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Out of the Ashes: The Resurrection of Saddam Hussein Paperback – February 16, 2000
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When the United States and its allies launched Operation Desert Storm against Iraq in 1991 in retaliation for that nation's invasion of Kuwait, the plans to bomb "command and control" centers had a clear, albeit largely unspoken, objective: "We don't do assassinations," National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft has acknowledged, "but yes, we targeted all the places where Saddam might have been." The only problem: he wasn't there and, nearly a decade after the Gulf War, he continues to remain in power.
Patrick and Andrew Cockburn present a two-pronged story in Out of the Ashes. They fill readers in on the background of Saddam Hussein's rise to power; an instrumental figure in the Baath Party's 1968 seizure of power, he became president of Iraq in 1979, initiating his reign with a bloody purge of dissenters. The two journalists also chart the disastrous effects of the economic sanctions to which Iraq has been subject since 1991. The sanctions were intended to provoke Iraqi military leadership into overthrowing Saddam, but public remarks by then-president George Bush inadvertently inspired revolt among the general Iraqi population. The military was thus too busy putting down nationwide rebellion to organize a coup; a CIA-sponsored effort five years later was an abject failure. And the sanctions, the Cockburns note, appear to have succeeded only in creating holocaust conditions and anti-Western sentiment among the Iraqis.
Patrick Cockburn brings the experience of 20 years spent covering the Middle East, and his brother Andrew is well known for his reportage on the American government's policymaking. The result is a wealth of information about Iraqi politics--and the consistent miscomprehension of those politics by U.S. strategic planners--delivered in a tightly written narrative. --Ron Hogan --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
Indispensable to anyone who wants to understand the Iraq crisis, the Cockburns' riveting report on Saddam Hussein's murderous regime and U.S.-backed attempts to overthrow it in the wake of the Gulf War is packed with revelations. The book is especially timely, given the recent U.S. announcement that it is going to step up covert operations aimed at ousting Saddam. Illuminating previous attempts to topple Saddam, the authors give readers thorough accounts of various failures, including the half-hearted American support of Kurdish and Shiite opposition groups immediately after the war and a botched 1996 CIA operation that the Cockburns liken to the Bay of Pigs fiasco. The Cockburns maintain that the U.S.-led sanctions policy is a big mistake, making the Iraqi people pay the priceAmalnutrition, soaring child mortality, deepening povertyAfor an evil dictator whom the masses despise. The U.S., they conclude, can do little to oust Saddam, while the best course is to wait for Iraqis to take matters into their own handsAas the authors believe they inevitably will. The Cockburns are seasoned reporters (Andrew, author of One Point Safe with Leslie Cockburn, coproduced a 1991 PBS documentary on Iraq; Patrick, author of Getting Russia Wrong, is Middle East correspondent for the London Independent). In the process of explaining how Saddam clings to power, the authors also shed light on the history of the tyrant and his ruling clique, internal Iraqi politics and the evolution and transformation of American policy.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top Customer Reviews
I would summarize my point as saying the author seems to be knowledgeable about Iraq and the US government but a very poor story teller.
The authors cover all of the relevant topics, including: The sanctions regime and the dreadful effects the regime has had on most Iraqis. The British creation of Iraq and its Monarch. The rise of Iraq's Baath party and Saddam Hussein. The mindlessness of Iraqi nationalism as represented by the Baath party. The nature and extent of Iraq's police state. Gulf war I and the many American betrayals of the Iraqi people. Hussein's pursuit and use of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons. Palace politics in Baghdad and Washington. The vicious fools at Langley, with their telling preference for dictators and military men.
It all makes for a dreary read, although the authors cannot be faulted for this since they keep the story moving along with clear prose and adequate organization. It's the story they tell. At the very least a million Iraqis have died because of the Baath party and Saddam Hussein. Many more will die because of Gulf War II. There was nothing inevitable about the catastrophe just as Gulf War II will be the product of the ill-formed men and women willing it into being.
The Cockburns end their book on a hopeful note by asserting that only the Iraqi people could affect the downfall of Saddam Hussein and Iraq's Baath party. But they published their book in 1999 and could not know that fate would again deal the Iraqis another disastrous hand with the election of George W. Bush to the presidency. Harboring the sinister men of The Project for the New American Century and using the horror veiling 9.11 as political cover, the Bush administration now seeks to transform the remnants of America's Cold War system of alliances, treaties and institutional commitments into a self-conscious and self-perpetuating imperium founded on the control of oil and an overwhelming military power. The coming war is merely a part of that grandiose effort. Given the sorry record of those now leading the country, it is also prudent to expect the American effort in Iraq to undermine any revolt of the Iraqis themselves just as Desert Storm ended with the United States enabling the Republican Guard to crush the rebellion that arose in the wake its victory. Neither democracy nor Iraqi sovereignty will be a war aim of the United States, notwithstanding Bush claims to the contrary.
But, then again, these are matters to be decided by the Iraqis themselves. The next war will only delay the just settling of accounts.
The book is partly a political biography of Saddam Hussein. After murdering his way to power, Saddam perceived a vulnerability in its neighbor Iran in the early 1980s. "It was a disastrous miscalculation. The Iranian population is three times as large as Iraq's. The Iranian revolution was popular. At first, Iraqi tanks advanced easily, but within a year Iranian light infantry was causing serious casualties" (p. 80).
Saddam's next great blunder was the invasion of a sovereign country that would lead Iraq into direct confrontation with the West: "The invasion of Kuwait had been his idea alone. At first it seemed a brilliant success..." (p. 6). But as the authors explain, the Kuwait invasion precipitated a crushing defeat for Saddam by the U.S.-led coalition during the first Gulf War and a decade of debilitating economic sanctions against Iraq that followed.
Ultimately, Saddam's biggest miscalculation would be his refusal to disclose a full accounting in 2002-03 of his weapons programs to avoid the Iraq war. That is the subject of many other more recent books, but the common thread of Saddam's obtuseness becomes clearer after reading this book first.
Out of the Ashes also sheds light on the misery of the sanctions period. The Iraqi middle class put their jewelry in hoc to keep meager food rations on the table, a new class of rich smugglers rose to prominence in Iraqi society, and Iraqis paid the price for Saddam's obstinacy. Interestingly, the Cockburns point out that the food shortages actually strengthened Saddam's hand as the government controlled the steady, albeit minimal, food rationing that was available.
Frankly, the authors make a persuasive case against the effectiveness of economic sanctions. Supporters of tough measures against Iran (myself included) should take note of the failures of Iraqi economic isolation.
Another compelling aspect of the book is its vivid portrayal of the villainy of Uday Hussein, the president's son. One night, the authors tell, Uday crashed the dinner party of another side of Saddam's own family. Intent on murdering a person rival in plain view of the partygoers, "Uday lashed out and hit him twice in the head with an electric knife and, as he staggered back, hacked at his throat." Out of the Ashes reveals the blood-lust and tyrannical instincts of Uday more clearly than any other source.
Overall, this book is a compelling read and a very effective political overview on Iraq during the 1980s and 90s. Recommended.