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Ex-UN Weapons Inspector Criticizes US Policy on Iraq - 2002-09-16

Former U.N. weapons inspector Scott Ritter has accused the United States of pressuring the world to go along with plans for a war on Iraq. Mr. Ritter has become an outspoken critic of U.S. policy toward Iraq.

Before the United Nations pulled out of Iraq in 1998, Mr. Ritter had been one of its most aggressive weapons inspectors.

Earlier, the 40-year-old Mr. Ritter had served as an intelligence officer in the U.S. Marine Corps during the 1991 Gulf War, when a U.S.-led international coalition expelled Iraq from Kuwait. But Mr. Ritter has emerged as one of the most vocal and high-profile critics of American policy toward Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

In a British radio interview, Mr. Ritter said he believes a full-scale U.S. attack on Iraq is inevitable. "We are closer to war than ever," he said. "It is not a question of when America will go to war with Iraq. We are already at war with Iraq. It is just a question of when this war will enter a phase of ... large-scale conventional conflict."

Mr. Ritter scoffed at American diplomatic efforts against Iraq at the United Nations. The United States is, in Mr. Ritter's words, "putting an extreme amount of pressure on the international community to bend to America's will."

Mr. Ritter also said it is wrong to speculate about the state of Iraq's weapons program without the benefit of renewed inspections. "It is all dependent upon what Iraq has or has not done in the last four years, which I have been very honest in saying, we do not have a clue about," he said. "So let us get the inspectors in and not speculate about what is going to happen. Let us get them in and let them do their job."

In return for a cease-fire in the Gulf War, Iraq agreed to international inspection of its weapons programs.

In another development, the British newspaper The Times quotes a dissident Iraqi scientist who says Iraq could build three nuclear bombs by the end of the year.

The scientist, Khidir Hamza, claims Iraq could do this with stolen German equipment and uranium smuggled from Brazil. Mr. Hamza defected in 1994, and the article offers no explanation of how he got his information.