Ritter's 'Endgame': Decoding Hussein

April 04, 1999|By Mark Matthews | By Mark Matthews,Sun Staff

"Endgame: Solving the Iraq Problem Once and For All," by Scott Ritter. Simon & Schuster. 240 pages. $22.

Eight years after it began, an ambitious United Nations scheme to eliminate Saddam Hussein's most dangerous weapons lies in shambles, its inspectors barred by Baghdad and its political support eroded by disclosure of a too-cozy relationship with U.S. intelligence and military planners.

Scott Ritter's "Endgame" offers the first insider's account of this failure. It's a sobering story of how a clever, brutal Iraqi regime rebounded from defeat in war to outwit and outflank a U.N. agency, even one supported by a superpower. But readers need to be cautious: Ritter himself played a controversial role in these events and has scores to settle.

While Iraq in 1991 agreed to disclose and destroy all of its programs to create nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and longer-range missiles, Saddam Hussein's most trusted advisers got to work hiding all they could.

Key to the concealment effort were two pillars of the clan-based security apparatus that keeps Hussein in power: the Special Security Organization and the Special Republican Guard. Understanding these two groups and how they fit into the Iraqi power structure became Ritter's passion while he worked as chief inspector for the U.N. Special Commission, or UNSCOM, set up to disarm Iraq.

The job seemed made for ex-Marine Ritter's can-do drive and fascination with spycraft. He has a detailed grasp of Hussein's background and the people and institutions behind his weapons arsenal, and the often bloody infighting and jockeying for power within the ruling tribe.

The scope of Iraq's deceit didn't become apparent until the defection of Hussein Kamal, Hussein's once-trusted son-in-law, who exposed a much more extensive biological weapons program than UNSCOM had suspected.

Ritter's pursuit of Iraq's concealment methods brought him into the international spotlight and took UNSCOM down a treacherous path: Any crack in Iraqi secrecy meant a crack in the protective shell around Hussein.

Iraq's loud complaints got a sympathetic hearing from countries anxious to end the confrontation with Baghdad -- particularly Russia and France. Compounding Ritter's and UNSCOM's problem was a built-in conflict of interest: Their greatest source of support and intelligence was the United States. And the Clinton administration had a well-known goal of ending Hussein's regime. Iraq was also correct in claiming that Israeli intelligence was helping UNSCOM.

These contradictions revealed themselves messily over the course of last year, as Iraqi obstruction of Ritter and his fellow inspectors brought threatened and actual U.S. military action.

Ritter writes in a tone of betrayal of how U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan and the Clinton administration, particularly Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, undercut UNSCOM's work in seeking to avoid conflict with Iraq.

The only top administration official Ritter trusts is Bill Richardson, the former U.N. ambassador. Ritter describes in detail how Richardson out-maneuvered Albright to have Ritter stay in charge of an inspection during a tense moment.

This anecdote, however, is recounted second-hand. And therein lies a major flaw in "Endgame." We're often not told how Ritter knows what he knows. At times he reaches beyond his expertise, as when he prescribes his own endgame. Astonishingly, given his muscular attitude toward Hussein, Ritter favors making a deal with Iraq.

But if readers are asked to accept too much of this book on faith, they should be alarmed by its bleak message about the future of international arms control. UNSCOM should not have been allowed to fail.

Mark Matthews has been the diplomatic correspondent for The Sun since 1990, covering foreign affairs from The Sun's Washington bureau. Matthews joined The Sun as a copy editor in 1980 after working as a reporter and editor for the Wilmington, Del., News-Journal and the Bridgewater, N.J., Courier-News. In 1982 he became The Sun's news editor. Later, Matthews covered the 1988 presidential race and a beat that combined crime, criminal justice and intelligence agencies.

Pub Date: 04/04/99

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