IRAQ: 10 Years Ago
Mar 15, 2013

The date was 17 March 2003. A number of inspections had been completed in Iraq that day, including the supervision of destruction of two Al Samoud 2 missiles, private interviews with Iraqi biological scientists, an inspection of a dairy facility in Tikrit (Saddam Hussein’s home town), and two additional sites northwest of Baghdad. That evening, a call came in from Dr. Hans Blix, the Chief United Nations Weapons Inspector. “Get out of Baghdad, the U.S. military is on its way to invade the country and topple the Saddam regime.”

After receiving a heads-up from United Nations Secretary General Koffi Annan, ­following his conversation with President George Bush, Dr. Blix had ordered his 110 United Nations Monitoring and Verification Commission (UNMOVIC) weapons inspectors to pack up, evacuate the country, and return to the field headquarters in ­Larnaca, Cyprus.

The team quickly packed up inspection equipment, safety gear and other items that had been stored at the Baghdad Ongoing Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Centre (BOMVIC) – a well-stocked chemical and biological laboratory.

Lead up: the Early Years
Following the Gulf War of 1990, the United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM) was established under UN Security Council Resolution 687 to oversee Iraq’s compliance with the destruction of chemical, biological and missile weapons facilities, and to work with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in their efforts to eliminate any nuclear weapons facilities and capabilities created by Saddam.

UNSCOM inspectors were given “unrestricted freedom of movement without advance notice in Iraq”, and “the right to unimpeded access to any site or facility for the purpose of the on-site inspection”. Inspectors discovered a massive program to develop chemical, biological and nuclear weapons. Between 1991 and 1995 we found, confiscated and destroyed a majority of Iraq’s WMD capability. Also under UNSC 687, Iraq was ordered to provide “full, final and complete declarations” on all of its weapons programs. However, these reports were found by UNSCOM to be incomplete, inaccurate and deficient. As a result, mistrust developed between UNSCOM inspectors and the Iraqi military regime.

Demonstrators in Fallujah.

UNSCOM inspectors had been recruited by the United Nations directly from the military and intelligence communities from member countries. Mistrust and suspicious behavior between both the Inspectors and the Iraqi regime grew, becoming unmanageable. It was at this point that Inspectors were ordered to evacuate Iraq and President Bill Clinton initiated Operation Desert Fox, a four-day US-UK bombing campaign on Iraqi targets from December 16-19, 1998.

That was the end of UNSCOM inspectors in Iraq.

The Creation of UNMOVIC
There was no Western presence in Iraq from 1998 until November 2002. Intelligence by satellite observation raised suspicions that Iraq was continuing its WMD programs and moving sensitive equipment from military sites to other areas. There was speculation and conjecture by the intelligence community that Saddam was continuing to develop WMD. As a result, on 17 December 1999, under Security Council Resolution 1284, the adoption of an independent team of unbiased subject matter experts was ­created: the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Insp­ection Commission. The objective of UNMOVIC was to continue with the mandate of UNSCOM – to verify Iraq’s ­compliance with its obligation to destroy its WMD program. Unlike UNSCOM, its predecessor, the UNMOVIC inspectors were employees of the United Nations, each having specific exp­ert­ise in areas such as chemistry, biology, nuclear and radiation, missile ballistics and production, and disarmament – and I was one of them.

Inspection of Iraqi Missile.

Since the inception of UNMOVIC in 1999 until the return of UN weapons inspectors to Iraq, the United Nations recruited and trained approximately 350 inspectors at the IAEA Headquarters located in Vienna, Austria. Training consisted of a three-week intensive course given by subject matter experts with special knowledge of Iraq’s CBRNE weapons programs.

Supergu at Jabal Hamrayn

Supergun at Jabal Hamrayn

I had worked with for several years with Canada’s International Security Bureau at Foreign Affairs Canada as a senior advisor in verification technologies in support of various non-proliferation, disarma­ment and arms control negotiations. In the summer of 2002, a call came from Dr. Blix’s office at the UNMOVIC Headquarters in New York, asking if I would consider being trained as a weapons inspector. After an interview with the UNMOVIC Executive Chairman, Dr. Blix, I was accepted for biological weapons training due for the next round of training in Vienna.

