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Ex-U.N. Inspector Ritter to Tour Iraq, Make Documentary



Ex-U.N. Inspector Ritter to Tour Iraq, Make Documentary

By Colum Lynch
Special to The Washington Post
Thursday , July 27, 2000 ; A18

UNITED NATIONS, July 27  Scott Ritter, the former U.N. arms
inspector who badgered Iraq with his aggressive pursuit of hidden
weapons, said he will return to Baghdad on Saturday at the
invitation of President Saddam Hussein.

The Iraqi leader has agreed to provide Ritter and a documentary
film crew access to weapons facilities throughout the country so
that Ritter can judge whether Iraq has rebuilt its arsenal since U.N.
inspectors left 19 months ago. Ritter said he is also hoping to get
an interview with the Iraqi leader.

The trip comes weeks after Ritter published an article in an arms
control magazine asserting Iraq has essentially disarmed and
challenging speculation by the Clinton administration that Baghdad
has the capacity to reconstitute its chemical, biological and
nuclear weapons programs.

"My personal feeling is that Iraq is qualitatively disarmed and the
Security Council should reassess its position," Ritter said in an
interview.

This marks a bizarre turnaround for Ritter, who resigned from the
United Nations almost two years ago in protest over the U.S. failure
to support even tougher U.N. inspections. Iraqi leaders, having
frequently accused Ritter of spying on Iraq for the CIA, seem to
view their erstwhile enemy as an asset in their propaganda war
against the United States.

Ritter said his reassessment of the danger posed by Iraq's weapon
programs was brought about by a change in his own job title. As a
U.N. inspector, he was under orders from the U.N. Security Council
to achieve 100 percent disarmament regarding prohibited weapons
in Iraq, a standard Baghdad never met. As an independent
observer, Ritter said he believes that Iraq's military has been
sufficiently degraded by the U.N. inspectors to prevent Saddam
Hussein from threatening his neighbors. However, Ritter has not
articulated a persuasive explanation of why he is convinced Iraq will
not present a future threat to the region.

Under terms of the 1991 Persian Gulf War cease-fire, Iraq is
required to forgo the development of medium- and long-range
missiles, and all chemical, biological and nuclear weapons. But
U.N. inspectors have not been allowed into Iraq to test whether the
government has met its obligation since they left in December
1998, on the verge of a U.S. and British bombardment.

U.S. officials contend Ritter is naively allowing himself to be used
by Baghdad to further its efforts to reconstitute its weapon
programs and say his visit will be used to support Baghdad's claim
that it has abandoned its illegal programs.

"Having Iraq host Scott Ritter for a 'thanks for the memories'
documentary is lovely, but it doesn't substitute for full cooperation
with the U.N. inspection regime," said national security spokesman
P. J. Crowley. "They had the opportunity to cooperate with Ritter
when he was actually an inspector and didn't."

The documentary project has aroused the interest of federal law
enforcement authorities. Ritter said that FBI agents have followed
and questioned him and the film's producer, Tom Osborne, about
their contacts with Iraqi officials and warned that Baghdad would
seek to manipulate them into joining the Iraqi cause or at least into
presenting a more favorable portrait of the regime.

U.S. citizens are prohibited from traveling to Iraq under an embargo
imposed after Iraq invaded Kuwait. Violators face up to 12 years in
prison and $1 million in fines, though there is an exemption for
journalists, which Ritter maintains he meets.

Ritter said he intends to interview Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq
Aziz and Oil Minister Amer Rashid, and visit existing and
destroyed weapon facilities where he will investigate claims by
Western intelligence sources that Iraq is developing new viral
warfare agents in an underground installation.

"I thought a documentary that went in and actually gained access
to these sites and interviewed the Iraqis would go a long way
toward dispelling some of the rumors" about Iraq's arsenal," Ritter
said. "But this isn't going to be a patsy rollover thing."

Ritter said he was first invited to Baghdad last year by the Iraqi
government after the publication of his book "Endgame," which
argued that the continuation of economic sanctions on Iraq was
more "evil" than doing business with Saddam Hussein. "They were
shocked by my position in the book," Ritter said.

Ritter said that several months later, at a hearing on Capitol Hill, he
met Iraqi-born American businessman Shakir Alkafajii, who had
heard Ritter attack U.S. policy toward Iraq. Alkafajii asked what
Ritter could do to end the sanctions and break the impasse in
relations between the United States and Iraq. "I said I could do a
documentary," Ritter answered.

Alkafajii, who is accompanying Ritter as a "translator and cultural
adviser," secured the travel visas for the crew and agreed to put up
a $400,000 line of credit to finance the documentary.

                       2000 The Washington Post Company
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