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Ex-U.N. Inspector Visits Iraq to Warn Against War
Sun Sep 8, 2:46 PM ET
By Hassan Hafidh

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Scott Ritter, a former U.N. arms inspector who rejects U.S. charges that Baghdad is developing weapons of mass destruction, said in Baghdad Sunday it would be a "historical mistake" for Washington to attack Iraq.

The U.S. national, who arrived Saturday on a visit he arranged hoping to help stop any U.S.-led war, defied his government to substantiate its claim that Baghdad was producing prohibited weapons and posed a threat to its neighbors.

Ritter, who for seven years was a member of the U.N. body in charge of dismantling Iraq's weapons, urged Baghdad to let U.N. weapons inspectors return without conditions.

"My country seems to be on the verge of making a historical mistake," Ritter told Iraq's parliament, in reference to a possible U.S. attack on Iraq.

President Bush ( news - web sites) might order a military strike against Iraq to topple the government of President Saddam Hussein ( news - web sites), whom Washington accuses of developing nuclear, biological or chemical arms.

"The rhetoric of fear that is disseminated by my government has not, to date, been backed by hard facts that substantiate any allegations that Iraq is today in possession of weapons of mass destruction or has links to terror groups responsible for September 11 attacks on the United States," Ritter said.

Secretary of State Colin Powell ( news - web sites) took issue with Ritter's assertion, telling the "Fox News Sunday" program, "We have facts, not speculation."

"Scott is certainly entitled to his opinion, but I'm afraid that I would not place the security of my nation or the security of our friends in the region on that kind of an assertion by somebody who's not in the intelligence chain any longer," Powell said.


Powell said he had no doubt that Saddam did have "capability" which he was trying to improve and build upon.

He also said there was no debate about the fact Saddam was violating obligations entered into at the end of Gulf War ( news - web sites).

Ritter, a former U.S. marine, resigned his U.N. post in 1998 -- the year inspectors quit Iraq -- and later accused Washington of using the inspections teams for espionage.

On leaving his U.N. job, Ritter accused the United Nations ( news - web sites) and the United States of not being tough enough on Iraq when it violated Security Council resolutions.

But he subsequently became a vocal critic of U.S. policy on Iraq, producing a book and a film about U.N. weapons inspections in Iraq which revived his earlier allegations.

His controversial stands have been a thorn in the side of more than one White House administration and have drawn fire from Washington and former colleagues in recent years.

His 1999 book, "Endgame," which charged that CIA ( news - web sites) operatives compromised his mission in Iraq, was dismissed as "fiction" by State Department spokesman James Rubin when it came out.

And former UNSCOM chief Richard Butler said of Ritter's outspoken views two years ago: "It's nonsense and I'm truly sad that a basically good man has left the rails."

Ritter has said repeatedly since he resigned that Iraq no longer has a significant ability to produce prohibited weapons.

"Iraq, during nearly seven years of continuous inspection activity by the United Nations, had been certified as being disarmed to a 90-95 percent level," he told parliament.


"The truth of the matter is that Iraq today is not a threat to its neighbors, and is not acting in a manner which threatens anyone outside of its own borders."

Ritter, however, said that to avoid U.S. military action, Iraq should allow the unfettered return of weapons inspectors.

"The only path toward peace that will be embraced by the international community is one which begins by Iraq agreeing to the immediate, unconditional return of U.N. weapons inspections operating in full keeping with the mandate as set forth by existing U.N. Security Council resolutions," he said.

Iraq feels that if the inspectors are readmitted, a crisis over their activities could soon arise which the United States would exploit as a legitimate pretext for an attack.

"Iraq has legitimate grievances regarding the past work of the weapons inspectors, and for that reason has sought to keep inspectors from returning to Iraq. But I also know that there will be no peaceful solution of this current crisis unless Iraq allows their return," Ritter told parliament.