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UN Security Council Resolution 1441

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UNSCR 1441 is a resolution by the UN Security Council, passed unanimously on November 8, 2002, offering Iraq "a final opportunity to comply with its disarmament obligations" that had been set out in several previous resolutions, notably to provide "an accurate full, final, and complete disclosure, as required by resolution 687[?] (1991), of all aspects of its programmes to develop weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles". Resolution 1441 threatens "serious consequences" if these are not met. It reasserted demands that UN weapons inspectors should have "immediate, unconditional, and unrestricted access" to sites of their choosing, in order to ascertain compliance.

Although Iraq was given until November 15 to accept the resolution, they agreed on November 13. Weapons inspectors, absent from Iraq since December 1998, returned later that month, led by Hans Blix of UNMOVIC and Mohamed ElBaradei of the IAEA.

In early December, 2002, Iraq filed a 12,000-page weapons declaration with the UN in order to meet requirements for this resolution. The UN and the US said that this failed to account for all of Iraq's chemical and biological agents.

Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei presented several reports to the UN detailing Iraq's level of compliance with Resolution 1441. On January 30, 2003 Blix said that Iraq had not fully accepted its obligation to disarm, and the report was taken broadly negatively. However the report of February 14 was more encouraging for Iraq, saying that there had been significant progress and cooperation; however the issues of anthrax, the nerve agent VX and long-range missiles were not resolved. France, Germany and other countries called for more time and resources for the inspections. The March 7 report was again seen as broadly positive, but Blix noted that disarmament and the verification of it would take months, rather than weeks or days.

By mid-March, Resolution 1441 had become crucial in the Iraq disarmament crisis. Under furious debate was whether a further Security Council resolution (the so-called "second resolution") was necessary to authorize war, or whether 1441 and preceding resolutions sufficed to legitimize military enforcement of the UN's disarmament aims. UK prime minister Tony Blair had for several weeks been under significant domestic pressure to obtain the "second resolution", and he led efforts for a unanimous resolution authorizing force. Of the permanent, veto-holding members of the Security Council, France, Russia, and China wished the inspection period to be extended, and for no military action to go ahead without a further UN resolution. On the other hand, the USA and Britain, while admitting that such a resolution was diplomatically desirable, insisted that Iraq had now been given enough time (noting also the time since the first disarmament resolutions of 1991) to disarm or provide evidence thereof, and that war was legitimized by 1441 and previous UN resolutions. Non-permanent Security Council member Spain declared itself with the USA and Britain. On March 10, French president Jacques Chirac declared that France would veto any resolution which would automatically lead to war. This caused open displays of dismay by the US and British governments. The drive by Britain for unanimity and a "second resolution" was effectively abandoned at that point.

At the Azores conference of March 16, Tony Blair, George W. Bush, and Spanish prime minister José María Aznar announced the imminent deadline of March 17 for complete Iraqi compliance, with statements such as "Tomorrow is a moment of truth for the world". This was seen as meaning war would almost certainly start very soon after that date. On the 17th, speeches by Bush and UK foreign secretary Jack Straw explicitly declared the period of diplomacy to be over, and that no further authorization from the UN would be sought before an invasion of Iraq (see 2003 invasion of Iraq).

More information is found in United Nations actions regarding Iraq.

Passage of Resolution

On September 12, 2002, Bush, speaking before the General Assembly of the United Nations outlined the complaints of the United States against the Iraqi government, detailing Iraq's alleged noncompliance to the terms of 16 resolutions of the Security Council since the Gulf War in 1990. Specific areas of noncompliance alleged in this speech include:

  • Iraq used proceeds from the "oil for food" U.N. program to purchase weapons rather than food for its people.

  • Iraq flagrantly violated the terms of the weapons inspection program before discontinuing it altogether.

Following the speech, intensive negotiations began with other members of the Security Council. In particular, three permanent members (with veto power) of the Council were known to have objections to an invasion of Iraq: Russia, China, and France.

On September 26, 2002, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld accused Iraq of harboring al Qaeda terrorists and aiding their quest for weapons of mass destruction.

In the meantime, Iraq, while denying all charges, announced that it would permit the re-entry of United Nations arms inspectors into Iraq. The United States characterized this as a ploy by Iraq and continued to call for a Security Council resolution which would authorize the use of military force.

The resolution text was drafted jointly by the United States and the UK, the result of eight weeks of tumultuous negotiations, particularly with Russia and France. France questioned the phrase "serious consequences" and stated repeatedly that any "material breach" found by the inspectors should not automatically lead to war; instead the UN should pass another resolution deciding on the course of action.

On November 8, 2002, the UN passed Resolution 1441 urging Iraq to disarm or face "serious consequences". The resolution passed with a 15 to 0 vote, supported by Russia, China and France, and Arab countries like Syria. This gave this resolution wider support than even the 1992 Gulf War resolution. Although the Iraqi parliament voted against honoring the UN resolution, Saddam Hussein agreed to honor it.

See also U.S. plan to invade Iraq, Iraq disarmament crisis.

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