UNSCOM in the field: ‘We are just the tools’

By Paul Eedle

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UNSCOM is run as a classic intelligence operation. The field operation in Iraq simply gathers information. All the highly sensitive work of analysis and interpretation is done back at base in the security of UN headquarters in New York. UNSCOM in Baghdad keeps minimal files and nobody there knows the full picture of what's been discovered.

Nils Carlström, a Swedish army Major General who's the senior UNSCOM person resident in Baghdad, told me: "We are the tools in the field. We send daily reports. Then they analyse them and they say, perhaps we will send a special visiting team. We have files and such like, but on the other hand we don't keep the whole picture... New York tells us to go out - sometimes we don't know why, but maybe they have some other information. The pieces of the puzzle are put together in New York."

Carlström said the field operation consisted of about 120 people - 40 weapons inspectors, 40 logistics and administrative staff, and 40 Chilean military personnel operating five helicopters for aerial surveillance. The 'resident' inspectors - normally doing three to four month assignments - concentrate largely on monitoring Iraqi installations to ensure it does not rebuild weapons systems which UNSCOM has destroyed.

They are joined by visiting teams of inspectors for specific tasks, often relating to uncovering new information about the programmes. More than 1,000 people from more than 40 countries had served on inspection teams by the end of last year.

The resident inspectors are organised in six teams:

1. AIT (aerial intelligence - the Chilean helicopters)
2. BW (biological warfare)
3. CW (chemical warfare)
4. Missiles
5. Nuclear (for which the staff are provided by the International Atomic Energy Authority)
6. Export-import trade

Some diplomats say the teams are dominated by Anglo-Saxons - Americans, Britons, Australians in particular. Carlström said the current team heads were two French nationals and one each from Britain, Australia, Argentina and Canada.

The inspection teams, which are often made up of a mixture of resident and visiting inspectors, are carrying out hundreds of inspection visits. Apart from trying to track down information and materials involved in Iraq's weapons programmes, they are monitoring hundreds of different sites to prevent Iraq rebuilding its weapons.

Almost all of these sites are 'dual use' installations such as fertiliser factories or hospital laboratories, where the main purpose is civilian but facilities could be used to develop weapons. Many of the sites have video cameras installed, connected to a monitoring centre in UNSCOM's offices in Baghdad.


 Public Operation
 End of the Crisis