The training was thorough, and specific to Iraq’s past WMD production programs. Experts on Iraqi history and culture prepared us with sufficient background to appreciate the complex history of one of the oldest civilizations in the world – the “Cradle of Civilization”. Weapons production experts ­provided us with a thorough understanding of biological weapons production, storage and weaponization in Iraq. The Austrian Armed Forces’ Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Defence School provided four days of Operational Health and Safety Training, as our safety during inspections was a paramount concern of the organization. Additional segments of our training was provided by the Swedish Defence Research Agency, followed by specialized training in dual-use equipment produced in Sweden for dairy production. It was known that Saddam used dairies in Iraq to produce large batches of anthrax, and similar Swedish-built stainless steel equipment (fermenting tanks, milk dryers, centrifuges) had previously been sent to Iraq for legitimate dairy ­production.
Hardened shelter and runway.
Restart of UN Weapons Inspections
It was during my training at the IAEA Headquarters in Vienna in October 2002 that we received the news that Iraq would allow UN weapons inspectors back to continue the unfinished work of UNSCOM. UNMOVIC administration assigned the first cadre of freshly-trained students to be the first back into the country. The first group of UNMOVIC inspectors arrived in Baghdad on November 25, 2002, and began two days later. Working efficiently, they completed 25 inspections throughout Iraq in the first week. It should be understood UNMOVIC’s initial inspections required re-baselining many of the previous UNSCOM inspections. UNMOVIC inspectors had to verify that earlier pieces of sensitive equipment still had their security identification tags attached, buildings were still locked and sealed, and that there had been no movement of specific pieces of key equipment, etc.

UNMOVIC inspectors were hired for three-month contracts and my team was readied for the second tour at the February 27th switch.

UNMOVIC field headquarters had been established in Larnaca, Cyprus, a short 2-hour flight to Baghdad. After a day of in-processing in Cyprus, it was time to leave for Iraq. Our arrival to Baghdad was surreal. We were greeted at the Saddam International Airport by UN administrative officials, as well as by “minders” from Saddam’s National Monitoring Directorate, the equivalent Iraqi mirror organization as UNMOVIC. After checking into the Al Rashid Hotel in downtown Baghdad, we spent the remainder of the afternoon getting acquainted with the UN Headquarters (BOMVIC), various technological, testing and analytical set-ups (chemical & biological laboratory), and the procedural information required to commence our inspection work.

The split turquoise-tiled dome of the Shaheed Monument of the ­Martyrs shelters an eternal flame that ­commemorates Iraqi ­soldiers killed in the Iran-Iraq war.

Several pieces of inspection and detection equipment required special attention and training. As a result, I was placed into a specialized cadre of inspectors, the multidisciplinary inspection team. There I had access to several advanced pieces of equipment, such as a ground penetrating radar (GPR). The GPR proved essential in my first inspection at a corn processing plant in Mosel, located in Northern Iraq along the Tigris River. Based on information from an earlier report, there was a possibility that biological growth media could be buried underneath the plant’s 300 x 300ft foundation. However, our 4-hour inspection using the ground penetrating radar showed nothing abnormal beneath the corn plant.

Excavated R400 ­biological bombs in Al Azizaya area.

The majority of UNMOVIC inspections related to Iraq’s chemical program focused on pesticide facilities, petrochemical industry, fertilizer plants, research facilities, military sites, and munitions depots and warehouses. UNMOVIC supervised the destruction of 14 declared 155 mm shells with 49 litres of mustard gas, 500 ml of thiodiglycol (a mustard gas precursor).

Biological site inspections included university laboratories, pharmaceutical factories, munitions stores, breweries, dairies, research institutions and agricultural sites. In February and March, we excavated 128 R-400 bombs (out of a total of 157 that Iraq had unilaterally destroyed in 1991). The R-400 bombs were previously weaponized with anthrax and clostridium perfringens. The biological weapons inspection team destroyed 245 kg of declared growth media and 40 vials of toxin standards.

In total, UNMOVIC conducted over 731 inspections at 411 sites, 88 of those were new sites. At the peak of the inspection period, there were 202 UNMOVIC staff and 84 inspectors from 60 countries in Iraq. There was no evidence that the Iraqis knew in advance of our inspections, and UNMOVIC was never denied access.

