Why “The Occupation” isn’t just another Iraq book

By John Freeman

Until the November election last, it seemed like there was a new book about Iraq published every month, from Thomas E. Rick's “Fiasco” to the Iraq Study Group report. Fittingly, with so much informationa available, the best new books looked at the war through smaller prisms. Rajiv Chandrasekaran's “Imperial Life in the Emerald City” depcited the Green Zone as a metaphor for — and literal reason why — the way decision-making in Iraq happened within a bubble. T. Christian Miller's “Blood Money” examined how the Iraq War was a test-run for an idea that the US could outsource war, leaving the military wide-open to profiteering.

But while this war has been written about ad nauseum, reading “The Occupation” makes you feel as if one huge, obvious angle has been overlooked: the reality of life on the ground in Iraq before the invasion. Cockburn has been visiting Iraq since 1978, and he has witnessed, up close, the steady impoverishment of the nation from years of war-making (with the Kurds, Iran, Kuwait, and the US), mismanagement, sanctions, and out-of-control inflation. He knew that unemployment at the start of the war was running 70 percent; that doctors were being paid $5 to $10 a month. That Saddam Hussein didn't even control his own country, with parts of the south possessing so many heavy arms Hussein had to institute a buyback plan to keep them from using them against his own troops.

As Cockburn describes it, the US made an idiotic assumption when it assumed this desperation would unify Iraq's different sects. Instead, as they had before against the British, Iraq's various groups and sects unified against the US as an invading force before turning against each other. “The Occupation” tells the grim, powerful, illuminating story of how this happened. It is bravely reported, and a true addition to the knowledge about this war. Would that this “necessary book,” as the Guardian called the book, wasn't so necessary.