Removing the Threat of Iraq's Weapons of Mass Destruction, by Jack Straw

05 March 2002


MARCH 2002

The stalemate between the United Nations and Iraq cannot go on for
ever. For more than a decade, Britain and the United States have led
the UN's efforts to protect Iraq's neighbours from aggression and
protect the world from Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.

Iraq persistently flouts the authority of the UN Security Council and
international law. But the people who have suffered most of all from
President Saddam Hussein's brutality are the Iraqis themselves.

The threat from Iraq is not receding. Unique among the world's
tyrants, Saddam has both the ruthlessness and capability to employ
weapons of mass destruction. He used chemical weapons against Iranian
soldiers in the 1980s and against citizens of his own country at
Halabja, in the Kurdish region, in 1988.

In 1991 it took concerted international action to oust Saddam from
Kuwait, and to establish UN procedures for inspecting and destroying
Iraq's arsenal of weapons of mass destruction. But UN inspectors,
consistently prevented from doing their job, left Iraq in 1998.

Since then, evidence has been building up that the threat from Iraq's
weapons programmes is growing once more. Many of the facilities
damaged in 1998 by the American and British strikes in Operation
Desert Fox have been repaired. Iraq has persisted with its chemical
and biological weapons programmes, and is developing ballistic
missiles capable of delivering such weapons to targets beyond the
150km limit imposed by the UN. This would allow Iraq to hit countries
as far away as the United Arab Emirates and Israel.

There is evidence of increased efforts to procure nuclear-related
material and technology, and that nuclear research and development
work has begun again: indeed, without the controls which we have
imposed, Saddam would have had a nuclear bomb by now.

The regime has admitted hiding weapons of mass destruction in the
desert, in caves and in tunnels. It has admitted manufacturing
chemical weapons like sarin and mustard gas, and biological agents
like anthrax. The destructive potential of these weapons beggars the
imagination. Nerve agents can cause death within minutes. Tiny doses
of sarin or anthrax are deadly. UN weapons inspectors, denied access
to Iraq, cannot account for large quantities of materials used to make
these deadly substances.

Because we have contained the threat for so long, many have assumed it
has gone away. This is patently not true. But meanwhile the Iraqi
propaganda machine has tried to pin the blame on the UN policy of
containment for the suffering which Saddam inflicts on the Iraqi

It angers me when well-meaning people are taken in by these lies. The
UN allows the regime access to more than enough money for all the
humanitarian goods the Iraqis need. It is the regime which refuses to
use these funds to order food and medicine. It suits Saddam to make
Iraqis suffer and starve, because this distracts attention from the
threat he poses to global security.

It is time to stop him hiding behind the human shield of his people's
suffering. British and US diplomats have devised an improved policy,
which tightens controls on military goods, while lightening controls
on civilian goods.

There would be a "Goods Review List", focused on military and
weapons-related goods, which would be subject to review before they
could be exported to Iraq. There would be no prohibitions against
exporting to Iraq any civilian goods not on the list.

The United Nations Security Council has decided in principle to
implement these revised measures. But Saddam opposes the idea because
helping the Iraqi people is not his priority. He prefers to spend
money on weapons, not food; on statues and monuments to himself, not

The international community's most pressing demand is for Iraq to
allow UN officials to inspect his weapons programmes. Saddam broke his
word and has been in breach of his international obligations since he
effectively threw out the UN inspectors three years ago.

If he has nothing to hide, why doesn't he let them return and do so
without preconditions? As long as he refuses, we can only suspect the
worst -- and this obliges us to look at other ways of limiting his

We cannot allow Saddam to hold a gun to the heads of his own people,
his neighbours and the world for ever. Intense diplomatic efforts will
continue, and I hope they will achieve our aim of removing the threat
which Iraq's weapons of mass destruction pose to humanity. But if he
refuses to open his weapons programmes to proper international
inspection, he will have to live with the consequences.

No decisions have been taken, but let no one -- especially Saddam --
doubt our resolve.

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