By Pitt, William Rivers
The Nation , Vol. 275, No. 13
Scott Ritter spent seven years, 1991-98, as a UN weapons inspector in Iraq. With the war debate centering on Iraq's capabilities to produce and use weapons of mass destruction, and at a time when the United States is questioning the value of renewed UN inspections, Ritter offers concrete knowledge and useful perspectives. He was interviewed in August by William Rivers Pitt. Excerpts follow.--The Editors
Pitt: I'd like to talk for a moment about Iraq's nuclear weapons program.
Ritter: When I left Iraq in 1998, when the UN inspection program ended, the infrastructure and facilities had been 100 percent eliminated. There's no debate about that. All of their instruments and facilities had been destroyed. The weapons design facility had been destroyed. The production equipment had been hunted down and destroyed. And we had in place means to monitor--both from vehicles and from the air--the gamma rays that accompany attempts to enrich uranium or plutonium. We never found anything. We can say unequivocally that the industrial infrastructure needed by Iraq to produce nuclear weapons had been eliminated. Even this, however, is not simple, because Iraq still had thousands of scientists who'd been dedicated to this nuclear weaponization effort.... There is concern, then, that the Iraqis might intend in the long run to re-establish or reconstitute a nuclear weapons program. But this concern must be tempered by reality. That's not something that could happen overnight, nor is it something that could happen as long as weapons inspectors were inside Iraq. For Iraq to reacquire nuclear weapons capability, they'd have to basically build, from the ground up, enrichment and weaponization capabilities that would cost tens of billions of dollars. Nuclear weapons cannot be created in a basement or cave. They require modern industrial infrastructures that in turn require massive amounts of electricity and highly controlled technologies not readily available on the open market.
Pitt: What about chemical weapons?
Ritter: Iraq manufactured three kinds of nerve agents: sarin, tabun and VX.... Sarin and tabun have a shelf life of five years. Even if Iraq had somehow managed to hide this vast number of weapons from inspectors, what they're now storing is nothing more than useless, harmless goo. Chemical weapons were produced in the Muthanna State establishment: a massive chemical weapons factory. It was bombed during the Gulf War, and then weapons inspectors came and completed the task of eliminating the facility. That means Iraq lost its sarin and tabun manufacturing base. We destroyed thousands of tons of chemical agent. It's not as though we said, "Oh we destroyed a factory, now we're going to wait for everything else to expire." We had an incineration plant operating full time for years, burning tons of the stuff every day. We went out and blew up in place bombs, missiles and warheads filled with this agent. We emptied Scud missile warheads filled with this agent. We hunted down this stuff and destroyed it....
We knew the Iraqis wanted to build a full-scale VX nerve-agent plant, and we had information that they'd actually acquired equipment to do this. …