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Ex-U.N. inspector in Iraq: U.S. set up air raids

Scott Ritter says he was told to provoke a confrontation to justify bombing raids.  

By Ronni Berke
CNN New York Bureau

UNITED NATIONS (CNN) -- The United States urged United Nations weapons inspectors in 1998 to deliberately provoke a confrontation with Baghdad to provide political cover for a U.S. bombing campaign, a former inspector claims in a new film documentary.

Scott Ritter, former U.N. Special Commission inspector, makes the allegations in his 90-minute film, "In Shifting Sands ... the Truth About UNSCOM and the Disarming of Iraq," which was shown to journalists at the United Nations Wednesday.

Ritter claims former Richard Butler, chief U.N. weapons inspector, deliberately planned U.N. inspections in 1998 to orchestrate a confrontation between Iraq and the U.N. so the United States could carry out its threats to bomb Iraq.

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At a meeting in late February or early March 1998 with Bill Richardson, then U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Ritter says Butler told him to provoke a confrontation so the United States could complete any bombing before the Muslim holy days. Ritter was leaving for Baghdad shortly.

Ritter says Butler, who had just returned from a meeting with U.S. officials, drew a line on a blackboard to show when the inspections would have to occur and when the bombing would have to begin.

Butler told CNN Wednesday: "This is utterly and completely false. It did not happen, I never did such a thing."

Ritter resigned later that year, accusing the United States of preventing UNSCOM inspectors from effectively doing their jobs.

After Baghdad blocked the United Nations from carrying out intrusive inspections in December 1998, Butler withdrew his inspectors and the United States and Britain bombed suspected weapons sites and other military targets in Iraq. No weapons inspectors have been in Iraq since.

Butler denied Ritter's allegation that Washington was keeping him updated on any bombing plans.

"When they bombed, I was completely stunned. I had no idea that they would. The U.S. wasn't keeping me informed of what they would or wouldn't do," Butler said.

Ritter also says there was no longer any need for aggressive inspections of Iraqi sites after 1995, when UNSCOM verified that Iraq had fundamentally disarmed.

Butler disagreed. "Why did he sit in front of me in 1997 and bang his fist on the table saying, 'They're lying, they have weapons.' Has some new information emerged? If so, where is it?"

From the time he joined UNSCOM in September 1991 until his resignation in August 1998, Ritter planned and participated in more than 35 inspections in Iraq.

Ritter said he made the film, which was financed primarily by an Iraqi-American named Shakir Alhafaji from Detroit, to stimulate public debate about U.S. policy on Iraq. He denied the Iraqi government had any influence on the content of the film.

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• United Nations Home Page
• UNSCOM Home Page
• Iraqi Ministry of Foreign Affairs

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