Leaking 122mm rockets in Iraq, containing the chemical nerve agent sarin, are placed in a pit before their destruction by UNSCOM. File photo UN712826_434 courtesy of UNSCOM.

UNSCOM: A successful experiment in disarmament

By Åke Sellström, July 21, 2021

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Leaking 122mm rockets in Iraq, containing the chemical nerve agent sarin, are placed in a pit before their destruction by UNSCOM. File photo UN712826_434 courtesy of UNSCOM.

I arrived in New York in the bitter-cold April of 1994. UNSCOM’s chair, Ambassador Rolf Ekéus, had asked for Swedish assistance on the chemical side, and I had signed up. My main task when I first arrived was to produce a database of the production equipment used within Iraq’s chemical weapons program. I was struck by the easygoing atmosphere and the very qualified and diverse competence that was present at UNSCOM’s headquarters on the 31st floor of the UN Secretariat high-rise. Rolf Ekéus had evidently succeeded in creating a well-functioning organization of mainly civilian experts on weapons of mass destruction (WMD) from a wide range of specialties and nationalities. To me, and to many of my colleagues, UNSCOM became the perfect training ground for the complex, sensitive, and partly secretive profession of weapons inspector.

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By the time I left UNSCOM in 1998, I had carried out two chemical weapons missions in Iraq as chief inspector (CW33 and CW41) and one biological weapons mission as chief inspector (BW69).

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