By Colum LynchWashington Post
July 27, 2000
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.
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