18 November 2002: UN weapons inspectors arrive in Iraq

On this day in 2002, UN weapons inspectors arrived in in Baghdad in a bid to discover the truth about Iraq’s WMD programme.

Hans Blix and Mohamed El Baradei
Hans Blix and Mohamed El Baradei arrive in Baghdad
(Image credit: © Salah Malkawi/Getty Images)

After the 1990-91 Gulf War, evidence emerged that Iraq had been pursuing a programme of biological warfare. But the UN Special Commission which was charged with disarming Iraq found no evidence that it had continued after the war. Nevertheless, Saddam Hussein became something of an obsession with the US. In 1998, it passed the “Iraq Liberation Act”, and removing him became official policy.

The events of 11 September 2001 would provide a catalyst for action (despite Iraq having nothing to do with them), and in January 2002, US president George W Bush announced that Iraq, along with Iran and North Korea, formed an "axis of evil" – state sponsors of terrorism hell bent on acquiring weapons of mass destruction (WMD). He singled out Iraq in particular, claiming it was actively plotting to build stockpiles of anthrax, nerve gas and nuclear weapons.

As the year wore on, Bush ramped up the rhetoric, egged on by Tony Blair. And it soon became clear that a new invasion was on the cards. In September 2002, Bush delivered a speech to the UN, calling on it to enforce its resolutions on Iraq, hinting that if it didn't, the US would do it for them. On 8 November, the UN Security Council passed resolution 1441, declaring Iraq to be in breach of its obligations, and gave it a "final opportunity" to comply.

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And on 18 November 2002, Hans Blix and a party of weapons inspectors from the UN and the International Atomic Energy Agency arrived in Iraq to find out the truth. From then until March 2003, they made over 900 inspections at 500 sites. Iraq co-operated in allowing them access to the suspected weapons site, but they were less co-operative when asked about the programmes themselves, said Blix. But nevertheless, the inspectors found no evidence of weapons of mass destruction.

On 19 March, the US, aided enthusiastically by the UK, invaded. Many critics believe that had the weapons inspectors been given time to do their job properly, and not had to leave in a hurry before the bombs began dropping, they would have been able to prove that Iraq had no WMDs.

Ben Judge

Ben studied modern languages at London University's Queen Mary College. After dabbling unhappily in local government finance for a while, he went to work for The Scotsman newspaper in Edinburgh. The launch of the paper's website, scotsman.com, in the early years of the dotcom craze, saw Ben move online to manage the Business and Motors channels before becoming deputy editor with responsibility for all aspects of online production for The Scotsman, Scotland on Sunday and the Edinburgh Evening News websites, along with the papers' Edinburgh Festivals website.

Ben joined MoneyWeek as website editor in 2008, just as the Great Financial Crisis was brewing. He has written extensively for the website and magazine, with a particular emphasis on alternative finance and fintech, including blockchain and bitcoin. As an early adopter of bitcoin, Ben bought when the price was under $200, but went on to spend it all on foolish fripperies.