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Since the end of the United States-led war to liberate Iraq, journalists and authors have descended into Iraqi Kurdistan to try their luck at telling the Kurds' story, taking advantage of the fact that, after decades of war and isolation, the area is once again easily accessible.

Tucker, a war correspondent and former U.S. marine, traveled throughout Iraqi Kurdistan in July 2003, and Hell is Over is a collection of his interviews. The collection divides into three parts. One focuses on stories and recollections of the peshmerga, literally "those who face death," a term used both for Kurdish guerilla fighters and their militias. The second highlights torture by interviewing former political prisoners and family members of those raped, tortured, and killed, as well as the reaction of U.S. servicemen who witnessed the excavation of mass graves. The final part takes up the story of artists, politicians, and women's rights activists.

Hell is Over adds color to the Kurds' history. It does not, however, give context. Aside from a short scene-setter describing little more than the period following the 2003 ouster of Saddam Hussein, there is no history. While Tucker dedicates his book to the memory of Kurdish nationalist hero Mulla Mustafa Barzani (1903-79), he does not explain who Barzani was or why many Kurds hold him in such esteem. For that matter, Tucker does not explain who Patriotic Union of Kurdistan leader Jalal Talabani is, a glaring omission given that Talabani controls half the Kurdish zone and is now president of Iraq.

Tucker surrenders balance and accuracy to his own romanticism. He thanks Kurdistan Democratic Party leaders in his acknowledgments and appears to have had no contact with independents or with officials in areas controlled by Talabani. Accordingly, he uncritically accepts canards about Talabani, such as his having sided with Saddam Hussein against Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) leader Masoud Barzani. While Talabani may have sought Iranian assistance in the 1994-97 Kurdish civil war, it was Barzani who invited the Republican Guard into the northern Iraqi city of Erbil, where they rounded up and executed Iraqi opposition figures. Tucker does describe Saddam's mass graves, but he makes no mention of the 2,000 Kurds who disappeared during the 1994-97 Iraqi Kurdish civil war. While Tucker describes Masoud Barzani's son Masrour "as one of the young lions of the Kurdish leadership," he neglects to mention Masrour's role as the head of KDP intelligence and as the enforcer for Barzani's business interests.

Tucker concludes Hell is Over with a plea for U.S. policymakers to listen to the Kurds more closely. Unfortunately, his collection is more a testament to the skewed narrative that can result from listening without a critical ear to Kurdish officials. A far better option for historical and political context is Christiane Bird's A Thousand Sighs, A Thousand Revolts: Journeys in Kurdistan.[1]

[1] New York: Ballantine Books, 2004.