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Book Review by Deirdre Sinnott

Target Iran: The Truth About the White House’s Plans for Regime Change, by Scott Ritter, Nation Books, pp. 228.

November 20, 2006


From the front page of the New York Times to the halls of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) speculation about the purpose of Iran’s nuclear research is everywhere. When CNN Headline News’s conservative pundit Glenn Beck devotes several programs to the “problem” of Iran and the U.S. Senate passes legislation calling Iran’s nuclear program a “threat” and claiming that Iran rejects a “peaceful resolution” to the crisis, (as defined by the Bush administration), you know you’d better start studying the subject.


Former United Nations (UN) weapons inspector Scott Ritter has written a book that proposes to educate the general public on the intricacies of the controversy. Target Iran: The Truth About the White House’s Plans for Regime Change is a detailed recounting of the history of both the Iranian nuclear energy program and its interaction with the IAEA, the UN’s agency in charge of monitoring and inspecting both civilian and military nuclear programs for countries party to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty or NPT. The IAEA was set up in 1957 to promote peaceful use of nuclear energy. Ritter’s theory, that the U.S. goal of overthrowing the Iranian leadership has exacerbated hostilities in the Middle East and has the potential, if carried through to a military confrontation, of creating a global conflict and economic collapse, is compelling.


Ritter’s true contribution is to explain aspects of the uranium enrichment process and document the interactions between the IAEA and Iran. Most news stories only report Iranian denials of U.S. accusations and Target Iran shows us the documented science behind both sides of the argument.


It has been U.S. policy to attempt to control the oil resources of the Middle East for most of the last century and it has repeatedly intervened in Iranian affairs, both overtly and covertly. The CIA engineered a coup that overthrow of the democratically elected Prime Minister Dr. Mohammed Mossadegh in 1953 and reinstalled the brutal Shah of Iran Reza Pahlavi to the throne after a brief self-exile in Italy. Continuing efforts by the U.S. to overthrow the present Iranian government, one that came to power during the revolution in 1979 and ousted the Shah, have resulted in repeated crises over the last two and a half decades.    


Scott Ritter, a former Marine, was one of the UN Special Commission (UNSCOM) inspectors in Iraq from 1991-1998 and a chief inspector for almost half of the inspection missions he participated in. During that time Ritter’s behavior caused a crisis that lead, several months later, to “Operation Desert Fox” an intense bombing campaign carried out by the Clinton Administration in December 1998 after Iraq refused to readmit UNSCOM inspectors. Eventually Ritter confirmed Iraq’s accusations of both provocative actions by inspectors designed to spark a confrontation and the inspectors’ role in covert intelligence gathering for the U.S. and Israel. The continuation of economic sanctions on Iraq hinged on reports by UNSCOM to the UN Security Council about the elimination of weapons of mass destruction (WMD).


In 1996 the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) reported that the economic sanctions, put in place after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in August 1990, were directly responsible for the deaths of 1.5 million Iraqis. UNSCOM’s role, to eliminate WMDs, ballistic missiles, and ongoing monitoring within Iraq, evolved into an institution that legitimized the ongoing and deadly sanctions by continuously questioning Iraqi claims of having eliminated all WMDs. (See my article “Who is UNSCOM.”)


Ritter began to criticize the U.S. and UNSCOM after quitting in 1998. He has written several books on the subject of Iraq and spoken against the latest war.


Target Iran begins with a press conference by the National Council of Resistance in Iran (NCRI), an opposition group attached to the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK) an armed group operating both inside and outside Iran. The NCRI announced that Iran was building two new nuclear sites to produce fuel for a covert weapons program. The information that the NCRI reported was fed to them by Israel intelligence. This press conference in August 2002 began the present phase of U.S./Iran conflict that is being played out on television and in newspapers today.


Iran signed the NPT in 1968 and it was ratified in 1970. Inspections and cooperation between the IAEA and Iran have gone on since 1973. Iran has not signed the Additional Protocol (1997) that expanded the verification abilities of the IAEA to determine if a country was attempting to produce nuclear weapons — which is illegal under the NPT. Much of the disagreement between the IAEA and Iran is that verification expansion covered under the Additional Protocol, the adoption of which is strictly voluntary according to the treaty. However both Israel and the U.S. disagree with the basis of the NPT, that Iran has the right to develop indigenous production of nuclear fuel for civilian power reactors. Iran believes that exposing all of its military bases to inspections could seriously degrade its ability to defend itself. Given the example of UNSCOM and the subsequent inspections in the months before the war against Iraq, and the regional war between Iraq and Iran in the 1980’s, they would prefer to keep their military capacity secret.


At issue is the ability to enrich uranium. Naturally occurring uranium only contains 0.72% of U-235. The enrichment process increases the percentage of U-235 in a sample. Once mastered the upgrade of enriched uranium (3-4% U-235) into highly enriched uranium (90% U-235) sufficient for production of nuclear weapons isn’t that difficult.


Ritter recounts the ups and downs in the last four years of U.S. bluster and insinuations regarding Iran’s attempt to master the uranium enrichment process as well as the European interventions and Russian negotiations to prevent a full-scale U.S. attack on Iran. Because Iran’s side of the discussion is not normally reported in the U.S. it makes for fascinating reading. Time after time U.S. actions inhibit any resolution and instead steadily ratchet up the tensions in an attempted to destabilize the Iranian government.


Many may feel that because of the recent Democratic Party victory in the U.S. Congress that war with Iran is off the table, but that may not be so. The history of provocations, manufactured incidents, and outright lies that have precipitated U.S. wars from the 1898 explosion of the USS Maine right on through to the present war in Iraq is legend. But for people who want the truth about a war before it’s fought Target Iran provides important illumination.

Copyright © Deirdre Sinnott, 11/20/06.

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