The recent war in the Persian Gulf has at least had the merit of dissipating one or two myths, even if it has also helped to generate new mirages.
One of the most pernicious of these myths was the belief, shared by France's former defense minister, Jean-Pierre Chevenement, and other members of the Franco-Iraqi Friendship Association of which he was the vice-president, that Saddam Hussein's Iraq was a truly "progressive" country. Not only because Saddam Hussein and his valiant countrymen were protecting other Arab countries from being overrun by the fanatical Islamic hordes of Ayatollah Khomeini's Iran, but because—as anyone who visited Baghdad could see with his or her own eyes—in Iraq women were no longer veiled.
This particular myth was splendidly punctured last February in a devastating article written for Le Figaro by one of its correspondents, Patrick de Saint-Exupéry. After ten days in Iraq, during which he kept his eyes as well as his ears fully open, he was flabbergasted by the astonishing backwardness of the country beyond the suburbs of Baghdad. Notwithstanding their sun-blessed (or sun-cursed) land's enormous natural advantage in being irrigated by two important rivers, the Tigris and the Euphrates, the Iraqis, he discovered, were "a poor people, so poor that nearby Jordan, bereft of all resources, appears rich and opulent in comparison."