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Ex weapons inspector Scott Ritter covers the history of UNSCOM through the 1990s and its final dissolution in 1998. He maintains it was manipulated by the US for its own political ends which included provoking Iraq into confrontation. The film also lays bare the deceptions and concealment that characterises Iraqi behaviour over its arsenal of WMD. Assembled over almost a decade and completed in 2001, In Shifting Sands is remarkably timely – but in the wake of the latest reports from the inspection team that succeeded UNSCOM, it offers much food for thought and few easy answers. 

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Arriving with surgically accurate timing on Australian screens (and apparently the only country to have given it a theatrical release - March 2003), In Shifting Sands traces the history of weapons inspections in Iraq. Detailing the daily duplicity of the Iraqi regime, its cunning and its tactics to evade its obligations and to fool the world, In Shifting Sands sends conflicting messages to today’s audience. Iraq comes across like the cunning criminal who says ‘prove it’, crims, who in Australian media are usually referred to as ‘colourful personalities’ – before they are charged and convicted. Here, it’s on a much greater scale. This insight into how sneaky the Iraqi regime is makes for compelling viewing. But Ritter’s agenda is aimed at showing up the US, not so much Iraq: the latter does it all by itself. For example, he blames the US for a bizarre lack of determination in the summer of 2000 – for doing nothing when the weapns inspection team, UNSCOM, had found the Iraqi regime to be lying and covering up its weapons of mass destruction. Ritter says that to this day he can’t understand why the US made that non-decision. Maybe it was a horrible, stupid mistake, a human error, a failure of communication or a misjudgment that nobody will now admit. But this doco doesn’t have the answer. 

Ritter also states that the UNSCOM team was unable to verify the CIA analysis that Iraq had hidden weapons, and his conclusion is that the 1992 American regime didn’t want to have Iraq proven to be disarmed. But Iraq’s credibility had been totally destroyed, as Ritter shows. So when Amer al-S’adi, the Scientific Advisor to Saddam Hussein says “by then the program [of biological weapons] had been completely obliterated” we are faced with the old problem of credibility. Why should we believe him? He goes on to say, “what was not declared, was information about it…” But the Director of the Middle East Forum, Dr Daniel Pipes: “I believe nothing that comes out of Iraqi official circles. Nothing.”

By 1995, Ritter was starting to feel comfortable that 90% of the WMD had been destroyed. The remains were “useless vestiges of past programs”. Amongst the many revelations of Iraq’s resistance, Ritter shows how the inspectors were faced with the issue of systametic concealment. They recognised it was impossible to ever ‘discover’ – the Iraqis would have to deliver the banned items. But when Australia’s Richard Butler takes over, things hot up, and Ritter recalls a meeting in which Butler draws timelines on a board and calls on Ritter to provoke an Iraqi confrontation – by insisting on an inspection at the Ministry of Defence, which would be the trigger for the US to bomb Baghdad – timed so that there would be five days of bombing which would have to cease by the start of Ramadan. 

Ritter takes his team to the Ministry, and after a fascinating on-camera discussion, Lt General Amer Rashid, Iraqi Minister for Oil, lets them in “to prove to the world that Iraq has nothing to hide.” They found nothing. Ritter accuses Butler of shutting down his UNSCOM team and turning over the surveillance operation to US personnel – against Ritter’s better judgement. This is at the heart of this film: Ritter’s accusation that the US has a hidden agenda, namely Saddam’s removal from power. This seems credible from the material presented, but the doco also goes a long way to back up claims that Iraq was not disarmed, despite the claims made by senior Iraqi officials interviewed. Dr Pipes believes “Hussein has foregone well over $100 billion in revenue to keep his hands on the weapons. And if by some miracle he doesn’t have them today, he’ll have them tomorrow.”

Ritter finished making this film during 2000 and 2001. In early 2003, Hans Blix and his team unearthed further WMDs and reported on other breaches of UN resolutions by Iraq. And a remark that now assumed great significance in the context of Russia being one of the opponents of military action against Iraq in the UN, Ritter says: “the Russians have very close links with Iraq…” The Iraqis keep saying that the inspections have no valid purpose but are driven by purely a political agenda, as if they had already disarmed. It seems that both agendas are active: disarmament of Iraq (against its will and unlikely to be completely successful voluntarily) AND the removal of Saddam Hussein. This may no be a surprise to many people, but the doco offers fascinating details and insights into one of the most explosive confrontations of our times – while it is in violent progress, live on our tv screens. 

The only pictorial extra on the DVD is the map of the region, so it’s very disappointing that it’s so poorly digitised and out of focus.

Published August 21, 2003

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CAST: Documentary featuring interviews with Rolf Ekeus, Tariq Aziz, Amer Rashid, Amer al-S’adi, Scott Ritter, Dr Daniel Pipes

DIRECTOR: Scott Ritter

SCRIPT: Scott Ritter, Scott Rosann, Alex Cohn

RUNNING TIME: 92 minutes


SPECIAL FEATURES: Scott Ritter bio; Ritter book profile; map of Iraq and region;


DVD RELEASE: August 20, 2003

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