Inspecting Iraq

The UN weapons inspectors are now at work in Iraq, trying to determine how many weapons of mass destruction have been developed in the last four years. If the track record of previous inspections holds true, Iraq will not come clean, and the inspectors will have to work their way through a maze of deception and distortion.

In 1991, a team from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) visited Tarmiya to check out rumors that the site was part of Iraq's nuclear weapons program. According to Dr. Abdul-Qadir Ahmed, the Iraqi official in charge that day, the huge magnets attached to giant spools of copper wire were simply part of the maintenance equipment for Iraq's power stations. How else could Iraq have managed to put its power stations back in production after the Gulf War? The inspectors looked over the huge winding machine and concluded that there were really no grounds for the rumors.

At the same time, however, a defector was telling a different story to US intelligence. Having been refused permission to transfer out of the clandestine nuclear weapons program, Dr. Ibrahim Bawi had put his family in his government-supplied car and driven north. He wound up at the American Air Force base in Incirlik in southern Turkey. From there, he was whisked to the US to begin his debriefing.

Soon thereafter, the inspectors returned to Tarmiya. This time, they knew exactly what the huge magnets were for: to produce weapons grade nuclear materials. This time, Dr. Ahmed, the Iraqi counterpart, realized the game was up. Some of the inspectors he knew well, having dined with them on collegial terms during visits to Vienna. That he would lie to them so brazenly was incomprehensible to his friends on the inspection team. Nothing personal, he told them, he was under orders. The word had come down: a lie under orders is not a lie, it is just following orders.