Iraq would be able to reconstitute its biological and chemical weapons capability and deliver a weapon of mass destruction within six months of the end of U.N. inspections, former inspector Scott Ritter says.

"We know in fact that Iraq has a plan to have a breakout scenario for reconstitution of long-range ballistic missiles within six months of the `go' signal" from Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, Ritter told a joint hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations and Armed Services com-mit-tees Thursday.It was Ritter's first appearance on Capitol Hill since his resignation last week from the U.N. Special Commission, which got the job of eliminating missiles and chemical and biological weapons in Iraq following the Persian Gulf War.

To Republicans, Ritter is a "true American hero" and his message was that Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and other senior officials of the Clinton administration have been duplicitous in dealing with Iraq.

But to Democrats, Ritter was talking way above his pay grade. They tried to block the hearing by using a little-used Senate rule that hearings may not be held after two hours into the Senate session if there are objections. The hearing was set for 2 p.m., and the Senate had started business at 9:30 a.m.

Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., answered Democrats by recessing the Senate during most of the hearing so it could be held without violating Senate rules.

Ritter told the committee he quit his job because the United States and Britain systematically had undermined efforts by U.N. inspectors to get to the bottom of Iraq's arsenal of mass weapons, which Iraq is barred from having.

He has said this lack of resolve would enable Iraq to keep these weapons and could lead Saddam to expel the inspectors.