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Former weapons inspector: Iraq not a threat

Former U.N. weapons inspector Scott Ritter says U.S. military action against Iraq would be a mistake.
Former U.N. weapons inspector Scott Ritter says U.S. military action against Iraq would be a mistake.  

BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Former U.N. weapons inspector Scott Ritter told the Iraqi National Assembly on Sunday that his country, the United States, "seems to be on the verge of making a historical mistake" in its calls for ousting Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

Ritter is in Baghdad as a private citizen to voice his criticism of the U.S. threat of military action against Iraq. He looked for weapons in Iraq from 1991 until 1998, when he was called back to the United States two days before a U.S. attack on Iraq.

But a report, to be published in Britain on Monday by the International Institute of Strategic Studies, is said to detail Iraq's efforts to stockpile weapons of mass destruction.

Ritter said Sunday that Iraq was not a threat to the United States.

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"Iraq is not a sponsor of the kind of terror perpetrated against the United States on September 11 and in fact is active in suppressing the sort of fundamental extremism that characterizes those who attacked the United States on that horrible day," Ritter said.

In an interview after the speech, Ritter denied allegations that the Iraqis had interfered with the inspection process. (Read the interview)

U.S. President Bush is trying to garner international support for military action against Saddam, who he said harbors weapons of mass destruction and the intent to use them. (Full story)

Bush is expected to issue an ultimatum to the Iraqi leader -- either allow weapons inspectors unfettered access or face unspecified consequences -- during a speech Thursday to the U.N. General Assembly.

In his address Sunday, Ritter denied that Iraq possessed any weapons of mass destruction but acknowledged that concerns exist about the country's weapons programs.

"These concerns are almost exclusively technical in nature and do not overcome the reality that Iraq, during nearly seven years of continuous inspection activity by the United Nations, had been certified as being disarmed to a 90 [percent] to 95 percent level," he said.

He warned that if the United States unilaterally launches any military action against Iraq, it would "forever change the political dynamic which has governed the world since the end of the second World War, namely the foundation of international law as set forth in the United Nations charter, which calls for the peaceful resolution of problems between nations."

Ritter resigned as chief weapons inspector for the United Nations in August 1998, saying that the U.N. Security Council and U.S. government had fatally undermined his team's attempts to locate and eliminate Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.

He has said U.S. intelligence agents used the weapons inspectors as a cover for spying and destroyed the inspection teams' credibility.

Before his speech, Ritter said that the Bush administration was "using weapons inspections as an excuse" to go to war with Iraq.

"One of the problems with President Bush issuing that kind of ultimatum is that he has no credibility," Ritter said. "Members of his administration have said inspections don't matter.

"Members of his administration have said that, even if they get back in Iraq and succeed in disarming Iraq, that they're still going to seek regime removal."




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