Saturday, June 02, 2007

UNMOVIC Still Looking For Saddam's Banned Weapons

So the sticking point is the U.S. refusal to give the U.N. inspectors access to the classified report of the Iraq Survey Group.

Makes one wonder what nuggets of info in the CIA report are still so sensitive this long after the fall of Saddam that they cannot be sanitized and shared with the U.N.

More than four years after the fall of Baghdad, the United Nations is spending millions of dollars in Iraqi oil money to continue the hunt for Saddam Hussein's alleged weapons of mass destruction.

Every weekday, at a secure commercial office building on Manhattan's East Side, a team of 20 U.N. experts on chemical and biological weapons pores over satellite images of former Iraqi weapons sites. They scour the international news media for stories on Hussein's deadly arsenal. They consult foreign intelligence agencies on the status of Iraqi weapons. And they maintain a cadre of about 300 weapons experts from 50 countries and prepare them for inspections in Iraq -- inspections they will almost certainly never conduct, in search of weapons that few believe exist.

The inspectors acknowledge that their chief task -- disarming Iraq -- was largely fulfilled long ago. But, they say, their masters at the U.N. Security Council have been unable to agree to either shut down their effort or revise their mandate to make their work more relevant. Russia insists that Iraq's disarmament must be formally confirmed by the inspectors, while the United States vehemently opposes a U.N. role in Iraq, saying coalition inspectors have already done the job. ...

"The reality on the ground is there is no WMD there," said Charles Duelfer, a former U.N. weapons inspector who published the landmark 2004 report of the CIA-led Iraq Survey Group, which concluded that Iraq's weapons had been destroyed. "I think they understand the distance their work is from reality." ...

The U.N. inspection program also stands as a poignant reminder of U.S. intelligence blunders in Iraq and the U.S. failure to secure Iraq's sensitive industrial facilities after the invasion. The commission's prewar assessment -- that there was insufficient evidence to prove that Baghdad had resumed production of weapons of mass destruction -- flatly contradicted U.S. assertions at the time and has long since been vindicated.

The United States and Britain have recently mounted a concerted push to shut down the commission. Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, introduced a resolution last month that would end the inspections. ...

But Russia has resisted U.S. pressure. A senior Russian official who tracks the group's work said the U.N. inspectors -- not the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq -- must have the final say on whether Iraq has been disarmed. And the inspectors say they cannot confirm Iraq's disarmament without access to the classified reports of the Iraq Survey Group and a final visit to Iraq to verify U.S. assertions. The United States has refused U.N. requests for such information, (Dimitri Perricos, a Greek weapons expert who runs the team, known as the U.N. Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) said).