Apart from all the blood it has spilt, the war in Iraq has also produced a bountiful literary harvest on both sides of the Atlantic. Some of these books have been very good. They range from the immediacy of Jon Lee Anderson’s The Fall of Baghdad to the surrealist nightmare of Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s Imperial Life in the Emerald City, which chronicles the pitiful story of Iraq under Paul Bremer’s Coalition Provisional Authority of 2003–4. (Incidentally, Bremer’s dull and self-serving My Year in Iraq is not to be recommended.) Naomi Klein’s burst of righteous anger in The Shock Doctrine provides an excoriating close-up of the administration’s vested business interests in the war.
Wendell Steavenson’s book takes a step back from all the post-war mayhem and offers a compelling, deeply disturbing and meticulously constructed portrait of Saddam’s regime from the inside.
Her story centres on General Kamel Sachet, hero of the Iran–Iraq war, head of Saddam’s Special Forces, a brave and charismatic leader favoured