Building on Sand?

Books on "the new Iraq " are already flying off the printer, but are they any good?

Issue: Fall 2003

In the months to come, hundreds of books on the "new Iraq" by experts and non-experts alike will be rushed to press. A notable addition to this growing list is one by Joseph Braude entitled, of course, The New Iraq. Braude is ambitious, attempting to tell the story of the old Iraq while also making a series of recommendations about how to proceed in the new, post-Saddam Iraq. This is certainly a tall order, and Braude mostly rises to the challenge: providing many good insights and some sound ideas.

The book's main deficiency, however, is its largely anecdotal and insufficiently systematic approach. This downside stems, in part, from the fact that the author did not consult crucial secondary source material easily available in every large public library. This lack of a systematic approach leads to a number of mistakes and misperceptions that could have been avoided easily. As a result, his policy recommendations, while well meaning and mostly sensible, are all too general and occasionally erroneous. Most troubling, Braude does not address major aspects of the damage done by Saddam's socio-political policies and their likely continuing influence over Iraq's future. These policies include the modern-day return to tribal ways and the old-new autonomy that it implies, as well as Saddam's problematic attempts at forging a strong Iraqi national identity.

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