UN Weapons Inspector in Iraq Resigns

CAIRO, Egypt -- His inspectors uncovered evidence that Iraq once had enough chemical and biological arms to kill millions and was refining new ways of killing, including a bomb that would spew radioactive material at enemies.

Six years after he began a search that he thought would take only six months, Rolf Ekeus, Swedish ambassador turned arms sleuth, is stepping down as chief of the UN weapons inspectors. His job seems far from done. "Everything is not accounted for,'' said Ekeus, who is leaving his job to become Sweden's ambassador to Washington.

"We have suspicions that Iraq retains small but significant quantities of weapons and the means for their production,'' he said in a telephone interview last week from New York. "A small amount of biological weapons are significant because of how lethal these weapons are.''

Richard Butler, Australia's ambassador to the United Nations, assumes command of the UN weapons inspection program Tuesday.

Butler takes over as tensions between Iraq and the UN monitors have grown to the point where the United Nations has threatened Baghdad with new sanctions if Iraq refuses to cooperate with the monitors.

Iraq has called Ekeus a stooge of the United States and has long played a cat-and-mouse game with his inspectors, concealing documents and weapons parts and occasionally refusing them access to sites that they insist on inspecting.

Ekeus dismisses the Iraqi charge as absurd and has repeatedly accused President Saddam Hussein's government of lying and of hiding weapons material.

The UN Special Commission on Iraq, as it is officially known, was created after the Gulf War to demolish Iraqi long-range missiles and chemical and biological weapons programs -- and to set up a monitoring system to ensure that Iraq cannot again build such weapons.

Iraq must cooperate with the inspectors before the UN Security Council considers lifting a trade embargo, including a ban on Iraq's oil exports, which was imposed against Iraq after Baghdad's 1990 invasion of Kuwait.

But Baghdad may grow more combative toward the inspectors as Iraq loses hope that the full sanctions will be lifted any time soon. The council has agreed to allow Iraq to sell $2 billion in oil for six months to pay for food and medicine.

That limited measure -- combined with the Iraqi belief that Washington will not agree to lift the sanctions as long as Saddam is in power -- may lead Iraq to believe that it has little reason to cooperate with the inspectors.

During the past six years, the monitors have supervised the destruction of at least 475,000 liters of chemical weapons and 1.9 million liters of chemicals used to make weapons.

They have also uncovered a program to build biological weapons using anthrax and botulism and exposed a crash program to build a nuclear bomb. The weapons programs were active before the 1991 Gulf War.