Saddam Hussein: "modernist in a suit"

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Tue Dec 10 07:30:12 MST 2002

New Statesman Bookshop

Saddam Hussein: an American obsession
Andrew Cockburn and Patrick Cockburn Verso, 320pp, £9 pbk
ISBN 1859844227

Saddam: the secret life
Con Coughlin Macmillan, 350pp, £20

Targeting Iraq: sanctions and bombing in US policy
Geoff Simons Saqi Books, 242pp, £14.99

War Plan Iraq: ten reasons against war on Iraq
Milan Rai Verso, 240pp, £10 pbk

The West and the Rest: globalisation and the terrorist threat
Roger Scruton Continuum, 187pp, £12.99

Reviewed by Richard Gott
Discount price: £7.20

When I visited Baghdad six months ago, there was little to be found
about Iraq on the shelves of bookshops back home in London. Now, like
the proverbial buses, they all come at once. Most are new, some are
updates of books first published years ago. They make for grim reading -
depressing in subject matter and dreary to digest. Most are by
journalists, the immediacy of stories written in haste not obviously
improved by putting them between hard covers. I recall an earlier
objection to the wars in the Balkans: so much homework to understand
these foreign expeditions, so much working through tedious material, so
much diversion of attention from more pressing or more interesting
tasks. How much easier to be an eternal enthusiast for war, and accept
everything one is told by the powers that be.


In the 1950s, it was customary for Conservative politicians to compare
Nasser with Hitler, and Coughlin follows in the same tedious tradition.
Indeed, the Nazis are mentioned so often in his text that he must have
the American and Israeli market as much in his sights as the Telegraph
reader. Berlin and Baghdad did have a special relationship throughout
the 20th century, but it long predated the Nazi era. The Kaiser's
archaeologists ransacked the ruins of Babylon before 1914, and its
artefacts are displayed to this day to greater advantage in Berlin than
in Iraq. If Germany had won the First World War, Iraq might have ended
up under German rather than British trusteeship. In 1941, when the
nationalist leader Rashid Ali turned against the British empire, he
hoped for German support (it never materialised). Even Gerhard
Schroder's opposition to the forthcoming British-American war in Iraq
owes something to this rooted historical tradition. Yet none of this
makes it worth comparing Saddam, or his henchmen, or his forerunners,
with the Nazis. It is both pointless and misleading; they play an
entirely different game. When the hostile and imbecile rhetoric is
stripped away, Saddam should pose no real mystery. He is a wholly
comprehensible figure, both a typical tribal chief from Mesopotamia and
a political leader accustomed to operating in the modern, urban world.
Born in 1937, he is from the Tigris town of Tikrit, a hundred miles
north of Baghdad. He is still surrounded by Tikritis, a people whose
"ancient reputation for savagery and brutality" was noted long ago by
the British occupiers of Iraq. But Saddam makes no attempt - like
Libya's Gaddafi - to pretend to be a sheikh in a tent. He is a modernist
in a suit. Tribal punishments, once administered through beatings, now
involve pistols and machine-guns.



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