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Iraq Disarmament Crisis (1991–2003)

Iraq Disarmament Crisis (1991–2003)

At the end of the Persian Gulf War in 1991, the United Nations (UN) Security Council (the UN department in charge of maintaining peace among nations) determined that Iraq presented a threat to other nations and must be disarmed. Over the next twelve years, the UN and other national groups sponsored a series of sanctions (measures that punish a country for not complying with international laws or policies) and weapons inspections designed to disarm Iraq. Iraq president Saddam Hussein (1937–2006) was generally hostile to these efforts, and conflicts arose.

An uneasy peace

Hussein had remained in power after the Gulf War, but other nations were troubled by his rule. Many Iraqis faced persecution and even death under his regime. Hussein also had obvious ambitions to control the Arab world. Most troubling to the United States was that the Iraqi government had invested heavily in its defense industry, particularly in the development of missiles (rockets that can carry nuclear or nonnuclear

bombs) and chemical weapons (toxic substances, such as nerve gas or mustard gas, that are specifically designed to cause death or other harm and usually require only small amounts to kill large numbers of people).

Prior to the Gulf War, the United Nations had placed an economic embargo (prohibition of trade with a country) on Iraq involving almost all foreign trade with the country. These sanctions remained in effect after the Gulf War until the UN could be sure that Iraq was complying with its disarmament requirements, particularly that it was no longer building weapons of mass destruction (WMD). These massive weapons can kill or incapacitate large numbers of people. In April 1991, the UN created a special commission, the United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM), and announced that it would begin immediately to inspect Iraq for weapons of mass destruction. Under the UN sanctions, Iraq was given fifteen days to provide information on the location of all its WMD facilities. UNSCOM would then have four months to devise a plan for making certain that Iraq was in compliance with the resolution.

The UNSCOM inspectors officially worked for the UN, but most of them came from the United States, Great Britain, and other advanced industrialized countries. The fact that the inspectors were from the West—Iraq's former military foe—made reaching an agreement between the inspectors and Iraq difficult. The project dragged on. Time and again, the Iraqi government refused to turn over information or allow the UNSCOM inspectors into certain facilities.

Effects of the sanctions

The sanctions placed on Iraq in 1990 and 1991 took a severe toll on Iraqi civilians. Before the Gulf War, Iraq had one of the most advanced economies in the Middle East. It got the money it needed to import food and other consumer goods primarily by selling its oil. Sanctions all but completely cut off the oil trade. One estimate suggests that Iraq lost about $130 billion in oil revenues during the 1990s, bringing intense poverty to many Iraqi civilians. By some estimates, approximately five hundred thousand people died directly or indirectly as a result of the economic sanctions. Some estimates put the total deaths at a million people. The sanctions hit Iraq's health care system particularly hard. Water purification supplies were not readily available, increasing exposure to cholera and other diseases. A 1997 UN report found that more than 10 percent of Iraqi children were acutely malnourished (suffered ill health due to an inadequate diet). The death rates for infants and children under five were more than twice what they had been before the Gulf War.

Tensions increase

A series of incidents convinced the United States that Hussein was not going to comply with the disarmament. In January 1993, the United States accused Hussein of moving missiles into southern Iraq. Allied planes and ships destroyed the missile sites, as well as a nuclear facility outside Baghdad, Iraq. In June 1993, the United States learned of a plot to assassinate former U.S. president George H. W. Bush (1924–; served 1989–93). In response, U.S. ships attacked Iraqi intelligence headquarters in Baghdad. In 1994, Hussein moved Iraqi troops to the Kuwaiti border. The United States responded by deploying a carrier group, warplanes, and some fifty-four thousand troops. Then, in August 1996, Hussein invaded the Kurdish territory, an area of northern Iraq that was home to the Kurds, a group Hussein had suppressed. U.S. ships and planes attacked military targets in Iraq.

Tensions between Iraq and the U.S.-led allies escalated considerably in October 1997, when Iraq accused U.S. members of UNSCOM of being spies and forced most of them to leave the country. In November, Iraq expelled the six remaining U.S. inspectors, and the UN removed its last inspectors in protest. As the United States and Britain began a military buildup in the Persian Gulf, Iraq readmitted the inspectors, but later in November Iraqi officials announced that they would not allow inspection of sites designated as “palaces and official residences.” Not surprisingly, these happened to be areas long suspected by the UN as being possible storage sites for weapons of mass destruction.

In February 1998, UN secretary general Kofi Annan (1938–) forged an agreement with Iraq to resume weapons inspections in return for a UN promise to consider ending sanctions. Inspections went on relatively uneventfully until August, at which point the Iraqi government, complaining that it had seen no UN effort to end sanctions, refused to cooperate further with weapons inspectors. U.S. and British governments warned of possible military action to force Iraqi compliance, and the countries built up forces in the Persian Gulf. Just as allied bombers were preparing to strike Iraq, Hussein agreed to readmit UNSCOM weapons inspectors. Still, the UNSCOM chief inspector reported on December 8, 1998, that Iraq was not cooperating, and the UN again withdrew its team.

Operation Desert Fox

Due to opposition from France, Russia, and China, as well as several Arab countries, the UN was not prepared to take military action against Iraq. So the United States and Britain did, launching Operation Desert Fox on the night of December 16, 1998. Air raids against military targets in Iraq continued for the next three nights. On December 21, the U.S. Department of Defense reported that the bombing had severely damaged forty-three targets, moderately damaged thirty others, and lightly damaged twelve more, while missing thirteen targets. The Iraqi government claimed that the bombing had killed about one hundred soldiers and many more civilians.

Though Operation Desert Fox was militarily successful, the United States was not enthusiastic. On December 18, midway through the bombing campaign, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to impeach U.S. president Bill Clinton (1946–; served 1993–2001) for committing perjury before a grand jury. Critics said he bombed Iraq to take the attention off his own political problems. Other critics maintained that the bombing did little to stop Iraqi militarization, leaving the problem smoldering, quite possibly to flare up at some other time.

After the Desert Fox bombings, the Iraqi government refused to cooperate with weapons inspectors and it was a year before the UN could put together a new inspections team, the United Nations Monitoring, Verification, and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC). Hussein did not cooperate with UNMOVIC for two more years. According to most reports today, by that time, Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction and did not pose a real threat to other nations. Despite the difficulties, during its time in Iraq UNSCOM discovered most of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and destroyed them. Hussein, however, was unwilling to fully cooperate with the inspections to prove this. In the spring of 2003, the United States invaded Iraq (see Iraq Invasion (2003) ).

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