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S P E C I A L: The Standoff with Iraq

Iraq standoff: The Ritter factor

January 15, 1998
Web posted at: 9:31 a.m. EST (1431 GMT)

In this story:

BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Iraq accuses U.N. weapons inspector Scott Ritter of being a U.S. spy. What may really bother Baghdad, however, is not Ritter, but the job he does.

Ritter, a former U.S. Marine who served in the 1991 Gulf War, should be carrying out a "technical or scientific job," but, instead, is acting more like a policeman, according to Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz.

While U.N. officials won't reveal the specifics of his assignment, Ritter's mission is to determine if Iraq is concealing banned weapons and documents,. His no-notice inspections are said to have surprised Iraqi officials several times.

As members of the U.N. Special Commission (UNSCOM), Ritter and his colleagues must certify Iraq is free of weapons of mass destruction before the world body will lift Gulf War sanctions.

But Aziz said his government could not accept a situation in which "the adversary is the judge" of Iraq.

During his 12 years in the U.S. military, Ritter was a Scud missile tracker with the intelligence staff of Gulf War commanding Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf.

UN team
Ritter and his team never left the U.N. compound Thursday in Bagdad  

Later, sources say, he worked with the United Nations as a missile site inspector in Russia.

Seeking out what may be hidden

Ritter, a U.N. weapons inspector dealing with Iraq since he left the Marines in 1991, has been leading a concealment team set up following the defection of Hussein Kamel.

Kamel, a senior official in the Iraqi government and son-in-law of Iraqi president Saddam Hussein, fled Iraq in August 1995, taking with him many of Iraq's most tightly guarded secrets.

Hussein Kamel
Hussein Kamel  

Baghdad, in an effort at damage control, responded by taking U.N. inspectors to Kamel's farm outside the Iraqi capital.

There, under a chicken coop, the inspectors found boxes of documents relating to Iraq's program to develop and produce weapons of mass destruction.

After this incident, the concealment team's job has been to make sure that sort of deception never happens again.

Stopped after one day of inspections

While other arms monitors go out from their Baghdad headquarters with two or three cars, Ritter's team, officially termed mission 227, leaves in a massive convoy.

Their itinerary on the one day they went out this week before being prevented from conducting further inspections included a military hospital and a hotel management institute adjacent to UNSCOM headquarters.

Iraqi officials claim the goal was to investigate allegations it is spying on the inspectors' communication systems.

The government of President Saddam Hussein also accuses Ritter of trying to find evidence that Iraq tested chemical and biological agents on prisoners. U.N. reports have said that Iraq tested biological toxins on animals, including sheep, donkeys, monkeys and dogs.

Aziz dismissed reports that Iraq had tested chemical and biological agents on prisoners in the summer of 1995. "Never. It is a sheer lie," he said.

Correspondent Ben Wedeman contributed to this report.

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