The long-awaited January 27 report of United Nations inspection chiefs Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei, as anticipated, did not include a clear-cut finding of success and readiness to close the books on Iraqi disarmament and lift economic sanctions. Both made clear that Iraq has been cooperating with inspectors and that despite still-outstanding questions and some technical violations, the inspectors have found no actual evidence of a functioning program to produce prohibited weapons in Iraq.

The reports were optimistic on the nuclear front, more negative on the chemical and biological weapons side. Blix’s report showed the effect of severe US pressure on UNMOVIC, but it fell far short of assigning Iraq a clear failing grade, thus denying the Bush Administration its sought-after justification for war. Four days earlier, UNMOVIC’s commissioners met, and the US representative urged Blix to be more aggressive in searching Iraqi homes and criticized UNMOVIC for praising Baghdad’s cooperation.

Once Blix and ElBaradei had made their reports, Security Council disagreements focused on whether the inspection process should continue or, as Washington urged, be abandoned as a failure, setting the stage for war. Both UN inspectors’ reports indicated that more time was needed to complete the inspection process. ElBaradei’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) explicitly requested a few months, and Blix implied that more time was needed, referring to numerous areas where UNMOVIC is following up on “open” issues. Also as anticipated, the United States and Britain staked out a position in direct conflict with the other veto-wielding permanent members of the Security Council. The French UN ambassador pointedly said that Resolution 1441 does not “set any limits or deadlines for inspections. They could continue for several more weeks, or some more months.” UN Secretary General Kofi Annan weighed in, saying that the inspectors “should be given the time to do their work.”

IAEA’s ElBaradei was unequivocal that inspectors have found no evidence in Iraq of a viable nuclear weapons program. On the other hand, UNMOVIC’s Blix was more critical of Iraq’s compliance with the chemical, biological and missile inspections. He focused on the refusal, so far, of Iraqi scientists to agree to private meetings with inspectors despite the public urging of top Iraqi officials that they do so; Iraq’s refusal to allow US-piloted U-2 spy planes to assist the inspectors; and the possibility that some of Iraq’s missiles may have been tested slightly beyond the ninety-mile limit imposed by UN resolutions.

The cited violations clearly do not provide evidence of Iraqi efforts to rebuild prohibited weapons programs. For example, the alleged missile violations involved a test to 110 miles–a technical violation of the ninety-mile limit but hardly indicative of a military threat. And on the U-2 surveillance flights, the Iraqi position is that it cannot guarantee security to UN planes flying in the same area as the US and British planes routinely bombing, without UN authorization, the so-called no-fly zones over Iraqi territory. Discussions on this began in Baghdad, and there are indications that they will continue.

Bush Administration officials repeated their comparison of Iraqi defiance with South Africa’s voluntary ending of its nuclear weapons program, which they claim was quick and easy. But South Africa’s Dumisani Kumalo reminded the Council that even South Africa’s successful disarmament took two years.

Opposition to Bush’s war in Iraq, especially from key European allies, has forced the Administration to delay announcement of US intentions for at least a few weeks. George W. Bush’s State of the Union address reflected grudging White House acknowledgment that it hasn’t convinced key constituencies of the need for war.

Expanding antiwar forces around the world clearly played a role in maintaining the toughened stance of France and Germany. That mobilization, in tandem with the UN inspectors’ inability to find clear evidence that Iraq is producing prohibited weapons, has so far prevented the United States from gaining UN authorization for war against Iraq. But it is uncertain how long France and Germany will resist US pressure. Bush’s State of the Union address, while not providing a specific timetable for war, gave bellicose voice to Administration ideologues long committed to war in Iraq. The possibility of a US-orchestrated, non-UN “coalition of the willing” (which should be dubbed “coalition of the coerced”) attacking Iraq while France, Germany, Russia, China and other Council opponents stand silent, cannot be dismissed. Such a scenario would seriously undermine the legitimacy of the UN, as well as stand in direct violation of its charter. In fact, the outcome of this Iraq crisis could well determine whether the UN in the twenty-first century will be an instrument for preventing “the scourge of war,” as its Charter provides, or will again fall victim to US domination. To avoid such an outcome, international lawyers led by the Center for Constitutional Rights have drafted a model General Assembly resolution that could seize initiative from the Council and place the Assembly on record against an illegal war.

Kofi Annan said he remained hopeful that Iraq could be disarmed peacefully. Keeping the UN a part of the global voice saying no to war remains a challenge for the international peace movement as well as for the governments so far claiming to stand for peace.