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Last Updated

20 Dec 2002

Source: Wall Street Journal, December 20, 2002.


U.S. Declares 'Material Breach' By Iraq Over Arms Inspections


WASHINGTON -- In a declaration that brings a war to topple Saddam Hussein a big step closer, the U.S. said that Iraq committed a "material breach" of a United Nations disarmament resolution by failing to fully disclose its efforts to produce weapons of mass destruction.

The U.S. was alone in using that legally charged term. But its assertions were bolstered by the U.N.'s chief weapons inspector, Hans Blix, and by fellow Security Council members who said that Iraq's 12,000-page declaration of its arms programs was replete with omissions. Even France, the most vocal critic of the U.S. hard line against Iraq, declared itself unsatisfied with the declaration: "It doesn't lift the doubts about the possible continuation of prohibited activities," said France's U.N. ambassador, Jean-Marc de La Sabliere.

In one sign of the increasing pressure Iraq faces, Mr. Blix disclosed that Baghdad recently provided new information concerning chemical weapons used during the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s. The information was included in an Iraqi air force document that was snatched out of the hands of a U.N. inspector in 1998 -- an act that was one of the justifications for that year's U.S.-British bombing campaign, which in turn prompted Iraq to halt all inspections.

Some U.S. officials hinted that Washington is planning to use the document and other related intelligence information to strengthen claims that Iraq used up far fewer chemical weapons than it claimed and is still hiding large caches. Baghdad's sudden scramble to provide the document after it turned over the lengthy declaration could be a sign that Iraqi officials are considering being more forthcoming with the U.N.

Together, the developments set the stage for an intensification of the confrontation next month, including stepped up inspections to disprove Iraq's contention that it has no banned weapons and an increased U.S. diplomatic offensive to build international support for war in the absence of an Iraqi turnabout.

At a Security Council meeting, Mr. Blix laid out plans for more robust inspections, including multiple teams operating simultaneously, as well as overhead surveillance with manned and unmanned aircraft.

Yet U.S. officials made clear privately that they won't allow the outcome of Mr. Blix's inspections to determine whether they move to oust Mr. Hussein, since they consider their "material breach" determination to be ample justification for war. Still, the Bush administration doesn't want to go to war alone or as part of a narrow coalition, so the tough language was the first step in trying to establish a pattern of violations by Baghdad that could rally a broad international coalition.

The Pentagon is readying a significant military buildup in the region next month that could involve bringing in more than 50,000 new troops, as many as 200 airplanes -- including B-1 bombers, fighter jets and cargo planes -- and several hundred tanks and armored personnel carriers. That would allow the Pentagon to launch a large-scale attack on Iraq as soon as February. Gen. Tommy Franks, the likely commander of any Iraq invasion, discussed the plans with President Bush at the White House Thursday. The 50,000 new troops would almost double the U.S. presence in the region to about 110,000.

The Pentagon had been debating the new deployment for several weeks. Though eager to increase U.S. presence in the region, military officials didn't want soldiers sitting there for weeks on end because their ability to train in the desert is limited. The deployment is intended to increase pressure on Mr. Hussein to disarm and to show the U.N. that American patience for arms inspections could quickly dissipate, officials said.

Though the U.S. went further than the U.N. in condemning Iraq, Mr. Blix and American officials found almost identical shortcomings in the Iraqi declaration. The State Department noted that Iraq is believed to have the ingredients to produce an estimated 26,000 liters of anthrax -- three times what it declared. Although Iraq claimed to have destroyed all its stocks, it provided no evidence supporting that, Mr. Blix said.

The Iraqi declaration also doesn't account for chemicals that the U.S. says could be used to produce as much as 500 tons of chemical agents, including mustard gas, sarin gas and nerve gas. And it says nothing about Iraqi efforts to develop mobile laboratories for covertly producing biological agents. Although the U.S. claimed to have evidence that Baghdad has developed such vehicles, the Iraqi declaration submitted earlier this month mentions only mobile refrigeration vehicles and food-testing labs, U.S. officials said.

"These are material omissions that, in our view, constitute another material breach," said Secretary of State Colin Powell, alluding to American allegations that Iraq had already violated numerous past U.N. resolutions. "There is no question that Iraq continues its pattern of noncooperation, its pattern of deception, its pattern of dissembling, its pattern of lying, and if that is going to be the way they continue through the weeks ahead, then we're not going to find a peaceful solution."

Other council members argued that a decision on finding Iraq in violation shouldn't be made until more inspections are conducted and the Security Council meets to consider the results. Even Britain, America's closest ally in confronting Iraq, isn't prepared to join Washington yet in declaring Iraq in material breach, a phrase most on the Security Council consider a trigger for war.

Under the terms of last month's U.N. resolution, "false statements or omissions" and a "failure by Iraq to comply with and cooperate fully" with the inspections constitute a material breach of Iraq's obligations to disarm. The U.S. argues that omissions alone constitute a breach, since it considers Iraq already in violation of U.N. demands, while other Security Council members say both omissions and uncooperative behavior are required to declare a breach.

Briefing the council, Mr. Blix said his preliminary assessment was that the Iraqi declaration had provided "little new significant information" on its weapons development. Mohamed ElBaradei, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, added that Iraq's declaration on its nuclear program contained "no substantive changes" from its last disclosure four years ago. Iraq has repeatedly maintained -- and does so again in the latest declaration -- that it has no weapons of mass destruction.

In a dig at the U.S., Mr. Blix, executive chairman of the U.N. Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission, complained that inspectors hadn't been provided with intelligence information by countries claiming to have evidence that Iraq has continuing illegal-weapons programs. Later, Mr. Powell vowed that the Bush administration would soon supply such intelligence as priority lists of sites to be inspected and Iraqi scientists to be interviewed.

Mr. Powell said the U.S. would press the weapons inspectors to take advantage of a provision in the U.N. resolutions that allows them to take weapons scientists outside Iraq so they can speak freely.

Mr. Blix voiced skepticism about such a move, saying that the inspectors can't compel anyone to leave Iraq. He added that Iraq had failed to provide names of weapons scientists in its declaration, despite a requirement that it do so.