Hard Line on Inspections

This time around, the rules in Iraq are tougher. Hans Blix, the United Nations’ chief weapons inspector, says that as his teams go into the field today they will assume that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction unless it proves otherwise. U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said Monday that Baghdad must fully cooperate with inspectors to avoid military conflict -- no more cat and mouse, no more taking truckloads of who knows what out the back door.

That kind of tough, consistent demand, backed by the threat of a U.S.-led invasion, is necessary to push Iraq to open its factories, government buildings and presidential compounds to inspectors. Baghdad is more likely to lie, cheat and evade if it perceives a split among members of the Security Council, which, pushed hard by the United States, revived U.N. weapons inspections.

The 17 inspectors in the advance guard are expected to begin their work with visits to sites where previous teams installed cameras and other monitoring equipment before leaving Iraq nearly four years ago. The withdrawal followed Baghdad’s obstruction of inspectors in defiance of U.N. resolutions and preceded four nights of bombing by U.S. and British warplanes of suspect sites and military installations across Iraq.

The chemists, biologists and physicists returning to Iraq have ever-better detection tools in hand. Ground-penetrating radar can identify underground weapons laboratories, and sophisticated sensors can disclose the past use of chemical agents in buildings now empty. Iraq must allow confidential interviews with government officials and scientists. It must hand over documents detailing the use of chemicals that have civilian as well as military purposes. About 100 inspectors eventually are expected in Iraq, with fleets of four-wheel-drive vehicles and helicopters that will make it possible for teams to visit sites without much advance notice.

Dec. 8 is the deadline for Iraq to produce an inventory of its weapons and biological and chemical agents that can be turned into weapons. Baghdad has resisted in the past. After losing the Gulf War and being forced to accept inspectors, Iraq denied having biological weapons. Only after a high official defected did Iraq admit having manufactured biological weapons, but it declared it had destroyed them all after the war. It also listed fewer ballistic missiles and launchers than it actually possessed.


As the Security Council debated the tough resolution it adopted Nov. 8, Iraq continued to deny it had weapons of mass destruction. Blix said Iraq also hinted it would be more difficult to enter presidential compounds and government buildings than factories. Inspectors must insist that all of those sites be opened immediately on demand, in keeping with the Security Council resolution. Finding its weapons of mass destruction -- again -- is the necessary first step toward the goal of disarming Iraq.