BOOKS: A Voice of Truth above the Bombs of Baghdad

Article excerpt

Nobody Told Us We Were Defeated

By Rory McCarthy

CHATTO & WINDUS pounds 11.99 (324pp) pounds 10.99 (free p&p) from 0870 079 8897

There have been, to date, about 400 books written about Iraq since the invasion. Few have been successful. None has been definitive because, of course, the fall of Baghdad and the iconic images of Saddam's statue being toppled marked not the end but the beginning of this pitiless war.

Quite a few books have been by journalists describing their experiences, with varying degrees of success. What makes Rory McCarthy's one of a rare breed is that it catches the voices of the ordinary people of Iraq, the people George W Bush and Tony Blair "liberated" and who have since seen their society disintegrate in the spiralling violence of the Sunni insurgency and a vicious sectarian war. I have worked alongside McCarthy in Baghdad, when the descent into endemic abductions, bombings and beheadings began in earnest. Along with this pervading madness McCarthy also had to cope with a homicidal former driver, Badr, who had built up a grudge and was determined to shoot him. But he remained one of the more sane members of the dwindling media corps.

McCarthy studiously avoided the purple prose so favoured by some of our colleagues. And this made his writing for The Guardian some of the best to emerge from Iraq - alongside that of my colleague at The Independent, Patrick Cockburn. McCarthy takes a similarly low- key approach here. The book reveals a deeply interested, concerned but also slightly bewildered traveller through a state in anarchy.

He listens not just to the politicians and the military, the insurgents and the death squads, but to the people living and dying in the middle. …