Saddam the Phoenix | The Nation


Saddam the Phoenix

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There is, of course, an equally murky story to be told of the duplicities of the CIA and National Security Agency in penetrating UNSCOM for unilateral purposes and going far beyond UNSCOM's writ. But that is outside the scope of the Cockburns' book. Among other things, they have chronicled the machinations of Saddam Hussein's family, especially the elder son, Uday Hussein, a violent brat who escaped assassination in late 1996. They have pieced this part of the story together well.

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Dilip Hiro
Dilip Hiro is the author of Sharing the Promised Land: A Tale of Israelis and Palestinians (Interlink), Between Marx...

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Overall, though, the text has been left dotted with inconsistencies and factual errors. On page 268, Rolf Ekéus left UNSCOM in July 1997; two pages later he did so at the end of 1997. (Actually, June 30, 1997, was his departure date.) Since 1959, the KDP has stood for Kurdistan Democratic Party, not Kurdish Democratic Party. More serious, President-elect Clinton went beyond a passing remark that normal relations with Saddam were possible. In a long interview with the New York Times in January 1993, he said that "as a Baptist" he believed in "conversions" (i.e., Saddam is redeemable); and of other countries that "my job is not to pick their rulers for them" (a flush of anti-imperialism, certainly!).

Since the authors have provided compelling evidence to show that the UN embargo has doomed Iraqis to unending economic misery resulting in a whole generation of children growing up with subnormal intelligence, they could have ended with a ringing condemnation of the sanctions. Instead they write, "The biggest mistake of all [by America] was to make the Iraqi people pay the price of besieging Saddam. One day, the bill will come due." Nor does their finger-wagging at Saddam's family--"Sooner or later there will be a reckoning"--say much.

But this is reflective of the general tone and texture of the book, which is rich in information and atmosphere but poor in insight and analysis.Writing in the strict "report" mode, the Cockburns have shied away from offering comment, reflection or even interpretation. By not writing a preface or introduction--which allows the author to outline the framework within which certain themes and subthemes will be fleshed out in the main text--they have failed to provide an overview to the reader at the outset of this complex story, a drawback. So vital is Iraq to regional peace and stability--and oil prices--that the subject of its immediate past and future deserves a book by an author who successfully marries hard information with insight and analysis.

Meanwhile, some of the details provided by the Cockburns, especially about the Al Nahdah, the home-based clandestine group that crippled Uday Hussein in an unsuccessful attempt to kill him, will be useful to future writers on the subject, especially if they decide to go beyond synthesizing information into the realm of interpretation and even informed speculation about post-Saddam Iraq. The future of the country will be decided by how Saddam goes. If he dies naturally it will lead most probably to the implementation of a political will drawn up by him, likely prescribing collective leadership. If he is assassinated or overthrown in a military coup, it will almost certainly lead to civil war and the breakup of Iraq as we have known it since 1925.

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