Perhaps by fortuitous coincidence, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright synchronized her first public-policy statements on the Middle East with the appearance of Cordesman and Hashim's Iraq: Sanctions and Beyond. The title accurately describes both her statement and the book. Timing thus renders this scholarly and meticulously researched volume of even more significance to serious watchers of a chronically troubled part of the world.
The main thrust of the book is an attempt to lay out policy options concerning Iraq for the U.S. and other Western governments. In tandem with the Albright pronouncements, the point of departure is the assertion that there is little utility to considering accommodation with Saddam Hussein. He is damaged goods without credibility and cannot be trusted. He will continue to wage a guerrilla campaign against the U.N. requirement that Iraq divest itself of weapons of mass destruction and the capability to produce them.
Without making excuses for Saddam or the Baathist background that spawned him, the authors examine the origins of modern Iraq, underscoring the artificial fabric from which it was torn. Iraq's current predicament is traced to the Sunni-Shia-Kurdish conflicts, both historical and on-going. Some reader confusion is generated in this respect by the authors' support of the view that a fragmented Iraq would further destabilize an already unstable region and situation. The narrative provides few grounds for hope that the three major factions (add the Christian minority as a further crosscurrent) will ever be able to get along constructively.
The book details the various abuses of human rights that have kept Saddam in power and affronted international norms. Research in this context appears to have been in-depth, especially considering the virtual blackout on verifiable information emanating from Baghdad. The emphasis is on political assassinations, "accidents" and "disappearances,'' both within and outside Iraq, that have systematically eliminated threats to Saddam's ruthless hold on power.
Perhaps among the most controversial aspects of the U.S. sanctions are their impact upon the health and well-being of the average Iraqi. In the Arab world and elsewhere, there is increasing clamor for relaxation of the embargoes that have, in part, created widespread child mortality and malnutrition. In the last few months, the problem has been partially vitiated by Saddam's accession to U.N. demands and the consequent oil-for-food arrangement now in place. The authors argue, however, that the crisis results as significantly from "decades of mismanagement" and profligate spending and international borrowing to finance the Iran-Iraq and Gulf wars. They assert that the Baath government had effectively crippled Iraq's economy before the post-Desert Storm sanctions kicked in.
Almost a third of the book is devoted to Iraq's military capabilities. It is this heavy coverage that sets the volume apart from other reportage on present-day Iraq. It might also be noted that military capabilities in the Middle East have been central to Dr. Cordesman's significant writings on the region.
In a welter of detail, all of it carrying the caution that it is based largely upon estimates, the authors conclude that Iraq's military capabilities are approximately 40 percent of their pre-DesertStorm highs. Equipment replacements have been drastically curtailed by the sanctions, but since Iraq's defense establishment was always based upon use-up-and-throw-away rather than sound maintenance principles, there remain substantial residues of pre-existing stockpiles. The report concludes that Iraq still outguns and outmans the totality of the GCC military forces and could, absent opposition from the Western coalition, repeat its 1990 walkover of Kuwait and large areas of Saudi Arabia's Eastern Province. On the other hand, logistics, the major Iraqi shortcoming in both the Iran-Iraq War and Desert Storm, would be an even more decisive negative in any renewal of the Iraqi threat.
All in all, Iraq: Sanctions and Beyond is a tightly reasoned analysis of Baghdad's current status and immediate future capabilities. The authors have avoided the trap of trying to divine Saddam Hussein's intentions or attempting to psychoanalyze him by remote control, pitfalls that have snared other recent assessments of Iraq. The book is a useful and welcome addition to the research base available to the serious analyst of Middle East security.