BAGHDAD — Former U.N. weapons inspector Scott Ritter, once accused by Iraq of spying for the United States, returned Saturday to film a documentary about weapons sites and the impact of U.N. sanctions.
Ritter said on arrival in Baghdad that he hoped that his mission can help break the impasse between Iraq and the United Nations over the suspended inspections program and Iraq's allegedly continuing efforts to produce weapons of mass destruction.
The White House dismissed Ritter's trip, saying he was likely to become a propaganda pawn of the Iraqi authorities.
Calling his trip a "risky maneuver," Ritter said the aim of his documentary was to judge whether Baghdad had rebuilt its arsenal since U.N. inspectors left in December 1998, just before Western warplanes bombed Iraq in retaliation for its obstruction of the inspection regime.
"There has been a lot of irresponsible speculation about what Iraq is doing today, now that weapons inspectors aren't in Iraq," he said.
"I think this documentary is so important, as the world is currently in an impasse on how to deal with the situation in Iraq," he said.
Ritter was referring to a U.N. Security Council resolution adopted in December that offers to ease trade sanctions on Iraq if it allows the U.N. weapons inspectors to return.
Baghdad has rejected the resolution, saying it will not allow inspectors back until international sanctions imposed on Iraq for its 1990 invasion of Kuwait are lifted entirely.
Ritter's visit was criticized by U.S. authorities. "He is going to places where he was denied access as an inspector," a White House national security spokesman said.
"We can all predict that the places he will go to will be thoroughly sanitized, and the Iraqis will try to reap as much PR from this as possible."
A State Department spokesman said the U.S. disagrees with Ritter that Iraq no longer poses a threat.