A UN inspector from the United Kingdom takes a sample of nerve agent from a container, October 7, 1991. (UN Photo)

UNSCOM’s work to uncover Iraq’s illicit biological weapons program: A primer


A UN inspector from the United Kingdom takes a sample of nerve agent from a container, October 7, 1991. (UN Photo)

The United Nations Special Commission on Iraq (UNSCOM) was a watershed experience for arms control. It developed and implemented new verification tools which enabled its weapons inspectors to uncover large quantities of hidden weapons of mass destruction (WMD), as well as the programs for making them, in spite of Iraq’s sustained attempts to impede it.

Nowhere is this clearer than in UNSCOM’s work unearthing Iraq’s significant effort to produce and weaponize biological agents. In doing so, it provided the first case history of an international biological weapons (BW) disarmament effort and proved that a multifaceted verification strategy can detect a covert, well-hidden biological weapons program. This primer outlines UNSCOM’s historical context and the logistics of its work—central aspects contributing to UNSCOM’s successes in searching for Iraq’s hidden BW program.


Black, Stephen. 1999. “UNSCOM and the Iraqi Biological Weapons Program: Implications for Arms Control”. Politics and the Life Sciences. 18(1): 62-29.

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Peter Tinsley
Peter Tinsley
11 months ago

Looks like false news – 3 mistakes in 1 photo. 1- Their hood isn’t sealed around their respirator. 2- Looks more like M40 PPE, not a British S10 Respirator. 3- Desert DPM NBC smocks were not available until 1995 – same for the ribbed NBC outer gloves. The 1991 gloves were not ribbed and shiny – they were straight-edged and matte. Basically, anyone who’s done EOD will know that’s not real nerve agent, simply because the hood isn’t sealed. Also the photo is probably not from 1991 for the following reason… Apart from the modern uniform, the image resolution is… Read more »

Last edited 11 months ago by Peter Tinsley
Rene Olivier
11 months ago
Reply to  Peter Tinsley

Although sealed good enough for outside work – we survived 😉 . Besides taken samples from a sealed container, using a relative small opening.which you cannot see at all in this picture ….. PPE / Mask was an example of our nice ‘collaboration’ or symbiosis between NL/UL/USA developments during our UNSCOM missions – plus several other representatives from various countries. Multidisciplinary effort organized and in operation in Iraq – included a very short tuim building and operation preparation time. We served USCOM between 1991 and 1994… Elegant container for CWA isn’t it, still 10% intact compound from at least 1000… Read more »

Last edited 11 months ago by Rene Olivier
Henry Arvidsson
11 months ago
Reply to  Peter Tinsley

Well Peter. I can tell you the image is real as am I who took it as the official UNSCOM photographer (1991-96). The camera was a Nikon 801s or an Olympus OM4 (I was transitioning from Olympus with manual focus (really hard to focus through a mask) to Nikon who just launched an affordable AF camera).It was made on film by me and scanned on a Nikon Coolscan negative scanner. The place is Al Muthanna in Iraq. The mask was given to (some) of us by USAF EOD. We were told they had been issued in survival kit for pilots.… Read more »