There were eight helicopters available for transportation to any area in Iraq. These were provided under contract by firms from Russia, United Kingdom and Canada.

Continuing UNMOVIC Mandate
The first two weeks of March 2003, just prior to evacuation order, were stressful for both UNMOVIC inspectors and the Iraqi citizens. The imminent threat of a US invasion had UNMOVIC staff fully prepared for a number of possible scenarios: land evacuation (routes by road to Basra in the south, or via Damascus, Syria to the west); taken hostage (with sufficient money in our pockets to buy our way out); or a peaceful airlift evacuation with full Iraqi cooperation (which was indeed the case).

Following our evacuation from Baghdad on a UN Boeing 727 to Larnaca, 110 UNMOVIC inspectors watched the bombing of Iraq on television. Many of us had made friends with the locally engaged Iraqi nationals working at the BOMVIC Headquarters and the Al Rashid Hotel. With the large number of facilities that Saddam had built in civilian areas, there was no doubt that the collateral damage to some of our friends was imminent.
We spent an additional week working out of Larnaca, completing our reporting paperwork prior to departing back to our respective countries. Analytical and assessment work continued in New York at UN Headquarters. Training of UNMOVIC inspectors also continued, under UN Security Council Resolution 1284 in Vienna, New York, Brazil and Canada, and in the spring of 2004, I was trained as a Chief Weapons Inspector in Vienna, Austria. In September 2005 I worked with UNMOVIC staff in New York to organize in Sarnia, Ontario a dual-use course related to the petrochemical industry, attended by 20 inspectors from 15 countries.

Biological inspection team examines R400 Bomb Warheads.                                                 

UN in Iraq Today
It has been 10 years now since UNMOVIC inspectors were evacuated from Baghdad and American forces entered the country on March 18, 2003.

In the months following that evacuation, the UN established the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) under UN Security Council Resolution 1500, at the request of the Government of Iraq.

UNAMI has a mandate to help and advise the Iraqi Government and people on political dialogue, national reconciliation, electoral processing, facilitating regional dialogue and promoting protection of human rights and judicial and legal reform.

Mustard Bombs

Canada’s Decision
I attribute Canada’s lack of involvement in Iraq to one man, Paul Heinbecker, and I applaud that decision. As Canada’s former Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the United Nations when the United States made its decision to invade Iraq, Ambassador Heinbecker recognized that getting involved in an Iraq conflict would put Canadian soldiers in harm’s way primarily to appease our American allies. This was a historic decision that I believe Canadians should be more aware of. After my time with UNMOVIC, I worked for six years in Washington for a large defence contractor, where we supported Medical Treatment Facilities for the Department of Defense. As a result of my work with wounded warriors inflicted with traumatic brain injuries, multiple amputations, and post traumatic stress disorders (in Canada DND likes to call it Operational Stress Injuries), I personally met numerous young American soldiers (and their families) who have to live with the long-term effects as a result of a bad decision to go into Iraq. One walk through the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, or a visit to Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, or seeing the work of the Defense Veterans Brain Injury Center will demonstrate that Canada’s decision to stay out of the war in Iraq was a good one.

Additionally, as a United Nations Weapons Inspector, having been part of the international process of verifying the very same thing that caused the war, I knew first hand that there were no significant amounts of WMD in Iraq. Due to the previous UNSCOM inspections, combined with the limiting sanctions and import/ export restrictions placed on Saddam and his country, he had his hands tied in reconstituting his weapons programs. I experienced it personally.

Also, I commend Ambassador Heinbecker for not caving to American interests. If we respect the decisions of international organizations like the United Nations, upholding Canada’s commitment to our role as a valued member of the United Nations should be a no-brainer, but ­sometimes it takes backbone. Good call, Ambassador Heinbecker.

Jeff Tracey, a former UNMOVIC Weapons Inspector, currently works in Ottawa for Phirelight Security Solutions, an IT security firm. Mr. Tracey previously spent 6 years in the United States working for a large defence contractor, supporting DoD medical treatment facilities and programs for the treatment of wounded warriors.  
© FrontLine Defence 2013