IAEA and UN inspections of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction programmes worked, Newsweek magazine reported in February 2004. The magazine cites the record of international inspections and of the US-led Iraq Survey Group, whose past leader, David Kay, reported his findings.
Newsweek's Fareed Zakaria writes:
"We were all wrong," says weapons inspector David Kay. Actually, no. There was one group whose prewar estimates of Iraqi nuclear, chemical and biological capabilities have turned out to be devastatingly close to reality - the U.N. inspectors. Consider what Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the U.N. nuclear agency, told the Security Council on March 7, 2003, after his team had done 247 inspections at 147 sites: "no evidence of resumed nuclear activities... nor any indication of nuclear-related prohibited activities at any related sites." He went on to say that evidence suggested Iraq had not imported uranium since 1990 and no longer had a centrifuge program. He concluded that Iraq's nuclear capabilities had been effectively dismantled by 1997 and its dual-use industrial plants had decayed. All these claims appear to be dead-on, based on Kay's findings... The real lesson is that international bodies like ElBaradei's can work.
The magazine features an interview with IAEA Director General ElBaradei on the role of IAEA and international inspections.
"I think the sanctions worked, and more importantly, the inspections worked," Dr. ElBaradei says. "A combination of sanctions and inspections managed to disarm Iraq."
Dr. ElBaradei underlined the importance of having IAEA and international inspectors return to Iraq. "We still have a request by the Security Council to verify that Iraq has no nuclear weapons."
On 7 March 2003, Director General Mohamed ElBaradei told the Security Council that the IAEA had found no evidence or plausible indication of the revival of a nuclear weapons programme in Iraq. However, he added that more time was still needed for the Agency to complete its investigations on whether Iraq had attempted to revive its nuclear programme between 1998 and 2002. Neither the changes in Iraq over the past year nor the investigations by the Iraq Survey Group set up to complete Iraqi disarmament have done anything to contradict the Agency's assessment of the situation. However, conclusions should certainly not be drawn before the IAEA team has had a chance to complete its assessment, once the Security Council revisits its mandate, as foreseen in resolution 1483 and 1546, and teams can return to Iraq.
As highlighted in major newspapers and magazine editorials, the IAEA seems to have been right in its assessment of Iraq's nuclear capabilities. In my view, this was no coincidence, but the result of a well thought out and reliable approach. It is the Agency's role to provide the international community, in a timely fashion, with facts and conclusions when, and only when, they become indisputable, and to inform them about uncertainties as long as they exist.
This is what the IAEA's Iraq teams did routinely, but more spectacularly in October 1997 and March 2003. The fact that the Agency has 137 Member States forces it to put great distance from any single political agenda and its associated pressure (which is not the case for national analysts who, at a given point in time, may feel under the pressure, explicit or implicit, from a single political line).
But if the ethics of the approach provide the framework for the work, it does not provide the end product. The methodology that leads to the "credible assurance" that the international community expects from the verification body relies first on assembling top quality personnel, whose contribution is required to be disconnected from any "a priori" belief that would lead to preconceived conclusions. Experts must be of geographical diversity, and redundancy of expertise is certainly mandatory in sensitive areas, again to avoid unwanted bias. Then, it is fundamental to remember that the information that leads to a conclusion cannot be limited to a declaration taken at face value, "the last HUMINT" (human intelligence) or the "last sample analytical result". Rather, it has to include data that is as comprehensive as possible in nature, origin and time. Another key parameter is certainly to keep in mind one's own limitations, to avoid excessive extrapolating far from the facts and forgetting the inherent presence of uncertainties.
Of course, no verification is meaningful, unless the inspectors have, on a continuous basis, the appropriate level of authority that enables drawing credible conclusions while limiting the uncertainties. Absence of inspections, like in Iraq from 1999-2002, turns the whole community blind. Providing the IAEA inspectorate with the right level of authority (even short of the dream conditions as in Iraq) is a win-win situation. It benefits the international community, which receives the level of assurance it seeks, and also the inspected party, which is given the opportunity to demonstrate the reality of its compliance. As proven in Iraq, inspections work, and they have no substitute.
Jacques Baute is the Director of the IAEA's Iraq Nuclear Verification Office. E-mail: J.Baute@iaea.org.