“A Thousand Little Saddams”

Reviewing recent Iraqi literature in light of the ISIS uprising, Max Rodenbeck turns to Zaid al-Ali’s The Struggle for Iraq’s Future, which he calls a “well-researched study of how Iraq has gotten into its current, worsening, and possibly terminal mess”:

The departure of Maliki, whose overstay of his welcome made him a sponge for dissent, could offer a window for reconciliation. Mainstream Sunni and Kurdish leaders, as well as some Shiites, had long demanded his exit. Yet the litany of failure that Ali describes is simply too long and wide-reaching to leave much room for optimism. Ali’s own concluding suggestions for how to right things seem sadly perfunctory. He also betrays, in occasional oversweeping judgments and in a peculiar lack of sympathy with the Kurdish yearning for independence (which seems only more justified by the ugly facts he himself reveals), an impractical wistfulness for an imaginary, whole, and complete Iraq.

What came to mind as I closed the book was the damning remark of a distinguished Iraqi exile I met in Kuwait shortly before the 2003 invasion. His father had served as prime minister under the monarchy whose overthrow in the bloody coup of 1958 had led to Iraq’s long era of turbulence. Still, he took a dim view of the looming ouster of Saddam Hussein, and held no dreams of return. “Of course the Americans will get rid of Saddam,” he said. “But what will we have then? A thousand little Saddams.”

And we have set ourselves the impossible task of trying to kill them all. And then what?