A Semantic Game

Scott Ritter interviewed by Nermin Al-Mufti in El Ahram, September 18, 2002

Scott Ritter, the UN arms inspector who resigned in 1998 in protest at US manipulation of the UNSCOM mandate was in Baghdad this week. He delivered a message to the Iraqis: allow the inspectors back or risk the destruction of Iraq.

Your 1999 book on Iraq was entitled Endgame: Solving the Iraq Problem Once and For All. What about the game now, has it come to an end?
Personally I never played any game. Endgame is a term used by political scientists when they speak of a situation where the players pursue the conflict to the bitter end. I gave my book that title because I was dealing with US and UN involvement in Iraq, trying to find out how both players were going to exculpate themselves from that situation.
The endgame option is the choice of the American government, which is at war with Iraq. I find this unacceptable -- a choice that has no support in international law, and that cannot be justified by the facts on the ground given the extent of the disarmament programme carried out in Iraq. Speaking about an endgame strategy does not mean I am here to play a game, I am not playing any games.
Iraqis early discovered the nature of the UNSCOM game -- a US game played under the UN umbrella. Now it is natural to ask what is the next move?
Allowing the inspectors back in Iraq without any conditions. This way you can bring the Iraqi issue to an end and lift the economic sanctions. If you do this Iraq will regain normal relations with the world and enjoy better economic conditions.
But how can Iraq be sure that the new inspectors will not engage in spying activities on behalf of the US?
There is no way to ensure that. The best way I could see, based on my discussions with officials in various countries, is that UN inspectors have to be honest brokers. Their mandate is one of independent and objective monitoring, you cannot ensure that none of the observers is a spy but you can make sure that they do not overstep the Security Council mandate.
Could you elaborate on how did UNSCOM overstep this mandate in the past?
UNSCOM was manipulated by the US, especially under the lead of Richard Butler, the second executive director of UNSCOM. From 1997-1998 Butler stopped being a man objectively carrying out the will of the Security Council and became the head of a US-controlled UNSCOM, carrying out the will of the US and the UK. When you enter that kind of buddy-buddy relationship, when you become such buddies you give your buddy the green light to misuse and abuse the relationship.
How can inspectors such as Butler be avoided?
Let us concentrate on the basics first. Unless Iraq unconditionally allows the inspectors back, there will be a war and Iraq will be destroyed.
Let us play a semantic game, whereby it is understood that inspectors must return or there will be a war. Now, there are some governments saying that if Iraq allows the inspectors back, they will make sure that those inspectors do not overstep their mandate.
It is the only way. Can anybody guarantee the success? No.
But Rumsfeld has said the issue is no longer one of inspectors returning. ..
Donald Rumsfeld does not speak on behalf of the Security Council, or even for the whole US administration. He speaks for Donald Rumsfeld. What he said exposes the hypocrisy of the Bush administration regarding the present situation in Iraq.
The Bush administration says on the one hand that a strike against Iraq is necessary because of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), and in the same breath it says that the issue of the inspectors no longer matters. This suggests WMD are not the issue. What is the issue then? Why are they advocating war? They tell the American public that war against Iraq is necessary because Iraq, with its WMD, poses a threat to US security.
The only way out of this situation is to allow the inspectors back, so that they can tell the world that Iraq has no WMD. Only when they say so can the American public discover that a war against Iraq is not a war in defence of the interests of the Americans, but is a war waged to further the interests of the Bush administration.
If the inspectors are allowed back, how much time do you think they will need?
Hans Blix, the director of the UNMOVIC said that his team could reestablish basic facts regarding Iraq's WMD within six months. After that, he will set forth outstanding issues that need to be resolved. If you have honest brokers overseeing this work then the inspectors will focus on the scientific and technical aspects. This process will not allow the return of the political game as before with the US.
I myself believe that if the inspectors are allowed back, within six months you will start seeing the positive results. Before a year the economic sanctions will be lifted.
Do you seriously believe that?
There is no other way but hope. Or else within six months Iraq will be destroyed.
In an interview with Swedish Radio Rulf Ekeus said that the new inspectors will be equipped differently. What did he mean? Are they going to be armed?
With the establishing of UNSCOM in 1991, the UN proposed to have armed soldiers escorting the inspectors but that proposal was turned down. Inspectors must be provided with all the facilities and must enjoy the cooperation of the Iraqi government. If the Iraqi government chooses not to cooperate, the inspectors should be withdrawn and the Security Council should come up with other solutions, including military force.
But inspectors with arms, this is a prescription that will never succeed.
You were one of the toughest UNSCOM inspectors. What had changed your position?
I have always worked for peace, even when I was in the Marines and during the [Second Gulf] war. I think it is great when one fights a just war. As an inspector, I was working under the mandate stipulated by UN Security Council resolutions.

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