WASHINGTON—Two international agencies say they have teams of weapons inspectors ready to go to Iraq, and they hope to start work there in about four weeks, assuming that Saddam Hussein's offer Monday to open his nation to inspections with no strings attached is honored.
That's a big assumption, even a dubious one, if experience is any guide. Iraq has agreed to admit inspectors many times before, only to block, harass, mislead and ultimately expel them.
Doing the job right requires hundreds of specially trained experts who are both scientists and detectives.
"You need . . . people who understand concealment and weapons programs," said David Kay, the former chief nuclear-weapons inspector for the now-defunct United Nations Special Commission on Iraq. After Iraq complained that some UNSCOM inspectors were spies, the commission went out of business.
Now the task of trying to find hidden Iraqi biological and chemical weapons, as well as missile launchers, will fall to the U.N. Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Committee (UNMOVIC), a 3-year-old U.N. agency based in New York.
Inspections for Iraq's outlawed nuclear weapons will be conducted by a special team of 15 inspectors from the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency.
UNMOVIC's chief, Hans Blix, met Tuesday at the United Nations with top Iraqi officials to discuss the logistics of inspections. "We want to see eye-to-eye on these issues to try to avoid disagreements or frictions on the ground on Day One," said UNMOVIC spokesman Ewen Buchanan. Another meeting is scheduled in Vienna, Austria, in 10 days.
UNMOVIC will have more than 200 inspectors at its disposal, but the agency will only use 80 at a time, along with about five helicopters, Buchanan said. UNMOVIC will use mostly U.N. employees and outsiders hired by the United Nations rather than employees of national governments. It has a staff of 63 people from 27 countries for inspections, and it has trained 220 other experts from 44 countries who also can be sent to Iraq.
The UNMOVIC inspections will be funded by using 0.8 percent of the U.N.-run oil-for-food sale proceeds in Iraq, which amounts to about $120 million a year.
The team of 15 nuclear-weapons inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency, which can be doubled with outside help, could be on the ground in about a week, with inspections starting in about four weeks, said IAEA spokesman Mark Gwozdecky.
"They're ready to go when we get a green light—if we get a green light," Gwozdecky said.
The nuclear teams—about six people per team—are ultra-specialized. They look for about 40 specific components in nuclear bomb-making, such as uranium-processed fuel or certain types of machinery that are needed, Gwozdecky said.
One of the inspectors' first jobs will be to find a new base of operations in Iraq, because their old UNSCOM headquarters, abandoned in December 1998, is pretty much trashed, said Tim McCarthy, former deputy chief of UNSCOM's missile inspection team. Then they have to decide where to go for inspections.
Weapons inspectors use spy satellites, foreign intelligence and information from defectors, IAEA's Gwozdecky said. They look at documents and equipment and talk to people. Each inspector is trained in a specific technology and is looking for telltale clues to weapons development that vary from weapon to weapon.
Even so, inspectors say they are searching for needles in haystacks.
"Look at what allegedly Iraq had done with their biological weapons. Some of them were stored in a hole in the ground at the end of a dirt runway, buried, covered with a tarpaulin and then earth," Richard Spertzel, former UNSCOM biological weapons inspection chief, told Congress last week. "The likelihood of inspectors finding those without good intelligence information . . . is somewhere between nil and none."
Who is on an inspection team is key to its chance for success. Newcomers who have never inspected a country before can be easily bamboozled, Kay said in an interview. "It's very hard, and usually people who are on the first inspection program are not very useful," he said.
Kay used scientists from various U.S. weapons programs as his inspectors, but UNMOVIC is seeking nongovernment employees to minimize suspicions that they are spies, and "that tends to be people who don't have the practical knowledge," Kay said.
Former UNSCOM missile inspector McCarthy said his experience verified Kay's point.
"I was absolutely of no use to my team the first time," McCarthy said. It took him three or four inspections to learn how to do it effectively, he said.
Further, getting into the sites is a battle, McCarthy said.
Weapons inspectors going into Iraq are likely to find nervous 18-year-old Iraqi guards with AK-47s at security gates, roads suddenly closed, locked doors with no keys and a sense that their "surprise inspections" are never really a surprise. That's what previous weapons inspectors found.
"They do physical intimidation to stop you," Kay said.
"It's not only impeding access, it's delaying access. It's `This road doesn't go there,' " McCarthy said. "It's `I can't let you in until a senior official from Baghdad comes.' It's `This door is locked and I don't have a key.' "
Usually the Iraqis knew they were coming, either because of intelligence or just the fact that they knew where things were hidden, McCarthy said.
"The basic idea is you go to the site, you secure the perimeter so that no one can get in and out and then you proceed with the inspection if they let you in," McCarthy said.
Experts say inspectors will have an easier job finding the makings of nuclear weapons than those for chemical or biological weapons. The chemicals used for chemical weapons also are used for pesticides, so they could be easily masked.
The IAEA team seeking nuclear evidence uses helicopters equipped with detectors to look for radiation in air, water and soil.
"It helps you find things," IAEA's Gwozdecky said. "When you're manipulating fissile material, it's very difficult to shield all of that. The facility will almost invariably emit a (radioactive) signature."
The Iraqis use equipment, including high-tech filters, to try to mask those signatures, Kay said.
For more information, check out the following Web sites:
The U.N. Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission:
The International Atomic Energy Agency:
(c) 2002, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.
GRAPHIC (from KRT Graphics, 202-383-6064): 20020917 IRAQ inspections