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US 'provoked clashes with Iraq'

BBC News, Thursday 19 July 2001, 14:09 GMT 15:09 UK

A former United Nations weapons inspector has accused the United States of deliberately provoking confrontations with Iraq, which, he says, was almost fully disarmed by 1995.

Scott Ritter says the United States undermined the work of UNSCOM, the United Nations weapons inspection team in Iraq, and used the issue to push Iraq towards conflict with the West.

Mr Ritter has been an outspoken critic of US policy towards Iraq since he resigned from UNSCOM in 1998.

In his new documentary film, In Shifting Sands: The Truth About UNSCOM and the Disarming of Iraq, the UN and UNSCOM in particular are portrayed as American pawns in its dealings with Saddam Hussein.

Mr Ritter says his team was satisfied Iraq had destroyed 98% of its weapons by 1995.

But, he says, the US Government deliberately set new standards of disarmament criteria to maintain UN sanctions against Baghdad and justify bombing raids.

In the film, which was premiered at the United Nations, Mr Ritter said UNSCOM chief Richard Butler told his inspectors: You have to provoke a confrontation...so the US can start bombing before 15 March, a Muslim holy period.

Mr Butler denied the allegation, saying Mr Ritter's account was completely false.

Iraq banned UN arms inspections in December, 1998, after America and Britain launched a series of air strikes against it.

Mr Ritter, an ex-US marine intelligence officer, said Iraq did co-operate to a very significant degree with the UN inspection process and he blamed the United States for the breakdown.

The United States orchestrated the events that led to the demise of inspections, he said.

Mr Ritter called for an end to sanctions imposed on Iraq after it invaded Kuwait in August, 1990, saying he did not feel the country posed a danger any longer.

Iraq is a defanged tiger, he said.

During his time with UNSCOM, Iraq accused Mr Ritter of carrying out espionage for America and Israel.

UN arms inspectors were barred from Iraq after US-British raids In his film, Mr Ritter claimed Washington used UNSCOM to spy on Iraq almost from the time inspections began.

The US Mission to the UN refused to comment on the documentary.

The film, which cost $530,000 to make, was partly financed by Iraqi-American businessman Shakir al-Khafaji.

Mr Ritter says he plans to release it commercially to educate Americans.