United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM) Tracks Saddam’s WMDs

This may seem like an out-of-place post, but in the 2015-2016 campaign season, we must not forget the context to the Iraq War (2003) and the current crisis in southern Syria and northern Iraq. Here’s a partial timeline of UNSCOM in the 1990s.

UNSCOM certainly believed Saddam had Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs).


23-28 Jun 1991

UNSCOM/IAEA inspectors try to intercept Iraqi vehicles carrying nuclear related equipment (Calutrons). Iraqi personnel fire warning shots in the air to prevent the inspectors from approaching the vehicles. The equipment is later seized and destroyed under international supervision.


18 Feb 1992

Special report of the Executive Chairman of UNSCOM regarding the visit of a special mission to Baghdad on 27 January 1991, recording that Iraq was rejecting any obligations imposed on it by Council resolutions 707 (1991) and 715 (1991) (S/23606).


19 Mar 1992

Iraq declares the existence of previously undeclared ballistic missiles (89), chemical weapons and associated material. Iraq reveals that most of these undeclared items were unilaterally destroyed in the summer of 1991, in violation of resolution 687 (1991).


May 1992

Iraq provides its first Full, Final and Complete Disclosures for its prohibited biological and missile programmes. Iraq admits to having had only a “defensive” biological weapons programme.


Jan 1993

Iraq refuses to allow UNSCOM the use of its own aircraft to fly into Iraq. Furthermore, Iraq starts incursions into the demilitarized zone between Iraq and Kuwait and increases its military activity in the no-fly zones.


Jun 1994

UNSCOM completes the destruction of large quantities of chemical warfare agents and precursors and their production equipment.


1 Jul 1995

As a result of UNSCOM’s investigations and in the light of irrefutable evidence, Iraq admits for the first time the existence of an offensive biological weapons programme but denies weaponization.


8 Aug 1995

General Hussein Kamel, Minister of Industry and Minerals and former Director of Iraq’s Military Industrialization Corporation, with responsibility for all of Iraq’s weapons programmes, leaves Iraq for Jordan. Iraq claims that Hussein Kamel had hidden from UNSCOM and the IAEA important information on the prohibited weapons programmes. Iraq withdraws its third biological Full, Final and Complete Disclosure and admits a far more extensive biological warfare programme than previously admitted, including weaponization. Iraq also admits having achieved greater progress in its efforts to indigenously produce long-range missiles than had previously been declared. Iraq provides UNSCOM and the IAEA with large amounts of documentation, hidden on a chicken farm ostensibly by Hussein Kamel, related to its prohibited weapons programmes which subsequently leads to further disclosures by Iraq concerning the production of the nerve agent VX and Iraq’s development of a nuclear weapon. Iraq also informs UNSCOM that the deadline to halt its cooperation is withdrawn.


Nov 1995

The Government of Jordan intercepts a large shipment of high-grade missile components destined for Iraq. Iraq denies that it had sought to purchase these components, although it acknowledged that some of them were in Iraq. UNSCOM conducts an investigation, which confirms that Iraqi authorities and missile facilities have been involved in the acquisition of sophisticated guidance and control components for proscribed missiles. UNSCOM retrieves additional similar missile components from the Tigris river, which had been allegedly disposed of there by Iraqis involved in the covert acquisition.


May-Jun 1996

UNSCOM supervises the destruction of Al-Hakam, Iraq’s main facility for the production of biological warfare agents.


30 Dec 1996

Statement by the President of the Security Council in which the Council deplores the refusal of Iraq to allow the Special Commission to remove certain missile engines from Iraq for analysis, and demands that Iraq allow such removal. (S/PRST/1996/49).


Feb 1997

Iraq allows UNSCOM to remove the missile engines.


Jun 1997

Iraq interferes with UNSCOM’s helicopter operations, threatening the safety of the aircraft and their crews.


21 Jun 1997

Iraq again blocks UNSCOM’s teams from entering certain sites, which have been designated by UNSCOM for inspection.


Oct 1997

UNSCOM completes the destruction of additional, large quantities of chemical weapons related equipment and precursors chemicals. Iraq had previously denied that part of the equipment had been used for CW production. Only in May 1997, on the basis of UNSCOM’s investigations, did Iraq admit that some of the equipment had indeed been used in the production of VX.


13 Nov 1997

Iraq requires the personnel of United States nationality working for UNSCOM to leave Iraq immediately. The Executive Chairman decides the majority of the UNSCOM personnel should withdraw temporarily from Iraq. A skeleton staff remains in Baghdad to maintain UNSCOM’s premises and equipment.


13 Jan 1998

The Executive Chairman reports to the Council that during the first day of an inspection, Iraq announced that it was withdrawing its cooperation with the inspection team on the pretext that the team had too many individuals of US or UK nationality (S/1998/27 of 13 January 1998).

14 Jan 1998

Iraq continues to block the work of the inspection team.


Early Feb [1998]

Two technical evaluation meetings (TEMS) take place in Baghdad, reviewing 1998 the position with respect to the chemical weapons agent VX. and missile warheads. The report of the outcome of the meetings is submitted to the Council (document S/1998/176). Despite Iraq’s assertions and it having had a full opportunity to present its views on all matters pertaining to the two issues, the team of UNSCOM international experts conclude unanimously that Iraq has still not provided sufficient information for the Commission to conclude that Iraq had undertaken all the disarmament steps required of it in these areas. The Commission’s experts provide the Council with an oral briefing of the outcome on these two TEMS in March 1998.


8 Apr 1998

The report of the biological weapons TEM is transmitted to the Council (S/1998/308). As with the other TEMs, the experts unanimously conclude that Iraq’s declaration on its biological weapons programme is incomplete and inadequate.


14 Jul 1998

As a consequence of the high-level talks between the Deputy Prime Minister and the Executive Chairman in June 1998, a team of UNSCOM international biological experts is assembled in Baghdad to review, for the third time, Iraq’s declaration on its biological weapons programme. The experts conclude that the declaration is not verifiable.


12 Aug 1998

The Executive Chairman informs the Security Council (document S/1998/767) that, in addition to halting all disarmament activities, Iraq’s actions with respect to monitoring have impinged on the effectiveness of the monitoring system and the Commission could not continue to provide the Security Council with the same level of assurances of Iraq’s compliance with its obligations not to reestablish its proscribed weapons programmes.


31 Oct 1998

Iraq announces that it will cease all forms of interaction with UNSCOM and its Chairman and to halt all UNSCOM’s activities inside Iraq, including monitoring. The Security Council, in a statement to the press, unanimously condemn Iraq’s decision to cease all cooperation with UNSCOM.




Democrats believed Saddam had WMDs, so they favored regime change;


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