As widely expected, the US declared Iraq to be in "material breach" of UN Resolution 1441 on December 19, after a perfunctory examination of Iraq’s 12,000-page dossier on its weapons programme. US secretary of state Colin Powell, supposedly a ‘dove’ on the Iraq issue, said that "Iraq’s response is a catalogue of recycled information and flagrant omissions."
According to the US’s preferred interpretation of Resolution 1441 — a compromise text agreed on November 8 only after intense political manoeuvring — its own assessment that Iraq is in "material breach" of it is sufficient to justify the war that Washington is clearly determined to launch. However, this interpretation is opposed by other members of the Security Council, and the US has evidently decided to play along with them for the time being. Instead it is now getting ready to provoke more supposed Iraqi breaches of the resolution.
Although they refused to support Washington’s declaration of "material breach", the UN inspectors and other major powers did agree that the dossier was short on new information, left many questions unanswered and contained inconsistencies and inaccuracies. Hans Blix (above), the head of the UN inspection programme, reported to the Security Council on December 19, saying that there were major problems in its declaration of biological capabilities, and apparent contradictions in its report on the production and destruction of anthrax between 1998 and 1991.
He also said that Iraq’s declaration did not provide sufficient information on 50 conventional warheads that it claims to have destroyed, and that there was no account for 550 mustard-gas shells declared lost after the 1991 war, production of the deadly VX nerve gas, or its unilateral destruction of biological warfare agents.
Blix also complained, however, of lack of cooperation from western governments. "The most important thing that governments like the UK or the US could give us would be to tell us sites where they are convinced that they keep weapons of mass destruction," he said. The US responded by promising to share some intelligence information with the inspectorate.
Iraq’s response was, naturally enough, to accuse the US of being determined to vilify the Iraqi regime and people, and to go to war regardless of anything Baghdad did or said. General Amir al-Saadi, an adviser to Saddam Hussein, said on December 22 that Iraq was prepared to answer any questions raised by Washington on the report, and that it was even willing to permit CIA personnel to examine any suspect sites. Washington immediately dismissed this offer as a "stunt".
Discussion of the Iraqi declaration at the UN has been largely restricted to the permanent members of the security council, because of the US’s refusal allow other members to see the full version of the document. UN officials have admitted that it was a mistake to have permitted the US to take control of the only complete version of the document. The 10 non-permanent members of the council have been issued with censored versions with more than 8,000 of the document’s 12,000 pages removed. Syria returned its copy to the UN on December 18 and said it would boycott all discussions of it because it was impossible to assess it properly under the circumstances. Other countries are also unhappy with the situation.
A UN source in New York was quoted as saying "The questions being asked are valid. What did the US take out? And if weapons inspectors are supposed to be checking against the dossier’s content, how can any future claim be verified? In effect, the US is saying ‘trust us’; but there are many who just do not trust the US."
It is widely recognised, however, that opposition to the US’s will on this matter, as on so many others, is futile because of the US’s determination to get its way, and the total absence of any body capable of restricting its power. While some complain of the US’s style in pursuing its campaign against Iraq, the US itself appears firstly to be preparing the ground to declare Iraq in breach of other aspects of the UN resolution, and secondly to be stepping up its political and military preparations for war.
The next flashpoint in relations is likely to come when the US provides the UN with a list of Iraqi scientists they wish to interview, in accordance with the provision in Resolution 1441 for the UN inspectors to conduct interviews with Iraqi scientists inside or outside the country. It also states that the UN may facilitate the removal of those interviewed from Iraq, along with their families.
Meanwhile, George W. Bush announced on December 21 that the 50,000 troops already in the Persian Gulf would be doubled by early January, and that he was cancelling a planned tour of African countries scheduled for this month. In his weekly radio address to the nation, he said that "the men and women of the military, many of whom will spend Christmas at posts and bases far from home, are the only thing standing between Americans and grave danger."
Americans, however, seem to disagree, despite intense government propaganda in recent months on the need for war. The results of a poll conducted by the Los Angeles Times, and published on December 17, show that 72 percent of respondents feel that the US government has failed to produce enough evidence to justify war on Iraq. Sixty-three percent said that war would only be justified if the UN found "a pattern of serious violations by Iraq".