"Iraq Confidential: The Untold Story of the Intelligence Conspiracy to Undermine the U.N. and Overthrow Saddam Hussein" (Nation Books, 312 pages, $26) - Scott Ritter
Former U.N. weapons inspector Scott Ritter provides an insider's view into the hunt for weapons of mass destruction during the 1990s in "Iraq Confidential: The Untold Story of the Intelligence Conspiracy to Undermine the U.N. and Overthrow Saddam Hussein."
Ritter writes that American policy to rid the Middle East of Saddam, spanning three administrations, prevented the inspections from demonstrating Iraq's compliance with U.N. Security Council Resolutions that could have led to the lifting of economic sanctions, which continued largely unabated until the U.S.-led invasion 12 years after Desert Storm.
Ritter, a former U.S. Marine officer and ballistic missile expert who led numerous teams by the U.N. Special Commission (UNSCOM) charged with assessing Iraqi compliance, discusses his relationship with Israeli intelligence to aid the inspection process - a revelation that could have had serious consequences at the time because of distrust of Israel throughout the Arab world, and especially in Iraq.
He also provides in unprecedented detail accounts of close U.S. intelligence involvement with the inspections, and puts his focus on an aborted CIA coup plot in Baghdad in 1996.
The Iraqis contended almost from UNSCOM's beginning that it was being manipulated, if not controlled, by the CIA.
In his book, the former inspector faults the agency for insisting that Iraq continued to have hidden long-range missiles and at least a capability of producing biological, chemical and nuclear weapons long after it had actually been disarmed - which he says was as early as 1991.
"The reality was that there were many in the U.S. government who simply did not want UNSCOM to succeed," he writes. "In this perverse formulation, a failed UNSCOM would forever justify the continuation of economic sanctions against Iraq."
For their part, Ritter writes, the Iraqis failed to help matters by concealing information about weapons programs, which added to the distrust of U.N. officials, as well as intelligence agencies. He says they unilaterally destroyed SCUD missiles during summer 1991, without being able to provide documentation, and ran a concealment operation that may have been aimed primarily at preventing the inspectors from obtaining secret information on Saddam's security but instead caused UNSCOM to continue believing that weapons material or data was being withheld.
Ritter was one of the most hard-line inspectors in his years with UNSCOM, which ended in 1998. Still, he was one of the few who was outspoken with claims that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction.
He largely provides a gripping outline of his role in the hunt for WMD through an account that often reads like a spy novel. But there are flaws. The book traces a complex conundrum of plots and counter-plots that lends to confusion and - perhaps inevitably - unanswered questions.
For example, at one point Ritter refers to a "'lethal finding,' signed in October 1991, that authorized the CIA to create conditions inside Iraq to facilitate the elimination of Saddam Hussein." Yet he is not clear on his source for knowledge of such a policy or who signed it. Presumably, it was the first President Bush, whose public stance that the Iraqi president must be removed before lifting of sanctions eroded Baghdad's incentive to cooperate with the U.N.
Ritter also recounts the 1995 seizure of a shipment of guided missile components bound from Russia to Iraq, in Amman, Jordan, after a tip from the Israelis. The development was hailed at the time as a major find of Iraq's efforts to violate the U.N. weapons ban. Although Ritter notes the guidance systems turned out later to be for submarine-fired missiles and useless to the Iraqis, he leaves the reader wondering if the entire episode might have been arranged by Israel to discredit Iraq.
Overall, Ritter provides a view through trained eyes of an unprecedented international effort to rid a rogue regime of weapons of mass destruction, and of a determination by hidden forces to prevent that effort from being acclaimed as a success.
"Intelligence, to me, has always been about the facts," Ritter writes. "When intelligence is skewed to fit policy, then the entire system of trust that is fundamental in a free and democratic society is put at risk."
Walter Putnam was an AP correspondent assigned to Baghdad when the U.N. weapons inspections began in 1991.