UN Investigators Back in Iraq

An inspector measures the volume of nerve agent in a container in Iraq. The UN investigators were kicked out of Iraq in 1998. (Photo: United Nations)

A weapons inspection team from the United Nations went back to work in Iraq on November 27. They left shortly before the U.S. went to war with Iraq on March 20.

Iraqi President Saddam Hussein agreed to let the inspectors return after kicking them out in 1998. He hoped the move would stop the U.S. from attacking his country.

The U.S. wants to topple Hussein as leader of Iraq, but agreed to give Hussein time to comply with a UN resolution authorizing the inspectors. U.S. President George W. Bush warned that if Iraq didn't help inspectors, it could mean war. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell went before the UN Security Council several times in February to convince the 15-member group only military action will stop Saddam Hussein from hiding weapons of mass destruction.

History of the Conflict

Hussein had said he would not let weapons inspectors in to Iraq until economic sanctions, or penalties, against Iraq were lifted. After the Gulf War, the UN tried to weaken Hussein's government by imposing sanctions forbidding any trade with Iraq. President Bush extended those sanctions another year on the same day Hussein invited the inspectors back to Iraq.

A recent UN report on the impact of war on the Iraqi people estimates that some 10 million civilians will be left homeless and possibly diseased and starving. The country's population is more vulnerable to an attack because of the sanctions, which have left the majority dependent on government handouts for food and shelter, the report continued.

Under the terms of a 1996 agreement with the UN, Iraq is allowed to export its oil and use the proceeds to pay for food and medicine. The program will be suspended in the event of a war.

Food, blankets, tents, and other equipment for more than 500,000 people are being stockpiled in warehouses in neighboring Iran by the UN Children's Fund, the World Food Program, and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.