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Context of 'December 2002-March 2003: Critics Say US Trying to Use Inspections to Provoke Iraq'

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The Bush administration and the United Nations disagree over how intrusive the inspections should be. The US wants the inspectors to be as aggressive as possible by visiting sensitive sites and demanding interviews with Iraqi scientists without the presence of minders. Hans Blix, on the other hand, advocates a more measured approach to achieving disarmament. He says that inspection team recruits should be “firm” with their Iraqi counterparts but never “angry and aggressive.” One of his aides tells The Washington Post in late November 2002: “We’re not going to do in-your-face inspections. He [Blix] wants effective inspections. It’s not our job to provoke, harm or humiliate.” The inspectors argue that it makes no sense—nor is logistically feasible—to begin the inspections process with intrusive inspections of Iraq’s most sensitive sites. One UN official explains to The Washington Post, “If you only have 11 people, you cannot go to a big new site, but you can go check on a known monitoring site.” The Independent reports that inspectors “believe it would not only be counterproductive, but could damage the prospect of ascertaining whether President Saddam does indeed possess an arsenal of weapons of mass destruction.” (Lynch 11/17/2002) In December, Washington calls for an increase in the UN inspectors’ staff so that the UN’s two agencies can conduct multiple simultaneous inspections each day. On December 4, White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer says, “We want to make certain that they [the inspections] are aggressive enough to be able to ascertain the facts in the face of an adversary who in the past did everything in his power to hide the facts.” (BBC 12/4/2002)

Critics argue that the Bush administration is attempting to use the inspections as a means of provoking resistance from Iraq so that Washington can claim it is in “further material breach.” The US would then cite this breach as justification for taking military action against Iraq. Critics also say that the administration’s agenda conflicts with the aims of the inspectors and that the US is undermining the inspectors’ work. (Gilfeather 11/21/2002; Brecher 12/3/2002; Dellinger 12/19/2002)

Citing inspectors’ discovery of 12 empty “warheads” (see January 16, 2003) and documents related to a failed nuclear program’s attempt at laser enrichment of uranium (see Afternoon October 7, 2002), critics of the Bush administration’s planned invasion argue that the inspections are working and that they should continue under the terms of 1999 UN Resolution 1284. They contend that if Iraq still possesses illegal weapons that it can be peacefully and effectively disarmed by the inspections process, thus making the argument for war moot. But the Bush administration argues instead that the inspection process has demonstrated that Saddam Hussein is not willing to disarm. This debate occurs as weapons inspectors are preparing their January 27 (see January 27, 2003) update on inspections, as required by UN Resolution 1441 (see November 8, 2002). Washington is hoping that the report will demonstrate that Iraq is not cooperating, so that they can use it to justify using military force against Iraq. (Associated Press 1/15/2003; Bumiller 1/17/2003; DeYoung 1/19/2003; Weisman 1/20/2003) The New York Times reports that according to unnamed US officials, “[I]n spite of the wish by Mr. Blix and Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei, the chief inspector for nuclear weapons and the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, to continue the inspections process, the United States would move quickly to force an early conclusion by the Security Council.” (Weisman 1/19/2003)


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