Ex-Arms Inspector: War Illegal

Times Staff Writer

The prospect of war with Iraq attracted a diverse, standing-room-only crowd to a Chapman University lecture hall Tuesday evening to hear a former a U.N. weapons inspector criticize the Bush administration's failed diplomacy.

Scott Ritter, who worked as a U.N. arms inspector in Iraq from 1991 to 1998, spoke briefly before the packed audience of more than 350 people at the George Bush Conference Center, named for the first President Bush, then took questions.

Some people asked whether the president could be impeached and if a war with Iraq would be illegal under international law.

"We will be a nation waging an illegal war," he responded.

Many who came to hear Ritter speak expressed opposition to a war.

But some, such as advertising major Leyna Belcher, 19, were undecided about whether the United States is justified in attacking Iraq.

"I'm interested in what he has to say.... I haven't made up my mind," she said.

Ritter, a former U.S. Marine officer, openly opposes most of the Bush administration's positions on Iraq.

Tom Schwabbauer, 69, a retired construction worker living in Orange, said: "It's probably hard on Ritter because he's bucking the political tide."

Schwabbauer said he believes Ritter because he is "probably the most informed American on Iraq."

Laguna Hills resident Jane Judge, who declined to give her age, said of Ritter: "He's one of the few people telling the truth" about Iraq.

During his tenure as a weapons inspector, Ritter contended with Iraqi obstruction tactics and Baghdad's frequent accusation that he was a spy.

But in 1998 he quit his post, saying U.S. government officials had undermined his efforts at the United Nations.

Last September, as the Bush administration began a diplomatic offensive against Iraq and threatened war, Ritter told the Iraqi parliament the U.S. government was on the verge of making a "historic mistake."

Other former U.N. inspectors questioned Ritter's contention that 95% of Iraq's illegal weapons had been destroyed as a result of the earlier inspections, and some accused him of lying.

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