Iraq Stops U.N. Inspectors

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BAGHDAD: Every crisis needs a hero, at least as far as the American public is concerned. And now that Iraq has made good on its threat to withdraw its escorts from the U.N. weapons inspection team led by former U.S. Marine captain and Gulf War veteran Scott Ritter, it may just have handed his home country a hero on a plate. Ritter, derided in the Iraqi press as a "hyena" and CIA spy, made the most of his 15 minutes of fame with an impromptu press conference outside the U.N. compound in Baghdad. The refusal to provide escorts, he said, amounted to "a failure of Iraq to comply with its obligation to carry out the provisions of Security Council resolutions."

A relatively mild condemnation yet Ritter's words, surprisingly, were harsher than William Cohen's. Speaking from Malaysia, the Defense Secretary would only say the U.S. would continue to pursue "diplomatic initiatives." President Clinton delivered a mere slap on the wrist with his plea to Saddam to stop trying to "pick and choose" inspection teams. But while Ritter continues to be locked out and while his face continues to be plastered over prime time Clinton's constituency may soon be calling for tougher talking.