Meeting Saddam’s Men

Looking for Iraq’s Weapons of Mass Destruction

 

Ashton Robertson

Sydney, Big Sky Publishing, 2019

Paperback   288pp   RRP $34.99

 

Reviewer: Ian George, January 2020

 

 

Many might ask – What is Australia doing in the Middle East and why is Australian treasure and blood being expended there? This new book by a highly-credentialed former Defence Intelligence Organisation (DIO) analyst who was an Australian member of the Iraq Survey Group (ISG) adds considerably to answering this complex question.

The ISG was a combined United States, British and Australian activity with the mission to find Saddam Hussein’s Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) or to account for their non-existence following the 2003 Iraq war. The rationale behind the WMD program in Iraq provides the theme of the book and is referenced throughout the text. The work of the ISG evolved to include assessing the reality of whether the broken reed of the alleged Iraqi WMD was in reality the true driver of the 2003 war.

 The book contains a relevant and perceptive account of the operation of this multi-national US dominated group during his six-month deployment to Baghdad in 2004, and in doing so, adds contemporary academic weight to understanding the Australia – Middle East relationship.

Robinson gives us an easily read background of the cultural and religious obligations of the regional political leaders together with personal ambitions and raw brutality of the leading players. Relationships between neighbours and the collective regional hostility toward Israel and the US is the canvas upon which the narrative is built. 

Adding to authenticity and interest are accounts of the ISG access to a number of senior Iraqi personalities well known for their involvement in Saddam’s government – many of whom were subsequently sentenced to death or long prison terms. It may surprise some that these “High Value Detainees” were generally assessed as totally regionally focussed with little or no anti-Western bias and almost universally terrified of Saddam - undoubtedly with good reason. 

The insightful and up to date analysis of the international status of the Gulf States is an informed contribution to Western understanding of the regional tensions on display then and now.  A view is expressed by the author that the shallow use of intelligence by inexperienced administrators and politicians must be guarded against to prevent costly and perhaps ill-advised conflict. Of particular interest to Australian readers is the thorough examination of the Australian Wheat Board involvement in the corrupted Oil for Food Program and the international odium this subsequently attracted.

The book contains comprehensive end notes, a complete list of abbreviations (an essential in this age of the extensive use of acronyms), descriptions of the many Iraqi personalities in the text, a glossary of chemical warfare agents, a bibliography and a complete index. The dozen colour photographs (seemingly from the authors camera) help the reader to appreciate the physical difficulties the ISG had in conducting their investigations and reporting. 

This journey into the intelligence world will no doubt satisfy the inquisitive reader aspiring to grasp the complexities of politics in the Middle East.

 

The RUSI - Vic Library is most grateful to the publisher for providing a copy for review.

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