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U.N. Inspector Resigns, Cites Laxity in Iraqi Arms Control

By Barton Gellman
The Washington Post
WASHINGTON

Accusing the United States and United Nations of surrendering to Iraqi defiance, a leader of the U.N. special disarmament panel resigned his post Wednesday and said the Security Council appears to want only "the illusion of arms control."

Scott Ritter joined the U.N. Special Commission shortly after its creation in 1991 and became chief inspector on the team whose job is to penetrate Iraqi concealment efforts. His abrupt resignation followed the Security Council's failure to deliver on threats of "severest consequences for Iraq" should the Baghdad government block inspections for forbidden arms. The council has described Iraq's Aug. 3 decision to halt new inspections as "unacceptable," but with American assent it has made clear in recent days that it contemplates no new efforts at enforcement.

The resignation was the strongest sign among several in recent days that the disarmament panel, imposed on Iraq as a cease-fire condition after the 1991 Persian Gulf War, is close to collapse as an effective force for discovering and destroying illegal Iraqi weapons. The withdrawal of U.S. military threats to enforce access for inspectors has deprived the commission of its principal counterweight against seven years of periodic Iraqi defiance and a long political campaign by Iraq's sympathizers in the Security Council.

"The issue of immediate, unrestricted access is, in my opinion, the cornerstone of any viable inspection regime, and as such is an issue worth fighting for," Ritter wrote in a resignation letter delivered Wednesday afternoon to Richard Butler, the Australian diplomat who heads the U.N. Special Commission, or UNSCOM. "Unfortunately, others do not share this opinion, including the Security Council and the United States."

Refusal to enforce the council's many binding demands for Iraqi compliance, he wrote, "constitutes a surrender to the Iraqi leadership" and "makes a mockery of the mission the staff of the Special Commission have been charged with implementing."

The departure of Ritter, a 37-year-old former Marine, deprives the commission of its crucial liaison to American and foreign intelligence services, on which the commission has long relied for investigative leads, and of an investigator widely described as UNSCOM's most effective planner of military-style missions to seize forbidden weapons and documents before the Baghdad government could move them.

"I have enormous respect for Ritter," said Charles Duelfer, the panel's deputy chief. "I've worked very closely with him for years now and we will miss his contributions to the work of UNSCOM enormously. Without Ritter's drive, initiative and creativity much of what the commission accomplished may not have been accomplished."

Ritter was criticized by U.N. officials for his zeal in pursuing evidence relating to the Iraqi weapons programs. This week, three senior associates of U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan expressed qualms about his boss, Butler, who has sometimes clashed with Annan, and made it clear in interviews that Annan would not grieve to see Butler go.

"The secretary general wants something that works, so if Butler's style becomes an issue with the Iraqis maybe he should resign because the issue should be the principles, not his personality," said one senior United Nations official.

In an interview Wednesday morning, before Ritter's resignation, Butler said he would leave his post if UNSCOM and its mission lose the support of the Security Council.

"If it becomes clear to me there isn't a will to do this job at all, to see this through at all, I will not preside over an empty shell," Butler said, adding that he is not ready to draw that conclusion. "This job is a job rooted in disarmament. That's something I've spent a quarter of a century working on as a practitioner, as an academic, as a researcher. It is very clear that there is still some serious disarmament to be done in Iraq."