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Incertain Irak.

After the epidemic of instant history books which set out to analyse the Gulf war, this book is a rare pleasure to read. It is a vintage document which, despite its title, has nothing to do with the present Gulfomania.

Written by Jacques Dauphin, who was the French Press Agency (AFP) correspondent in Baghdad between 1950 and 1958, it is published, almost 40 years after the events took place, with the permission of his daughters. The author died several months ago. And this posthumous work throws new light on the little known and decisive years of Iraq's history between World War II and 1953, when the young and ill-fated King Faisal II began his reign.

The author's daughters, who were responsible for editing the book would have been well advised to undertake some rewriting of the first few pages which in their present form appear somewhat naive and outdated. Presented in a different way this statistical data on the length of paved and mud roads and the numbers of cars and motor cyles in Iraq in the early 1950s could have been more exciting. Yet these early pages should in no way detract from the book's overall achievements.

Jacques Dauphin excels in political analysis and his account of the difficult beginnings of the monarchy in Iraq under King Faisal is fascinating, especially his claims that the Hashemite king was consistently more benevolent towards the Iraqi "minorities" (the Shia, the Assyrians and the Yezidis) than his prime ministers Nuri Said or Rachid Ali Gailani.

The author details the history of the annialation of the Syrian ~nation' in 1933, and of the still less known Shia uprising of 1935. It is revealing to read how in those years, the Assyrians were considered a more serious and dangerous threat to political stability in Iraq than the Kurds, whom Dauphin almost ignores.

Turning to the "time of the generals", the author describes the fledgling Iraqi political parties and the six military coups which shook the country between 1936 and 1941, concluding with Rachid Ali Gailani's ill-fated adventure.

One of the most interesting features of Dauphin's work is the chapter devoted to the history of Iraq's oil industry and the negotiations -- witnessed by the author -- between the government and the all powerful Iraq Petroleum Company (IPC) in the early 1950s -- at the time Dr Mossadegh was nationalising the oil industry in neighbouring Iran.

Jacques Dauphin's first-hand report explains why Nuri Said was to become the most hated man in his country, and why the frustrated people of Iraq felt there was only one method of changing a regime controlled by corrupt politicians, that of violent revolution.
COPYRIGHT 1993 IC Publications Ltd.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:The Middle East
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Oct 1, 1993
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