February 8th 2003

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY: Old-growth forests and wildfires

COMMENT: Iraq's last chance to avert war

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Howard turns eyes to NSW poll

HIGH COURT: A further improvement in the High Court

STRAWS IN THE WIND: False Dawn / Iraq another Vietnam? / UN: ideal and reality

AGRICULTURE: Deregulation and low prices see sugar investment collapse

The fatal flaw in economic rationalism (letter)

Why men avoid fatherhood (letter)

Cattle grazing to cut bushfire risk (letter)

Firefighters deserve our thanks (letter)

Canberra's tragedy (letter)

Case against Saddam not established (letter)

Full story (letter)

Cane farmers' survey (letter)

PROFILE: Solzhenitsyn: the conscience of modern society

ASIA: China launches massive infrastructure expansion

VICTORIA: Taxpayers bankroll alternative lifestyles

ASIA: Taiwan's rural finance in trouble

BOOKS: ANSETT: the Collapse, by Geoff Easdown and Peter Wilms

BOOKS: Human Cloning and Human Dignity: The Report of the President's Council on Bioethics

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Iraq's last chance to avert war

by Peter Westmore

News Weekly, February 8, 2003
The report of the Chief UN weapons inspector, Hans Blix, to the UN Security Council last week documented substantial and continuing violations by the Iraqi regime of its obligations to the UN Security Council, putting responsibility for any American-led response squarely on Saddam Hussein.

The US President, George Bush, has consistently maintained that if the UN was unable to disarm Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction, the US and its allies would do the job themselves.

It has been said by critics of America, including Malaysia's Prime Minister Mahathir, that President Bush is only interested in accessing Iraq's oil. This claim is provably false.

According to the US Energy Information Agency, world oil production is approximately 72 million barrels per day. Consumption is about 75 million.

Proven oil reserves are about 1000 billion barrels, which amounts to around 35 years at present rates of consumption, and new discoveries have kept pace with consumption.

Iraq's share of this is only 12 per cent, and its share of current production is less than four per cent, due to the international embargo aimed at disarming Iraq.

The significance of the Blix report arises, in part, from its contents. But it is also important because Dr Blix is a European, and is completely independent of the US. In fact, US officials have made it clear for some time that they have little time for the man.

In his report to the UN Security Council last week, Blix outlined the history of Iraqi obstruction with UN weapons inspectors over the past ten years, then said, "Resolution 1441 (2002) was adopted on 8 November last year and ... contained many provisions, which we welcome as enhancing and strengthening the inspection regime. The unanimity by which it was adopted sent a powerful signal that the Council was of one mind in creating a last opportunity for peaceful disarmament in Iraq through inspection."

He then said, "I turn now to the key requirement of co-operation and Iraq's response to it. Co-operation might be said to relate to both substance and process. It would appear from our experience so far that Iraq has decided in principle to provide co-operation on process, notably access."

This co-operation has, however, had problems, with Iraq refusing to permit overflights by American U2 aircraft, and he noted a number of "recent disturbing incidents and harassment" of the inspectors, including demonstrations outside the inspection offices and at several sites.

On the issue of co-operation on substance, Blix welcomed the additional information provided in Iraq's 12,000 page response to the UN resolution on missile development and biotechnology, but found out it contained no information which eliminated questions about Iraq's stockpiles of chemical and biotechnology warheads.

Dr Blix gave a number of examples of Iraqi non-cooperation, including:

  • Iraq's stockpile of the nerve gas VX, "one of the most toxic ever developed", which despite Iraqi denials, had been developed and possibly put into weapons.
  • A discrepancy between the 19,500 chemical bombs Iraq admitted producing between 1983-88 and the 13,000 it admitted using during the Iran-Iraq war. The amount of chemical agents in these bombs was estimated to weigh 1,000 tonnes.
  • "The discovery of a number of 122 mm chemical rocket warheads in a bunker at a storage depot 170 km southwest of Baghdad was much publicised. This was a relatively new bunker and therefore the rockets must have been moved there in the past few years, at a time when Iraq should not have had such munitions."
  • Iraq had admitted producing about 8,500 litres of anthrax, and claimed to have destroyed them over 10 years ago. However, it has given "no convincing evidence of its destruction".
  • In its recent statement, Iraq did not admit to having some 650 kg of bacterial growth medium, which would be sufficient to produce about 5,000 litres of concentrated anthrax. It had admitted importing this material in 1999.
  • Iraq had expanded its missile production facility, imported 380 rocket engines, and illegally imported a range of other missile components, including chemicals used in propellants, test instrumentation, and guidance and control systems.

Dr Blix did not accept that Iraq had supplied all available documents on these issues.

He said, " Iraq has all the archives of the Government and its various departments, institutions and mechanisms. It should have budgetary documents, requests for funds and reports on how they have been used. It should also have letters of credit and bills of lading, reports on production and losses of material."

The report of the UN weapons inspector shows that Iraq has lied, as US National Security Adviser, Condoleeza Rice, said last week, and is in material breach of its obligations to the United Nations.

What is unclear, at the time of writing, is whether the UN Security Council will back up its tough words of last November with action.

  • Peter Westmore

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