Warning signs

<strong>The Sirens of Baghdad</strong>

Yasmina Khadra<br /><em>William Heinemann, 320pp, £12.99</e

Mohammed Moulessehoul, a veteran Algerian army officer living in France, has already received plaudits for novels written under his nom de plume of Yasmina Khadra. He is sure to receive more for this intoxicating, utterly thrilling work.

The Sirens of Baghdad follows the journey of a young Bedouin from a forgotten desert village in Iraq who is provoked into terrorism by circumstances that corrupt his peace-loving nature. A turning point comes when the adored village idiot is gunned down by American soldiers.

The mind of the protagonist becomes broken, depressed and seduced, spurred on by ideas of familial and national honour in the "chronic emptiness" that follows occupation. The author’s experience of 30 years as a soldier is evident in the description of modern war and a "decomposing" Baghdad.

Khadra documents the emasculation of Iraq, via conversations that reveal every perceivable Arab viewpoint. The novel cuts close to history and famous news pieces are set in cultural context. It is not an apology for terrorism, but a provocative explanation that will bring the Iraqi experience in terrifying detail to western bedside tables.

This article first appeared in the 02 July 2007 issue of the New Statesman, The Brown revolution begins