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Sunday, 8 September, 2002, 13:29 GMT 14:29 UK
Ex-arms inspector defends Iraq
UN weapons inspectors in Baghdad in 1998
Inspectors have been barred from Iraq since 1998
A former senior UN weapons inspector in Iraq, Scott Ritter, has told the Baghdad parliament that Iraq is not a threat to the outside world and that military action against the country would not be justifiable.

Iraq today is not a threat to its neighbours and is not acting in a manner which threatens anyone outside its own borders

Scott Ritter
US President George Bush and UK Prime Minister Tony Blair have said they are determined that Iraq's weapons of mass destruction must be eliminated, but Mr Ritter said he did not believe there were such weapons.

But Mr Ritter, who is on a private visit, said Iraq had to allow weapons inspectors back into the country to prove to the outside world that this was the case.

This was the only way now to avoid war, he said.

"Nothing else will be acceptable," the American told Iraqi deputies.

"Iraq cannot attempt to link the return of the weapons inspectors with any other issues, regardless of justification. Unconditional return, unfettered access, this is the only acceptable action."

Weapons inspectors have been barred from the country since 1998.

Vocal critic

As a prominent American who opposes a US strike on Iraq, Mr Ritter's visit is a boost to the regime in Baghdad and will not help current efforts being undertaken by Mr Bush and Mr Blair to garner support for their campaign.

On Thursday, one day after the anniversary of the 11 September terrorist attacks, Mr Bush will address the United Nations in a speech US officials say will demand fast, decisive action to minimise the threat of Iraq.

Mr Ritter said Iraq was not a sponsor of the kind of terror perpetrated against the US on 11 September and indeed that Baghdad was "active in suppressing the sort of fundamentalist extremism that characterises those who attacked the US on that horrible day".

During the seven years the UN was allowed to carry out inspections, Iraq had been certified as being disarmed to a 90-95% level.

Mr Ritter was not always popular with the Iraqi authorities - as head of the inspection team until 1998, he was renowned for his tough line and intrusive searches.

But he later accused Washington of using the UN mission to spy on Iraq. He has since been a vocal critic of US policy.

Iraqi warning

The crucial question now is whether Iraq will invite the current UN weapons inspectors back.

Last week, Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz said Iraq might consider doing so, but only as part of what he called a comprehensive settlement.

But, speaking in Jordan on Saturday, Iraqi Information Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf said the Americans did not care about inspections.

What they wanted was a change of the political regime - but their ambitions would be smashed, he declared, at the gates of Iraq.

Caroline Hawley reports from Baghdad:
"The Iraqi parliament heard from Scott Ritter that both sides were to blame"
Former weapons inspector Scott Ritter
"Iraq has not been shown to possess weapons of mass destruction"

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See also:

08 Sep 02 | Media reports
06 Sep 02 | Middle East
06 Sep 02 | In Depth
07 Sep 02 | Media reports
19 Jul 01 | Middle East
29 Jul 00 | Middle East
08 Sep 02 | Middle East
08 Sep 02 | Politics
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