The U.N. special commission that has been holding Iraq's feet to the fire on destroying its unconventional weapons is nearly broke and subsisting on funds loaned and given primarily from the Saudi government.

Shortly after the war three years ago with Iraq, the United Nations passed a key resolution (No. 687) that required Iraq to "accept the destruction, removal or rendering harmless" of all nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons materials and stocks, and "all ballistic missiles with a ranger greater than 150 kilometers."The resolution is critical to the Iraqis because it says that until the work is done, the United Nations will continue trade and oil export embargoes with Iraq.

Some companies and at least one country, Iran, have broken that embargo and secretly bought the oil. But Iraq's economy continues to be decimated overall by the U.N. sanctions.

The outfit assigned to pronounce Iraq clean or not on its unconventional weapons is the U.N. Special Commission on the Disarmament of Iraq, headed by a tough Swedish ambassador, Golf Ekes. It's a difficult job, sending teams of experts into a hostile country to try to ascertain the status of Iraq's previously top-secret programs.

But what makes it doubly difficult is the financial problems that have beset UNSCOM since it was first formed in 1991. Our sources estimate that UNSCOM has needed and spent nearly $80 million to date - a tab that is supposed to be paid by Iraq.

U.N. Resolution 699 made Iraq responsible for meeting all the costs of UNSCOM, but the Iraqis so far haven't contributed a dime - even though United States and other Western intelligence reports say that Saddam Hussein alone has enough in his personal stashes in Switzerland and elsewhere to pay for it himself.

View Comments

Our sources say that behind the scenes the Saudis quietly came to an agreement that they would pitch in the necessary funds. In fact, they have contributed at least $30 million for an escrow account that UNSCOM can use until the Iraqi are forced to pay up.

The Saudi do this partly out of gratefulness for the coalition forces back in 1991 that prevented Hussein from invading their country. But the Saudi are also rightfully anxious to finance the UNSCOM work of destroying Iraq's weapons programs and ballistic missiles, all of which directly threaten Saudi Arabia.

The work of UNSCOM in decreasing the future threat of an armed Iraq from destabilizing the region again continues to receive support from the United States and several other countries, but the political will to keep Iraq's feet to fire is diminishing. Several Arab countries and some West European nations are pushing to lift the sanctions against Iraq.

That worries Ekes, who told our associate Dale Van Atta that UNSCOM's work is far from done. "It would be a very serious setback for the U.N. Security Council and for the leading members of the gulf coalition if we had to suddenly pack and give up," said Ekes. "That would give Iraq the possibility of re-establishing their unconventional weapons programs again. (UNSCOM is) guaranteeing that Iraq cannot do it as long as we are there."

Join the Conversation
Looking for comments?
Find comments in their new home! Click the buttons at the top or within the article to view them — or use the button below for quick access.