THE arrival in Baghdad tomorrow of a new 26-member United Nations weapons-inspection team provides a fresh test of whether or not Iraq and the UN are moving toward a cooperative relationship.
The visit is meant to be routine. It is the 42nd such inspection for weapons of mass destruction since the April 1991 cease-fire. Yet it is the first inspection since a UN team was allowed to enter the Agriculture Ministry in Baghdad last month after a three-week standoff during which the United States threatened air strikes.
The level of tension is decidedly lower this time around. Still, there is deep skepticism that Iraq is ready to cooperate.
Iraq still lays claim to Kuwait. Though its Army is only about 40 percent of its prewar strength, Iraq insists that the "Mother of All Wars" continues. Baghdad's defiance of UN efforts, from settling the border of Kuwait to renewing a UN humanitarian aid agreement, has been broad and vigorous.
The US, which took the lead in forming the military coalition that forced Iraqi troops out of Kuwait early last year, has sped up its dispatch of up to 5,000 US troops to Kuwait for joint training exercises. The Bush administration, which is also sending new Patriot anti-missile missiles to Kuwait and Bahrain, wants the UN to accelerate inspections to test Iraqi compliance.
The UN Security Council has been preoccupied in recent days with the crisis in the former Yugoslavia. But Rolf Ekeus, the Swede who heads the UN Special Commission (UNSCOM) to oversee elimination of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, said this week he hoped the Security Council would react more swiftly and "explain itself more clearly" in any future standoff.
Iraq pushed hard for a "neutral" UN inspection team, one free of members from coalition countries. The UN experts that finally entered the ministry included no coalition nationals. Mr. Ekeus insists the selection was not negotiable and that he alone decided on it as a way to "help Iraq out of the impasse."
Iraq's deputy prime minister, Tariq Aziz, was told that all experts representing the UN are chosen primarily for their expertise, often strongest in arms-producing countries, Ekeus says. The new inspection team is led by a Russian and includes American, British, French, German, and Australian members.
N weapons experts concede that they will never know if all of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction have been found and say their job is not about to end soon. More than 350 locations in Iraq have been inspected. And much weaponry has been destroyed. But UNSCOM must verify Iraq's long-term compliance by aerial and ground inspections and Iraqi data.
UNSCOM spokeswoman Agnes Marcaillou calls the process "disarmament by imposition" rather than by agreement. Iraq has not yet complied with long-term monitoring or provided the UN with the names of suppliers to its weapons program, she says.
Iraq's continued repression of its Kurdish and other minority groups, also a violation of UN cease-fire terms, could test the UN's patience as much or more than any continued challenge of UN weapons inspections. Last week Max van der Stoel, an investigator for the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva, issued a report appealing to Iraq to stop repressing Shiite Muslims in the south and urging the UN to send teams to report abuses.
If it comes to military action against Iraq, the US is expected to take the lead. While some State Department officials say the US would not move unilaterally, the official US stance is that no further UN Security Council authorization to intervene is necessary. Getting China and other nonaligned Council members aboard such an effort could be difficult. Some analysts, however, say the US should at least consult the Council before acting.
"It's very important for the Security Council to bite the bullet on this issue of enforcement," says David Scheffer, an international lawyer with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. "If collective security is going to work, the Security Council has to ... make it work."