Weapons Inspections and the Prelude to War with Iraq: The International Debate Over the Use and Effectiveness of Weapons Inspections.


Lerner KL. Weapons Inspections and the Prelude to War with Iraq: The International Debate Over the Use and Effectiveness of Weapons Inspections. published as Iraq: Weapons Inspections and the Prelude to War. Government Information Quarterly. Elsevier, 2005. (online) Draft Copy (Redacted) Originally: Lerner, K. Lee and B. Wilmoth Lerner. Iraq: Prelude to War. Encyclopedia of Espionage, Intelligence. 2003.
Weapons Inspections and the Prelude to War with Iraq: The International Debate Over the Use and Effectiveness of Weapons Inspections.


In the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States and the subsequent war against the Taleban and al-Qaeda in Afganistan, United States leaders turned their attention toward Iraq, specifically its dictatorial leader, Saddam Hussein. Although Iraq was not as powerful a military threat as it was during the Persian Gulf War of 1990-1991, U.S. officials asserted that Iraq's proven development and use of weapons of mass destruction made Iraq a potential source of those weapons for terrorists who could then use them against U.S. or other Western targets. 

During the 1980s Iran-Iraq War, Hussein ordered the use of chemical weapons against Iranian forces, and additionally used chemical weapons against civilians in rebellious areas of Iraq. 

After Iraqi forces were expelled by U.S. led western coalition forces during the Persian Gulf War, as a part of the agreements that prevented the occupation of Iraq and allowed Hussein to remain in power, Hussein agreed to destroy all weapons of mass destruction and forsake the future development of nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons. 

Over a period of twelve years, 17 specific United Nations Security Council resolutions, weapons inspection programs, and economic sanctions against Iraq failed to secure Hussein's full compliance with U.N. resolutions and assure the international community that Iraq had indeed disposed of weapons of mass destruction and abandoned programs to develop new weapons of mass destruction. 

Hussein, in an effort to bolster his strong-man image that helped maintain his power in Iraq and influence in the region, played cat and mouse with international inspection teams. Fearing it would make him weak and vulnerable, Hussein refused to give up the appearance that his regime still might control weapons of mass destruction. 
Despite U.N. resolutions, in 1998 Iraq expelled U.N. weapons inspectors and no meaningful inspections took place between 1998 and 2002. 

Hussein's obstruction, pretense, and posturing resulted in highly polarized Western intelligence assessments of his warfare capacity and willingness to use WMD's.  Especially in light of the barrage of bellicose threats issued by Hussein and his official spokesman, intelligence agencies in the West scrambled to make an accurate assessment of Hussein's warfare --and specifically WMD -- capacity. 

Iraqi defiance of U.N. resolutions continued throughout the 1990s. Confounding the threats from Hussein was the fact that while older weapons were subsequently discovered and destroyed by U.N. inspection teams in Iraq, there was no direct evidence -- and only weak or conflicting evidence --  that Hussein's threats were backed by the acquisition or development of either replacement or new weapons of mass destruction. 

Hussein played a dangerous bluff -- bet on the lives of the Iraqi people -- that was ultimately called when the United States invaded and deposed him from power. 

As of July 2003, no new weapons of mass destruction -- or significant infrastructure to indicate programs to build same -- had been found by U.S. or other Coalition forces in control of Iraq.  By the end of May 2003, both British and American intelligence agencies began to downplay the possibility of finding large stores of such weapons. Although both U.S. and British officials continued to assert prior claims about the extent of Iraq's arsenal, questions arose as to whether the weapons had been removed, destroyed, or whether intelligence reports regarding the weapons had been mishandled, exaggerated, or falsified. 

Although some seized upon the growing controversy regarding the lack of WMD finds as a partisan political issue, the record was clear that all Western intelligence agencies, including those of war dissenter nations France and Germany, agreed before the war that Hussein's regime possessed weapons of mass destruction. 

At the end of July 2003, several inquires were underway into the formulation and use by Coalition governments of intelligence related to Iraqi possession development of weapons of mass destruction. 

Author's note: This article contains two Addendum sections: 

Addendum I: U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair's "Iraq War speech" to Parliament that resulted in the government voting to use 'all means necessary to ensure the disarmament of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction" on March 18, 2003. 

ADDENDUM II:  A brief overview of the immediate aftermath of the invasion of Iraq. 
(Author's note subsequently edited in August 2003 to be a separate article in EEIS.) 
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Last updated on 07/19/2019