On the night of Sept. 25, 1991, Chief Inspector David Kay and his deputy, Robert Galluci, had a strange request for a group of Iraqis who were stopping them from leaving a carpark. If you’re going to beat anyone up, they asked, will you make sure it’s us?
It was three days into a week-long standoff involving a team of unarmed inspectors mandated by the U.N. Security Council and their armed Iraqi inspection hosts. The issue at stake was that the international inspectors had just found a tranche of documents proving the existence of Iraq’s illegal nuclear weapons program. The Iraqis couldn’t let them leave with this evidence, but the inspectors refused to leave without it.
During the daylight hours, the Iraqi regime engineered irate protests at the site. Television cameras captured events and broadcast footage around the world, and the inspectors reasoned that the media coverage provided their teams with some protection; surely the Iraqi inspection hosts would not be reckless enough to rough up international inspectors on camera.
But the nights were different. Protesters and TV crews were gone for the day, and Kay and Gallucci feared that the Iraqis who were trying to keep them from taking the documents might use force, a concern that grew when they noticed the numbers of Iraqi soldiers ramping up. Knowing that their teams included combat-trained personnel, they worried that some of their crew might retaliate if provoked and that a resulting confrontation could get out of hand. If there was going to be violence, Kay and Gallucci preferred it to be directed against them. At least they knew they would not react and escalate the problem.
In the end, a resolution arrived before it came to this. Miles away in New York, the executive chair of the United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM), which had been set up to supervise the declaration and destruction of Iraq’s chemical and biological warfare capabilities and long-range missiles, had been carefully keeping the Security Council informed about the situation, and the council issued an ultimatum that insisted Iraq comply with the inspections.
The Iraqi regime had no choice but to reluctantly let the inspectors leave with their findings. According to some accounts, a senior Iraqi official asked whether Kay and Galluci’s offer to be beaten up still stood, as acting on it could help him save some face. Gallucci and Kay declined.
The “carpark incident” illustrates the complex dynamics among the weapons inspectors, Iraq and the Security Council during the early to mid-1990s, through which, despite many challenges, the inspectors managed to find and oversee the destruction of Iraq’s outlawed weapons by 1997. This history is often overshadowed by the 2003 U.S.-U.K. military invasion that was publicly justified with flawed claims that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction (WMD). But the forgotten history of the international weapons inspections shows that safe and verified disarmament is possible, even in difficult circumstances, and that cooperative approaches offer better options for achieving lasting security than poorly conceived military interventions based on a misuse of national intelligence. [Continue reading…]