Reporter John Diamond wrote that “Iraq expelled U.N. weapons inspectors four years ago and accused them of being spies.” But Iraq did not “expel” the UNSCOM weapons inspectors; in fact, “Richard Butler [head of the inspections team] ordered his inspectors to evacuate Baghdad, in anticipation of a military attack.” As for Iraq accusing weapons inspectors of being spies, Diamond might have mentioned that this accusation has proven to be correct.
An August 8 USA Today article that described how Saddam Hussein is “complicating U.S. plans to topple his regime” repeated a common myth about the history of U.S./Iraq relations. Reporter John Diamond wrote that “Iraq expelled U.N. weapons inspectors four years ago and accused them of being spies.”
But Iraq did not “expel” the UNSCOM weapons inspectors; in fact, they were withdrawn by Richard Butler, the head of the inspections team. The Washington Post, like numerous other media outlets, reported it accurately at the time (12/17/98): “Butler ordered his inspectors to evacuate Baghdad, in anticipation of a military attack, on Tuesday night.”
USA Today wouldn’t have to consult the archives of other media outlets to find out what happened: A timeline that appeared in the paper on December 17, 1998 included this entry for December 16: “U.N. weapons inspectors withdraw from Baghdad one day after reporting Iraq was still not cooperating.” USA Today also reported (12/17/98) that “Russian Ambassador Sergei Lavrov criticized Butler for evacuating inspectors from Iraq Wednesday morning without seeking permission from the Security Council.”
As for Iraq accusing weapons inspectors of being spies, Diamond might have mentioned that this accusation has proven to be correct. The Washington Post reported in 1999 (1/8/99) that “United Nations arms inspectors helped collect eavesdropping intelligence used in American efforts to undermine the Iraqi regime.”
USA Today was clearly aware of the spy story, since the paper wrote an editorial excusing it. Headlined “Spying Flap Merely a Sideshow” (1/8/99), the paper argued that “spying on Saddam Hussein is nothing new and nothing needing an apology. But the Clinton administration suddenly is scrambling to explain why it did just that.” The paper added that the information gathered “no doubt found uses other than just weapons detection. That may not be playing by the books, but it’s understandable and probably inevitable.”
Contact USA Today and ask that the paper correct the errors in its August 8 report on Iraq, “Saddam Already Battling Invasion.”
Elisa Tinsley, World Editor
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