In Shifting Sands: The Truth About Unscom And The Disarming Of Iraq

The first thing you need to know about this 2000 documentary, which explores the thwarted efforts of UNSCOM (United Nations Special Commission) to oversee the disarmament of Iraq, is that writer-director Scott Ritter is the former U.N. weapons inspector who noisily resigned from his position as head of the committee's Information Assessment Unit in...read more

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Reviewed by Ken Fox
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The first thing you need to know about this 2000 documentary, which

explores the thwarted efforts of UNSCOM (United Nations Special Commission)

to oversee the disarmament of Iraq, is that writer-director Scott Ritter is the former U.N. weapons inspector who noisily resigned from his position as head

of the committee's Information Assessment Unit in 1998. The second is that

$400,000 of the film's $500,000 budget came directly from the coffers of

Iraqi-American businessman Shakir al-Khafaji, who, like Ritter, is determined

to see ongoing economic sanctions against Iraq lifted. As the film's Senior

Executive Producer, al-Khafaji accompanied Ritter to Baghdad and helped

arrange interviews with various Iraqi officials, including Iraq's deputy

prime minister Tariq Aziz. Ritter's writer-director credit, which makes it

clear that he's calling the film's shots, doesn't appear onscreen until the

end of the film. So his talking head appearances throughout — which

position him as one among a handful of experts, who include former UNSCOM

executive chairman Rolf Ekeus, former UNSCOM spokesperson Tim Trevan and Aziz

— are at best disingenuous, and worst betray evidence of bad faith. The

film opens with a fairly straightforward question: Why did the UN fail in its

mission to disarm Iraq, and who is ultimately responsible? The answer is

nowhere near so clear. The film traces Ritter's career with UNSCOM, founded

in 1991 to oversee the destruction of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, and

guard against their future reconstitution. From the outset, there was

widespread suspicion that Iraq's official declarations concerning its

weaponry were less than truthful, and former-marine and intelligence analyst

Ritter was brought in to help investigate Iraq's claims. Ritter agreed that

Baghdad was lying, but also began to suspect that neither the UN Security

Council nor the Clinton administration were fully committed to the mission,

and that the U.S. intelligence community actually wanted to use Ritter's team

to provoke a military confrontation with Iraq. The facts are all a bit

cloudy. Contradicting his 1998 assertion that Saddam Hussein remained a

serious threat, Ritter here claims that by 1995 UNSCOM had, in fact,

effectively disarmed Iraq. Ritter calls Iraq a "defanged tiger" — even

as his film acknowledges that the Iraqis, who never fully came clean about

their cache of chemical and biological weapons, were definitely hiding

something — and suggests the U.S. turn its attentions elsewhere.

Released into theaters at a time when military confrontation between the U.S.

and Iraq again seems immanent, a clear, unbiased documentary examining of the

UNSCOM debacle would benefit anyone attempting to make sense of the dire

situation. This, unfortunately, is not that documentary.

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  • Released: 2002
  • Rating: NR
  • Review: The first thing you need to know about this 2000 documentary, which explores the thwarted efforts of UNSCOM (United Nations Special Commission) to oversee the disarmament of Iraq, is that writer-director Scott Ritter is the former U.N. weapons inspecto… (more)

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