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Restoring public services in Iraq, such as electricity, has proven to be much more of a struggle than the U.S.-led coalition had expected. Much criticism has been directed at how poorly organized and prepared the U.S. government was for meeting Iraqi basic needs after the invasion. Alnasrawi's account suggests a different explanation for the problems, namely, that Iraq's economy was creaking under the weight of many burdens created by Saddam Hussein.

Alnasrawi shows that Saddam was as bad at economics as he was at human rights: he sacrificed the Iraqi people's interests to serve his own narrow purposes. Alnasrawi notes that during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war, Iraq received $98 billion in oil revenue but spent $178 billion on its military. Then came the disastrous invasion of Kuwait and conflict with the U.N.; at its low point in 1996, Iraq's income per person was 92 percent less than it had been in 1980.

Alnasrawi's account is not particularly well written or insightful, but it is by far the best book available about Iraq's economy during the Saddam era. He has done first-rate work assembling the scant information available about that very secretive society. Iraq's Burdens should be the first place any policy-maker or journalist looks for the facts about Iraq's economy; Alnasrawi makes good use of all the important studies done over the years, many of which have now slipped into obscurity. His account of the U.N.-imposed sanctions is a sober evaluation of its impact on the Iraqi people, with an explanation of the twists and turns in what became a complicated and peculiar sanctions systems.