New Film Says U.S. Manipulated U.N.

One look tells the story: The Detroit Red Wings celebrate their double-overtime win as the Edmonton Oilers file off in Game 1 of their NHL quarterfinal hockey game against the Edmonton Oilers in Detroit, April 21, 2006. The score was 3-2.
AP Photo/Carlos Osorio
In a new documentary film, a former U.N. weapons inspector accuses the United States of manipulating the United Nations to provoke a confrontation with Saddam Hussein as a pretext for U.S. airstrikes on Iraq.

Scott Ritter, a former U.S. Marine intelligence officer, says in the 90-minute documentary that he did not provoke the confrontation the Americans wanted in March 1998, but fellow inspector Roger Hill - an Australian - did have a confrontation in December of that year.

Days later, chief U.N. inspector Richard Butler declared that Iraq was not cooperating with weapons inspectors and the United States and Britain launched airstrikes against Iraq in punishment. U.N. inspectors pulled out of the country ahead of the bombing raids, and Iraq has barred them from returning for more than 2½ years.

Butler, who was Ritter's boss, called the allegations "completely false" and accused Ritter of making "a propaganda film." The U.S. Mission to the United Nations said it would have no comment on the documentary, which premiered at the United Nations on Wednesday.

The documentary entitled "In Shifting Sands: The Truth about UNSCOM and the Disarming of Iraq" follows up on his 1999 book "Endgame," which supported Saddam's claims that Washington used UNSCOM as a cover to spy on Baghdad almost from the time inspections began in 1991.

The film traces the history of the U.N. Special Commission, known as UNSCOM, which was created by the U.N. Security Council after the 1991 Persian Gulf War to oversee the destruction of Iraq's biological and chemical weapons and the missiles used to deliver them. The council replaced it in December 1999 with a new agency, the U.N. Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission.

By 1995, Ritter said both he and former chief weapons inspector Rolf Ekeus believed Iraq was "fundamentally disarmed." He noted that the head of Iraq's weapons programs - Saddam's son-in-law Hussein Kamal al-Majid - told Ekeus after he defected to Jordan in
August 1995 that all of Iraq's banned weapons had been destroyed.

"Iraq is a defanged tiger," he told reporters.

Butler said Ritter had always claimed to him that Iraq's banned weapons had not been destroyed. "Either he was misleading me when on the job or he is now misleading the public in his role as a film producer," Butler told the AP.

But Ritter said the Security Council is now focused on better targeting sanctions imposed after Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait - not on returning U.N. inspectors so they can resume monitoring and prevent any rebuilding of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.

"This film will hopefully compel people to start ... taking a harder look at Iraq's disarmament" and then confronting the issue of lifting sanctions, he said.

Ritter resigned from UNSCOM in August 1998, denouncing the Clinton administration for having withdrawn support for the U.N. agency and undermining weapons inspection.

He has since said Washington used UNSCOto spy on Iraq - a longtime charge by Baghdad. In the documentary, he repeated the spying charge and made new allegations.

On either Feb. 28 or March 1, 1998, Ritter said he and Butler attended a meeting with then U.S. Ambassador Bill Richardson at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations, hours before he left for Baghdad to lead an inspection mission.

Ritter said Butler told him inspectors had to provoke the Iraqis by a specific date to give Washington an excuse for a military raid.

Butler drew a line on a chalkboard and put UNSCOM's timeline for inspections on one side and a U.S. timeline for military action on the other, Ritter said. The United States wanted to conduct a week-long bombing campaign that would end by mid-March, the start of a holy period for Muslims.

"I wasn't going to go in and create a deliberate confrontation. I wasn't going to start a war," Ritter said.

In Baghdad, Ritter said the Iraqis at first refused to allow his team to carry out orders to search the Ministry of Defense.

At that moment, then U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright was attending a meeting in Paris, prepared to tell the French why the United States was undertaking military action, he told reporters later. But the military strikes were called off when the Iraqis later allowed the inspectors in, he said.

The film offers a detailed look at the inner workings of the high-profile inspectors and their mind-boggling task of hunting down weapons and following paper trails in a mission filled with obstructions and frustrations.

At first the inspectors focused on finding and destroying weaponry. But UNSCOM then shifted to locating hidden archives to try to reconstruct Iraq's prewar military capabilities.

By 1997, the film showed UNSCOM inspectors operating sophisticated intelligence-gathering equipment with radio interceptors and tape recorders in the back of U.N. vehicles to try to track down Iraqi operations to conceal weaponry.

The film was financed with $400,000 from Iraqi-American businessman Shakir alKhafaji of Detroit. Ritter plans to release it commercially to educate Americans.

© MMI, CBS Worldwide Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press and Reuters Limited contributed to this report