Quarterly Essay 14: Mission Impossible

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In Mission Impossible: The Sheikhs, the U.S. and the Future of Iraq, Paul McGeough offers a dramatic account of why Iraq remains in chaos despite desperate American efforts to create a model democracy in the Middle East. According to McGeough, Iraq to this day remains a tribal society. It cannot be governed without the cooperation of the true powers in the land, the tribal and religious sheikhs. Those who have ruled Iraq in the past, including Saddam Hussein and the British before him, understood this fact. The Americans, by contrast, seem to have missed the point.

In Mission Impossible, Paul McGeough enters the world of key Iraqi tribal and religious leaders. There are vivid portraits of the sheikhs' role in the fall and capture of Saddam, as well as their part in the growing insurgency. There are glimpses, too, of a history that once involved Lawrence of Arabia and Gertrude Bell, and which pre-dates Islam, stretching back thousands of years. Combining reportage and analysis in brilliant fashion, this groundbreaking essay is well timed to coincide with the next major phase in Iraq's troubled history.


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