Archive for Sunday, July 30, 2000

Adversary becomes advocate

Iraq gains support from unlikely source

July 30, 2000


— When Scott Ritter showed up at Iraqi weapons depots in the years after the Gulf War, international crises would brew. Now the former U.N. weapons inspector is back -- with a documentary film crew and the government's blessing.

Ritter wants to see the sites again, and he could find doors opening far more easily since his shift from ardent defender of intrusive weapons inspections to advocate of lifting sanctions from a nation he says is no longer a threat.

Former U.N. weapons inspector Scott Ritter is making a documentary in an attempt to educate the American people and also the people of Europe about the reality of the situation regarding the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

His documentary is "an attempt to educate the American people and also the people of Europe about the reality of the situation regarding the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq," Ritter told Iraqi reporters Saturday at the Rashid Hotel in Baghdad, where he is staying.

He said he seeks "a solution on lifting the sanctions off Iraq and alleviating the suffering of 22 million innocent people who are stuck in the middle of a fight between the Security Council on one hand and the Iraqi government on the other hand."

Though his visit would have required approval at the highest levels, Ritter acknowledged uncertainty as to the access he would have to weapons sites. The Iraqi government has not said where he would be allowed to go or with whom he could meet.

"We hope to gain access to a number of locations in Iraq that I was very familiar with as a weapons inspector," he said.

Ritter's trip, which began Friday with his secret arrival, is an unusual twist in the long Iraqi sanctions saga.

The United Nations leveled economic sanctions against Iraq after its 1990 invasion of Kuwait, and those sanctions are still in place today. Only after a U.N. inspection team verifies the destruction of Iraq's biological, chemical and nuclear weapons and the missiles used to deliver them are the sanctions to be lifted.

Ritter, a former U.S. Marine, was scathingly criticized by Iraq while he was an inspector on the U.N. Special Commission, the old inspection team. He made headlines in January 1998 when his team pulled out of Iraq during a standoff on U.N. access to "sensitive" sites. U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan broke the impasse by negotiating a short-lived deal for inspectors to have access to the sites.

Ritter resigned in August 1998. At the time, he denounced the Clinton administration for having withdrawn support for the inspection team and undermining weapons inspections.

He has since said Washington used the U.N. agency to spy on Iraq -- a longtime charge by Baghdad that Ritter himself had denied until recently. Most recently, he has said Iraq no longer has the ability to create or deploy weapons of mass destruction.

The U.N. Special Commission has been replaced by a similar body, the U.N. Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission, which hopes to start work in Iraq in August. It is not clear whether the Iraqi government will cooperate with the new inspectors, or even let them in.

Ritter told the Iraqi reporters the new commission appears doomed to fail and that the U.N. Security Council should redefine Iraq's disarmament obligations. The Security Council, he said, should promise to remove the sanctions if Iraq agrees to allow inspectors back in.

U.N. weapons inspectors left the country in late 1998. In December of that year, the United States and Britain began air strikes meant to punish Iraq for failing to cooperate with the inspectors.

There has been "a lot of irresponsible speculation," Ritter said, about what Iraq has been doing since then.

Ritter, who expects to stay in Iraq through the first week of August, left the hotel Saturday to film Celebrations Square, where four giant swords made of weapons confiscated during the 1980-88 Iraq-Iran war are displayed. The square is used for celebrations and military marches attended by President Saddam Hussein.

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