THE RECKONING: Iraq and the Legacy of Saddam Hussein

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THE RECKONING: Iraq and the Legacy of Saddam Hussein, Sandra Mackey, W.W. Norton & Co., New York, 2002, 396 pages, $27.95.

One of the more recent books on Iraqi society and politics after 11 September 2001 is Sandra Mackey's The Reckoning: Iraq and the Legacy of Saddam Hussein. Mackey also has written books about Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Lebanon and reported for the New York Times and the Washington Post from the Middle East.

The book explores culture clashes in Iraq that make the creation of a national identity extremely difficult. Defining what it is to be an Iraqi is the focus of the first chapters. Leaders have played the Islamic, Mesopotamian, Arab, tribal, and military cards to gain rule and maintain power. When Britain created modern Iraq after World War I, it drew lines on the map with complete disregard for the geographic concentrations of the various minorities, and when they placed King Faisal I on the throne, they created a Sunni-dominated government to rule a Shi'a majority.

Mackey points out that Saddam Hussein did not create the military state in Iraq. That honor goes to Iraqi General Bakr Sidqi who in 1936 surrounded himself with a cadre of officers who believed Iraq needed an Attaturk or Reza Shah to save it from petty politics and foreign domination. Sidqi was considered a hero in Baghdad for massacring Iraq's Christian Assyrian minority. As acting army chief of staff, he sent four Iraqi single-engine planes to bomb the Parliament, the Council of Ministers, and a post office. He then orchestrated the murder of Defense Minister Jafar al-Askari who was bearing a letter negotiating terms when he died. Thus, the army entered Iraqi politics, and it was not until Hassan al-Bakr and Hussein arrived in 1968 that Ba'athism tamed the armed forces and emasculated the generals.

In 1958, by killing King Faisal II and his family, Colonel Abd-al-Karim Qasim finally rid the nation of the artificial monarchy the British had imposed on them. Qasim tried to mold Iraqis into one people through the symbols of Nebucanezzer and ancient Mesopotamia but forgot the cardinal rule of first providing for the welfare of his people.

The Ba'athist and Communists joined with the Kurds to topple Qasim and usher in General Abd-alSalam Arif. …