A lucid account of Iraq war

This book will stand the test of time, writes Paul Rogers

The Occupation: War And Resistance In Iraq
by Patrick Cockburn Verso, £15.99

THE recent comments by General Dannatt brought into the open concerns about Iraq expressed repeatedly by senior military figures and civil servants alike. They were almost never willing to go public, given Tony Blair's absolute conviction of his rightness. Most would accept just about all the analysis in Patrick Cockburn's new book, and would hope that Blair might have the wisdom to read and learn from it.

The Occupation: War and Resistance in Iraq is a personal record arising out of Cockburn's frequent visits as a journalist to Iraq, before and during the war, but it takes in many other experiences, not least at meetings of exiled Iraqi politicians in London. One of the really good features of the book is the manner in which it goes back to Iraq during the Saddam era. The effects of the disastrous war with Iran, and of sanctions of the 1990s, serve as powerful reminders of the weakness of the regime at the onset of the invasion.

Cockburn is particularly good at focusing on the sheer hubris that surrounded the early weeks of the occupation, especially as Paul Bremer took over the Coalition Provisional Authority. Iraq was run with virtually no reference to Iraqis, many of whom were thrown on the scrapheap, whatever their competences.

While this may be put down to sheer arrogance, and a belief that Iraq could be moulded into a free-market client state, Cockburn has an additional explanation. For him, the apparent ease of the victory—Kuwait to Baghdad in three weeks flat—meant that Bremer and his associates believed that the way was now clear for them to do whatever they wanted, with little reference to anyone else.

Moreover, they had little understanding of their own bureaucratic incompetence. They apparently believed that their demands would automatically be put into effect, with the Green Zone rapidly becoming an isolated piece of Washington quite out of touch with Baghdad, let alone the rest of Iraq.

The result is a deep-seated insurgency compounded by sectarian violence that is simply out of control, as the last few weeks have shown. There will be many books about "what went wrong", but Cockburn's account will stand the test of time. His sheer experience comes through and this, combined with a remarkably readable style, gives us a deeply informed account of the initial war and its bitter aftermath.