Sunday, 3 November 2002

Saddam risk a lie, says UN expert

United Nations weapons inspectors colluded with British secret service agents to spread disinformation about Saddam Hussein's nuclear, biological and chemical weapons programmes as part of a campaign to justify military strikes, according to the head of the UN inspection team in Iraq.

In an interview with The Herald, Scott Ritter, who led the United Nations Special Commission (Unscom) team in Iraq for seven years in the 90s, claims he helped to leak propaganda to journalists. He resigned from the post in 1998 but said his experience then suggested that recent claims that Iraq was developing weapons of mass destruction should be treated sceptically.

Hawks within the US administration insist Iraq's suspected nuclear, chemical and biological weapons programmes should be the next target in the war on terrorism.

Last week, Kofi Annan, UN secretary general, failed to persuade Naji Sabri, Iraqi foreign minister, to allow weapons in-spectors back into the country. The stance could make a US military strike more likely. President George W Bush has reportedly been briefed on a Pentagon plan to send 250,000 troops into Iraq, though he has yet to approve it.

However, Ritter, a former intelligence officer in the US marines, maintains there is scant evidence that Iraq is a threat.

He says claims that Iraq is re-arming come from unreliable witnesses and that factories bombed in 1998 during Operation Desert Fox had not breached UN resolutions. "Every single one of those facilities was subjected to repeated inspections and never did we detect anything to remotely suggest that these were involved in producing anything prohibited. There's nothing there. Nothing."

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