SADDAM: King of Terror

Con Coughlin, Author . HarperCollins/Ecco $26.95 (350p) ISBN 978-0-06-050541-7

"Writing a biography of Saddam Hussein is like trying to assemble the prosecution case against a notorious criminal gangster. Most of the key witnesses have either been murdered, or are too afraid to talk," notes Coughlin. Despite these formidable obstacles, the London Daily Telegraph correspondent has assembled a timely, detailed portrait of the Iraqi dictator—though not one that fully supports the subtitle's implied link to al-Qaeda. Relying on both primary and secondary sources, as well as interviews with Iraqis living in exile, Coughlin examines how Saddam latched onto a pan-Arab ideology and developed a ruthlessness that allowed him to rise to the top of the Iraqi leadership in 1980. As Saddam became embroiled in the lengthy Iraq-Iran war of the 1980s, and then the 1991 Gulf War, Coughlin shows how the leader used violence to keep himself in power. While emphasizing the brutality of Saddam's regime, Coughlin also explains that the Iraqi strongman developed widespread support through a combination of social programs and cult of personality, and that support so far has survived the poverty and chaos of the past decade. Coughlin provides new details of Saddam's cruel behavior and of internal purges, as well as of the U.S. role, or lack thereof, in attempted coups—though he takes no position on a possible U.S.-led war against Iraq. Still, as a new military action looms, readers looking for a biography of Iraq's strongman will need to look no further. (Nov. 4)

Forecast: Coughlin is booked on the Today show in early November, which will undoubtedly be only the beginning of a major media campaign.

Reviewed on: 10/28/2002
Release date: 11/01/2002
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