A pleasantly informative memoir of an Iraqi family from the twilight of the Ottoman Empire before World War I to Baghdad today.
Historian Chalabi is the daughter of Ahmed Chalabi, America’s candidate to replace Saddam Hussein in 2003. Her controversial father occupies a modest position in a history that opens in 1913 Baghdad with her great-grandfather, Abdul Hussein Chalabi (1879–1939), a powerful local figure. Caught in World War I, his area suffered badly; afterward the British assembled present-day Iraq from former Ottoman provinces. Abdul became a government minister while his son, Abdul Hadi (1898–1988), expanded family holdings before maturing into a leading nationalist after World War II. Hadi’s increasingly Western-educated children were rising to prominence when, during the vicious 1958 military coup, mobs and soldiers murdered the royal family and leading officials. Their property confiscated, most Chalabis fled. As Iraq endured repeated brutal coups ending with the 1979 accession of Saddam Hussein, the family reassembled in Britain, Lebanon and the United States, joining the growing exile community. The author skims over events since 1990, but readers may blink to read that America’s 2003 invasion surprised Iraqi opposition groups, and their offers of help were firmly declined. Besides delivering affectionate biographies of dozens of 20th-century antecedents, giving the women equal time, Chalabi provides an extensive, wide-ranging account of Iraqi history and culture through the eyes of a prominent family emphasizing the nation’s often grisly politics and the persistent, catastrophic rift between Shia and Sunni Muslims.
Propelled by a rich narrative, this is one of many books that would have proven helpful to American leaders before they decided to invade Iraq.