Letters

Did Saddam kick the U.N. inspectors out in 1998 or not? A reader and Joshua Micah Marshall square off.


Salon Staff
November 15, 2002 9:11PM (UTC)

[Read "Democrats: Wrong in Iraq," by Joshua Micah Marshall.]

It is a myth, which Joshua Micah Marshall repeats, that Iraq expelled the UNSCOM inspectors. Scott Ritter, head of the UNSCOM team at the time, states that they were ordered out by the U.S. government as it prepared to bomb locations -- based on data from U.S. intelligence officers that were part of the inspection team. (Ritter says so in a recent interview.)

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-- Barry Hoggard

Joshua Micah Marshall responds: Salon received a slew of letters to the editor challenging my statement that the United Nations Special Commission weapons inspectors "got kicked out" in 1998. Mr. Hoggard, for instance, cites an interview with former U.N. weapons inspector Scott Ritter in which Ritter says that "Saddam Hussein didn't kick out the U.N. inspectors. They were ordered out by the U.S. government."

Many people make the same argument as Ritter, who was once among the most zealous of the inspectors but now more often defends the Iraqi regime in its various tangles with the United States and the U.N. This point has long been debated by Iraq aficionados, and the debate will likely heat up now that Saddam has said he will accept a U.N. resolution and allow inspectors back into Iraq to resume the search for weapons of mass destruction.

There is an element of technical accuracy to the objection to the use of "kicked out." But it's a semantic argument only, relying on a meaningless distinction.

UNSCOM and Iraqi authorities reached a point of confrontation in August 1998, when Iraqi authorities decided to cease all cooperation with UNSCOM, thus preventing its members from doing the inspections work they were in the country to do. In response to this noncompliance the United States and Great Britain threatened to -- and eventually did -- carry out a punishing series of airstrikes to compel Iraqi cooperation. UNSCOM head Richard Butler evacuated the inspectors from the country to get them out of harm's way.

After the bombing stopped, Iraq announced that the inspectors would never be able to return, a policy that seemed to stand until two months ago.

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When Iraq stiffed the weapons inspectors and ended their work in the country, it was violating U.N. resolutions. It was, effectively, not allowing them to do their job; Saddam gave them no alternative but to leave. The particulars of who ordered them to get on a plane is a side detail that Saddam -- and, frankly, some of those who make this argument -- are using to obscure the reality of what happened.


Salon Staff

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