by our Internet desk, 9 April 2003
With the battle for Baghdad fizzling out without the use of chemical weapons by Iraqi troops, Washington's critics are demanding to know what has happened to Saddam Hussein's purported weapons of mass destruction. Former chief UN weapons inspector in Iraq Scott Ritter is one of those who has heaped scorn upon President George Bush's administration for going to war. In this interview with RN's Saskia van Reenan, Mr Ritter, a former US marine officer, explains why he sees US justifications for waging war as dishonest excuses for empire-building.
"The threat that Iraq poses from weapons of mass destruction I think has been clearly exposed as a lie. We were told to expect chemical weapons to rain down on troops as soon as they crossed over the border from Kuwait into Iraq, but that didn't happen. We were then told that as we closed in on the so-called ‘red line' around Baghdad – the 50-mile circle – that as soon as we breached that, chemical weapons would be used. That didn't happen. Then we said chemical weapons would be used as a last-gasp defence of Baghdad but that didn't happen. What chemical weapons? We were told that the presidential palaces were brimming over with weapons of mass destruction, but we now occupy many of the presidential palaces and we've found nothing."
"If Iraq were to have weapons of mass destruction today, they would have had to reconstitute a manufacturing base since 1998, since weapons inspectors left. No one has provided any information of a substantive nature that sustains that allegation. Clearly Iraq had the potential, they had time, they had four years between the time I left and other inspectors left in 1998 and the time that the new UNMOVIC inspectors returned in the fall of 2002."
"I have clearly stated that Iraq could reconstitute a limited capability within six months, so the potential is there for Iraq to have done this, but that potential doesn't automatically translate into reality, and we did have inspectors on the ground for almost four months, and they found nothing. Furthermore they investigated over a dozen sites highlighted by the Central Intelligence Agency as being prime suspects for producing weapons of mass destruction and they have found nothing."
"But let's talk about that missing material. In the field of biological materials, anthrax. Iraq produced anthrax in liquid bulk form, it has a shelf life of three years under ideal storage conditions, the last known batch came out in 1991. I might be a simple marine, not able to do adequate mathematics, but I think 1991 plus three gives you 1994. What anthrax does Iraq have? None of the anthrax they produced prior to 1991 can be viable today, it simply can't be."
nerve agent sarin: there's talk of 1000 tonnes of Iraqi nerve agent
unaccounted for, because there's 6500 munitions that we can't account
for dating from 1983 to 88. The problem is, that even if Iraq tried to
hide that stuff, it can't be viable today because that nerve agent has
a shelf-life of five years. So even though we can't give a final
disposition of that 5 to 10 per cent that's unaccounted for, I can tell
you this; regardless of what happened to it, it's not worth anything
today, it can't hurt anyone. So I come back to the basic question: what
weapons of mass destruction?"