A member of the UN Special Commission inspection team uses a chemical air monitor in April, 1992, to detect leakage from a CS-filled 120mm mortar shell at Fallujah Chemical Proving Ground, as part of the effort to verify Iraq's compliance with the order to destroy its chemical munitions and weapons of mass destruction. File photo UN7772056 courtesy of UNSCOM

The many lessons to be drawn from the search for Iraqi WMD

By Terence Taylor, July 21, 2021

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A member of the UN Special Commission inspection team uses a chemical air monitor in April, 1992, to detect leakage from a CS-filled 120mm mortar shell at Fallujah Chemical Proving Ground, as part of the effort to verify Iraq's compliance with the order to destroy its chemical munitions and weapons of mass destruction. File photo UN7772056 courtesy of UNSCOM

It was no accident that I came to join the UN Special Commission. I had experience in the technical aspects of all three weapons of mass destruction categories: nuclear, chemical, and biological. I served as an infantry officer in the British Army engaged in counterinsurgency, counter-terrorism, and UN peacekeeping operations. During that time, I spent periods as a staff officer in scientific and technical appointments related to nuclear, chemical, biological and conventional weapons and their means of delivery. I was also involved in international negotiations on related treaties and agreements, and I knew many of the diplomats, scientists, and engineers from bilateral and multilateral activities in both regional and global settings. This experience gave me a solid foundation on which to draw as the UN sought to rid Iraq of weapons of mass destruction.

I joined the commission in 1993, serving initially as one of 23 commissioners. This gave me an overview of the full range of the commission’s activities and some insight into higher-level political interactions. I also served as one of the chief inspectors, from 1993 to 1997, for the commission’s biological missions known as BW17, BW23, BW31, BW42, and BW48.

Acknowledgments

First, with regard to the Iraqis, generally, along with my colleagues I managed to establish a working relationship. We found it necessary to respect, as far as possible, the difficult situation faced by our Iraqi counterparts in the laboratories and other facilities we visited. They had their instructions to follow and were under the watchful eyes of the ‘minders’ from the Iraqi security apparatus as much as we were. However, the consequences for those on the Iraqi side for making mistakes were far more serious than for us. It is not an exaggeration to say that their lives were on the line. I still have contact with some Iraqis who were with the National Monitoring Directorate and other organizations. Their insights would be an important addition to complete the list of lessons to be learned.

As the coronavirus crisis shows, we need science now more than ever.

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