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Iraq: Former Weapons Inspector Chief Warns Of Saddam's Potential

  • Kevin Foley

Richard Butler, the former head of the United Nations arms inspection team in Iraq, contends that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein is as close as he ever was to developing the ability to produce a variety of weapons of mass destruction, despite a decade of international efforts to thwart him. Butler says the sanctions have only hurt the Iraqi people, and in an appearance before the U.S. House of Representatives International Relations Committee on Tuesday, he explained why he believes that.

Washington, 27 September 2000 (RFE/RL) -- The man who once lead an international effort to monitor arms control in Iraq contends Iraqi President Saddam Hussein is as much a danger now as he was before the Persian Gulf War because United Nations efforts to control Saddam have failed.

Richard Butler headed the United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM), which monitored the demolition of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq from 1997 until the end of 1998. His tenure ended when Iraq barred inspectors from returning.

Butler has written a book on his experiences and has made several appearances before government committees in the West and in Israel. He is now the diplomat in residence at the Council on Foreign Relations, a private foreign policy research group in New York.

In testimony before the U.S. House of Representatives International Relations Committee on Tuesday, Butler reiterated his view that the absence of inspectors has enabled Saddam to freely pursue his goal of developing the capability to produce major weapons systems.

"The effort to disarm him of the weapons he created in the past has ended. That has been the situation for two years and all of the evidence at our disposal, although that evidence, because of the absence of international presence in Iraq is somewhat inadequate, all the evidence suggests strongly that he is back in the business of making, reacquiring weapons of mass destruction capability."

Other experts have disputed Butler's contention. A former UNSCOM inspector, Scott Ritter, has written that Iraq is "qualitatively disarmed." Former UN humanitarian aid coordinator Hans von Sponeck has charged that sanctions and airstrikes against Iraqi military positions by the United States and Britain have wreaked havoc on the civilian population and caused a humanitarian crisis.

Butler believes Ritter's assertions are wrong. He says that Iraq made a calculated policy decision in 1998 to quit cooperation with the UN and bar new inspections because, as he put it, Saddam knew he could get away with such a move.

"Iraq felt that it could get away with this because it knew that it would have support from among certain permanent members of the Security Council, in particular Russia, and to some extent France and China. And it knew that under circumstances where the Security Council was divided on implementing its own laws with respect to Iraq, that it would be able to get away with the position it had adopted."

He also said Iraq took the action because it wanted to regain its weapons building capacity. He said that was the "fundamental motivation," for the regime's decision.

Butler agreed that sanctions have not harmed Saddam and his coterie but have, as he put it, delivered considerable harm to ordinary Iraqis.

Butler said the United Nations sanctions regime "is crumbling." He said it is being challenged daily, not only by Saddam, but by some permanent members of the Security Council, notably Russia and France.

The expert also said that despite the sanctions, "the Iraqi regime is literally awash with money." He attributed that to the smuggling of oil for illegal sales and to the "siphoning off" of profits from the legal sale of oil from the U.N.s "oil-for-food" program.

That program permits Iraq to sell oil and use the profits for strictly defined uses such as the purchase of food and medical supplies. According to the UN, the volume of Iraq's oil exports under the program just last week was 16.8 million barrels which earned Baghdad around 490 million dollars. Since June 9, the UN says Iraq has earned $5.1 billion from oil.