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Ritter's documentary premieres at UN

Title: Ritter's documentary premieres at UN


Former U.N. inspector accuses U.S. of provoking U.N. confrontation with Iraq as a pretext for U.S. airstrikes 
UNITED NATIONS, July 18 - In a new documentary film, a former U.N. weapons inspector accuses the United States of manipulating the United Nations to provoke a confrontation with Saddam Hussein as a pretext for U.S. airstrikes on Iraq. 

       Scott Ritter, a former U.S. Marine intelligence officer, says in the 90-minute documentary that he did not provoke the confrontation the Americans wanted in March 1998, but fellow inspector Roger Hill -- an Australian -- did have a confrontation in December of that year.

       Days later, chief U.N. inspector Richard Butler declared that Iraq was not cooperating with weapons inspectors and the United States and Britain launched airstrikes against Iraq in punishment. U.N. inspectors pulled out of the country ahead of the bombing raids, and Iraq has barred them from returning for over 2 1/2 years.

       Butler, who was Ritter's boss, called the allegations ''completely false'' and accused Ritter of making ''a propaganda film.'' The U.S. Mission to the United Nations said it would have no comment on the documentary, which premiered at the United Nations on Wednesday.

       Executive producer Tom Osborne, a former ABC television reporter and producer, said the United Nations was chosen for Wednesday's premiere because it's ''where it all began - where it all continues.''

       The documentary traces the history of the U.N. Special Commission, known as UNSCOM, which was created by the U.N. Security Council after the 1991 Gulf War to oversee the destruction of Iraq's biological and chemical weapons and the missiles used to deliver them. The council replaced it in December 1999 with a new agency, the U.N. Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission.

       By 1995, Ritter said both he and former chief weapons inspector Rolf Ekeus believed Iraq was ''fundamentally disarmed.'' He noted that the head of Iraq's weapons programs - Saddam's son-in-law Hussein Kamal al-Majid - told Ekeus after he defected to Jordan in August 1995 that all of Iraq's banned weapons had been destroyed.

       Butler said Ritter had always claimed to him that Iraq's banned weapons had not been destroyed. ''Either he was misleading me when on the job or he is now misleading the public in his role as a film producer,'' Butler told AP.

       Ritter said the Security Council is now focused on better targeting sanctions imposed after Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait - not on returning U.N. inspectors so they can resume monitoring and prevent any rebuilding of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.

       ''This film will hopefully compel people to start ... taking a harder look at Iraq's disarmament'' and then confronting the issue of lifting sanctions, he said.

       Ritter resigned from UNSCOM in August 1998, denouncing the Clinton administration for having withdrawn support for the U.N. agency and undermining weapons inspection.

       He has since said Washington used UNSCOM to spy on Iraq - a longtime charge by Baghdad. In the documentary, he repeated the spying charge and made new allegations.

       On either Feb. 28 or March 1, 1998, Ritter said he and Butler attended a meeting with then U.S. Ambassador Bill Richardson at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations, hours before he left for Baghdad to lead an inspection mission.

       Ritter said Butler drew a line on a blackboard with the UNSCOM timeline for the inspection on one side and the U.S. timeline for military action on the other side, and then told him: ''You have to provoke a confrontation ... so the U.S. can start bombing'' before March 15, a Muslim holy period.

       In Baghdad, Ritter said the Iraqis at first refused to allow his team to carry out orders to search the Ministry of Defense.

       At that moment, then U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright was attending a meeting in Paris, prepared to tell the French why the United States was undertaking military action, he told reporters later. ''All American forces in the Persian Gulf went on high alert, and initial strike elements were actually launched and went into a strike orbit.''

       But the military strikes were called off when the Iraqis later allowed the inspectors in, he said.
       The documentary does include Iraqi footage of a confrontation nine months later between U.N. inspector Hill and an Iraqi official over conditions for entering what Iraq said was the headquarters of the ruling Baath Party. The Iraqis ultimately barred Hill's team and UNSCOM used this as a key example of Iraq's noncooperation, which led to the U.S. bombing.

       Ritter said the documentary, ''In Shifting Sands: The Truth About UNSCOM and the Disarming of Iraq,'' cost dlrs 530,000 to make and he is looking for buyers. The Iraqi-American businessman Shakir Khafaji of Detroit provided dlrs 400,000, Ritter provided dlrs 80,000, and the production is dlrs 50,000 in debt, he said.

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