he Mongol invasion of 1258 was the only cataclysm in the last one thousand years of Iraq?s history comparable to the disasters that have followed the invasion of 2003. Few writers can say this with authority; Patrick Cockburn is one of them. Middle East correspondent for the Independent in London, Cockburn began visiting Iraq in 1977 and is the author of The Occupation: War and Resistance in Iraq and Out of the Ashes: The Resurrection of Saddam Hussein, as well as a memoir, A Broken Boy. His latest book, Muqtada: Muqtada al-Sadr, the Shia Revival, and the Struggle for Iraq, is timely, invaluable, and, like all Cockburn?s work, beautifully and economically written. The rise of Muqtada — “the most important and surprising figure to emerge in Iraq since the U.S. invasion” is examined here alongside the political, religious, and sociological forces that have shaped the region. Unlike many correspondents, Cockburn refuses to see Iraq as simply a war zone. Instead he conveys the reality of daily life, drawing on his own varied personal experience (the book opens with him almost being killed at a Mehdi Army checkpoint) and on interviews with, among others, Shia and Sunni militia fighters and clerics, Iraqi politicians, historians, and ordinary citizens. Elusive Muqtada emerges as a “highly intelligent but moody and suspicious” leader whose “power lies in swift retreats” and who is “persistently underestimated” by the U.S. In this elliptical portrait drawn in relatively few pages, Cockburn reveals more about Iraq past and present, and about the war and the current positions of Iran and the U.S., than do the many other bloated recent volumes that address the same subjects.