Tuesday, September 04, 2007

The Reckoning: Iraq and the Legacy of Saddam Hussein

(softcover, apologies to Amazon for stealing their picture)

Finished reading a book earlier today that of the few books that I’ve read on Iraq has been the most informative and most in line with the experience I have had here. Sandra Mackey’s book was written before the 2003 invasion, but highlights what she anticipated would be the problems anyone removing Saddam Hussein would face in the aftermath. Prescient is the one word I would use to describe her book which is primarily a historical look, but uses that history to point us towards the future that we are now living. It wasn’t necessarily easy reading, but to date the most worthwhile read I’ve had since engaging in topical reading on Iraq and our involvement here.

A couple of quotes from the book:

First (p. 135-136):

“In Iraq, there are ideas and aspirations that are totally antagonistic. There are innovating youngsters, including government officials; the zealots; the Sunna; the Shia; the Kurds; the non-Muslim minorities; the bribes; the shaykhs, [and] the vast ignorant majority ready to adopt any harmful notion… Kurdish, Shia, and Sunni tribes who only want to shake off every form of [central] government. There is still—and I say this with a heart full of sorrow—no Iraqi people, but an unimaginable mass of human beings devoid of any patriotic ideas, imbued with religious traditions and absurdities, connected by no common tie, giving ear to evil, prone to anarchy, and perpetually ready to rise against any government whatsoever. Out of these masses we want to fashion a people which we would train, educate, and refine… The circumstances being what they are, the immenseness of the efforts needed for this [cannot be imagined].”

OK. Quiz time! Who said this and when?

King Faisal, the British-assigned monarch who took the reign when the country was created by negotiations involving some European nations and the U.S. This was in a confidential memo early in his reign of the country around 1930, quoted from Amatzia Baram, Culture, History and Ideology in the Formation of Ba’thist Iraq 1968-1989 (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1991), p. 129. Here we are 80 or so years later….

Another quote, this time a foreign intelligence report (p.151):

“There are few countries which at the best of times present more security problems than Iraq. It has tribal and minority problems. The maintenance of security with so many political causes would tax the ingenuity of a sophisticated country, how much more so of Iraq.”

Quiz question 2! What country’s intelligence report and when?

British report in 1945, quoted from Jonathan C. Randal, After Such Knowledge, What Forgiveness? (Boulder, Colo.:Westview Press, 1999), p. 122.

The question the book poses, but that I doubt any decision-makers read, as the decisions had been made before she published it, is essentially, “do you know what you’re getting into?” I don’t think we did. But here we are.

(hardcover, again from Amazon.com's webpages)

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