 32nd parallel after Iraq launches renewed attacks against Shiite Muslims. The United States and its allies begin patrolling the no-fly zone, operations which continue today. In December, the U.S. planes intercept and shoot down an Iraqi MIG-25 that violates the no-fly zone.
  • 1993 -- In January, the United States accuses Saddam Hussein of moving missiles into southern Iraq. Iraq refuses to remove the missiles. Allied planes and ships attack the missile sites and a nuclear facility near Baghdad. In June, following the discovery of a plot to assassinate former President George Bush, U.S. ships fire 24 cruise missiles at intelligence headquarters in Baghdad.
  • 1994 -- Saddam Hussein moves Iraqi troops to the Kuwaiti border. The forces withdraw after the United States deploys a carrier group, warplanes and 54,000 troops to the Persian Gulf region.
  • 1996 -- In August, Saddam Hussein sends forces into northern Iraq and captures city of Irbil, a key city inside the Kurdish haven established above the 36th parallel in 1991. The following month, U.S. ships and airplanes attack military targets in Iraq to punish the Iraqi military and President Clinton extends the southern no-fly zone to just south of Baghdad.
  • 1997 -- In October, a protracted confrontation with Saddam Hussein begins after Iraq accuses U.S. members of the U.N. inspection teams of being spies and expels the majority of U.S. participants. The U.N. Security Council threatens renewed economic sanctions. The confrontation continues into November as Iraq expels the remaining six U.S. inspectors and the United Nations withdraws other inspectors in protest. Inspectors are readmitted after the United States and Great Britain again begin a military build-up in the Gulf. However, later in November, Iraq announces it will not allow inspectors access to sites designated as "palaces and official residences." U.N. officials protest, having long suspected that such sites were being used to conceal possible weapons of mass destruction.
  • 1998 -- The tensions that began in October 1997 continue. In February, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan works out an agreement with Iraq that resumes weapons inspections. In turn, Iraq receives promises the United Nations will consider removing its economic sanctions. Inspections continue into August, when Iraq cuts ties with weapons inspectors, claiming it has seen no U.N. move toward lifting sanctions.
  • October 31, 1998 -- Iraq cuts off all work by U.N. monitors. The United States and Great Britain warn of possible military strikes to force compliance. A renewed military build-up in the Persian Gulf begins.
  • November 5, 1998 -- The U.N. Security Council condemns Iraq for violating agreements signed after the end of the 1991 Persian Gulf War.
  • November 11, 1998 -- The United Nations withdraws most of its staff from Iraq.
  • November 14, 1998 -- With B-52 bombers in the air and within about 20 minutes of attack, Saddam Hussein agrees to allow U.N. monitors back in. The bombers are recalled before an attack occurs. Weapons inspectors return to Iraq a few days later.
  • December 8, 1998 -- Chief U.N. weapons inspector Richard Butler reports that Iraq is still impeding inspections. U.N. teams begin departing Iraq.
  • December 15, 1998 -- A formal U.N. report accuses Iraq of a repeated pattern of obstructing weapons inspections by not allowing access to records and inspections sites, and by moving equipment records and equipment from one to site another.
  • December 16, 1998 -- The United States and Great Britain begin a massive air campaign against key military targets inIraq.

US Military Operations in Southwest Asia




US Forces

[none] (air strike)
[none] (cruise missile strike)
[none] (cruise missile strike)
Iraq 16 Dec 1998
13 Jan 1993
17 Jan 1993
26 Jun 1993
03 Sep 1996
20 Dec 1998
13 Jan 1993
17 Jan 1993
26 Jun 1993
04 Sep 1996
Shining Presence Israel Dec 1998 Dec 1998
Phoenix Scorpion IV
Phoenix Scorpion III
Phoenix Scorpion II
Phoenix Scorpion I
Iraq Dec 1998
Nov 1998
Feb 1998
Nov 1997
Dec 1998
Nov 1998
Feb 1998
Nov 1997
Desert Focus Saudi Arabia Jul 1996 present
Vigilant Warrior
Vigilant Sentinel
Kuwait Oct 1994
Aug 1995
Nov 1994
Provide Comfort
Provide Comfort II
Northern Watch
Kurdistan 5 Apr 1991
24 July 1991
31 Dec 1996
Dec 1994
31 Dec 1996
Southern Watch Southwest Asia / Iraq 1991 present 14,000
Desert Falcon Saudi Arabia ?? present
Desert Shield
Imminent Thunder
Desert Calm
Desert Farewell
Southwest Asia 02 Aug 1990
Nov 1990
17 Jan 1991

24 Feb 1991
01 Mar 1991
01 Jan 1992

17 Jan 1991
Nov 1990
28 Feb 1991

28 Feb 1991
01 Jan 1992


Sources and Methods

  • Iraq Chronology Through November 1998

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Page last modified: 05-07-2011 02:25:41 Zulu