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United Nations restrictions on Iraq are the longest lasting and most comprehensive multilateral economic sanctions ever imposed. There is little agreement among analysts, or among member-states of the UN, however, about their purposes, what they have accomplished, and at what price. The impact of sanctions on ordinary Iraqis has been a particularly controversial areas, prompting much criticism of the West, some of it shrill.

Unsympathetic to the sanctions or to U.S. policy, Graham-Brown does provide the best account to date thanks to its solid base in the facts and its wide-ranging consideration of how sanctions affect Iraqi society. She confirms that scenarios of death and famine have been greatly exaggerated; rather, the real issue is chronic economic decline, felt most immediately in the water, sanitation, and medical infrastructures. She provides a wealth of detail about how the Baghdad regime has coped, from cushioning favored social groups to ferociously attacking the wave of criminality that accompanied the new poverty.

Unlike many critics of sanctions, Graham-Brown devotes much attention to the dismal human rights situation under Saddam Husayn, including the vicious repression of minority groups. She also discusses at length the situation in Iraqi Kurdistan outside of Saddam's control, which has been better than in the rest of the country. Finally, she is honest about the problems facing charitable non-governmental organizations, given the Iraqi government's priority the distribution of aid. But she provides little analysis about the accomplishments of the sanctions, such as their contribution to keeping the Iraqi military weak.