| There is some great information in "Out of the Ashes," the Cockburn brothers' account of post-Gulf War Iraq -- especially in what comes out of the mouths of Iraqi defectors, key Iraqi government officials, U.N. weapons inspectors and Saddam's blood relatives. We learn, for instance, from General Watiq al-Samarrai (head of Iraqi military intelligence before he defected) that Saddam dyes his mustache and suffers from back pain, although generally he's in good health. And the chapter devoted to the attempted 1996 assassination of Uday Hussein, Saddam's equally ruthless son -- "the lion's eldest cub" -- is full of quirky detail. (Uday, hit by eight bullets while driving through Baghdad en route to a cousin's party, had just come from "feeding his pet police dogs.")
But the Cockburns' bias against virtually all U.S. actions in the Iraq conflict becomes troubling after a while. Sure, the United States withdrew from the Gulf War too soon, as it turned out; and no, the allied forces should not have let intact Republican Guard divisions head back to Baghdad, only to reemerge days later to kill rebellious Kurds and Shiites by the thousands. But the authors seem to believe that with the end of the Gulf War, the coalition lost its one big chance. And they think that now, since nothing else has worked to remove the "resourceful" dictator, and with American policy vacillating so, it's high time for the U.N. Security Council to remove sanctions and let Saddam start pumping oil again -- cease-fire agreement be damned, and any control over Saddam's use of this tremendous revenue be damned, too.
But to the argument that the Iraqi middle class is suffering under sanctions, there's a convincing counter-argument that the sanctions are necessary to weaken the regime so that Saddam can be overthrown, preferably soon and ideally from within. Remember, too, that Saddam rejected the U.N. oil-for-food plan for nearly five years while at the same time vast amounts of marble were being purchased for his new palaces.
The reporting here can be good, but it's selective. Consider, for example, this remark on "Operation Desert Fox," the December 1998 U.S. air strikes on Iraq: "The attack [was not] effective in humbling Saddam or eliminating his alleged arsenal of weapons of mass destruction. Ninety-seven targets overall were attacked, of which only nine were reported by the Pentagon as fully destroyed." "Alleged" arsenal? Have the authors studied UNSCOM's overwhelming evidence to the contrary? And why the omission of the reported success against Saddam's long-range missile systems? And why don't the Cockburns explain that the Pentagon calls a target "destroyed" only if it's been completely leveled? Not even the Federal Building in Oklahoma City would have been classified as "destroyed" by the Pentagon.
Given who Saddam is and the different rules he plays under, it's not enough just to criticize the U.S. and its allies -- especially when the Cockburns never present any other serious strategy for dealing with the dictator and his "resurrection." Maybe that's because, brothers or not, they can't completely agree on one.