on 30 May 1999
The Cockburns bring an ideal combination of experiences to this book: knowledge of US politics and of the Middle East. For someone accustomed to the dry detail of UN reports on Iraq their book was like colour television: the tribal brutality of the Iraqi regime (sending guns ahead to beseiged opponents, to make it a fair fight), the clownlike incompetence of US intelligence (playing eyeball games with Iranian intelligence in Iraqi Kurdistan as they weren't allowed to talk) explode across their screen in technicolour against a constant backdrop of suffering by ordinary Iraqis (half the children in this once oil rich state now malnourished). The one colour not in the Cockburn's palate is rosy: the US officials make it clear that the sanctions aren't about UN Security Council Resolutions; it's personal. They have reached this clarity after refusing to aid the Iraqi uprising that nearly toppled Saddam in 1991; US planes loiter overhead while Iraqi helicopter gunships mow down resistance. The British had told Bush then that toppling Saddam would have meant having to hold elections in a region where their allies were monarchs. Saddam's son, Uday, tensely cuts things up all evening with an electric knife, getting drunker and drunker while looking for an opportunity to jump the hedge to the neighbour's party and cut his father's pimp. The Pope calls the sanctions, which have prevented repairs to Iraq's sewage, electrical and water supply systems, examples of biological warfare.