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I will start off by agreeing, reluctantly but whole-heartedly, with the criticism of Rosen's writing made in the review by Z. Cohen. This has got to be one of the most tedious books I have ever slogged through. It's roughly equivalent to reading a 560 page newspaper article. There is little flow between sections - we often jump abruptly to a whole new topic. There doesn't seem to be much order to the presentation - entire paragraphs could be put in an entirely different order and it would make little if any difference. Much of the text is basically a series of long quotes (not blocked, even when the quote comprises an entire paragraph or more), which read the way people talk and, hence, are difficult to follow. In fact, I have to admit that, try as I might, I couldn't force my way through the whole thing. I skipped the entire section on Afghanistan and only skimmed the final chapter.

Nonetheless, I believe the book deserves more than one star. I think Rosen is a consummate reporter. He interviewed hundreds of people for the book - Sunnis, Shiites, clerics, militiamen, militia leaders, government officials, American soldiers and officers, humanitarian workers, and simply ordinary Iraqis (and Syrians, Lebanese, etc.). He's not afraid to go where the story takes him and he put himself at great risk to cover events that few other English-speaking journalists were covering. Because of this work, we Americans have a perspective from the ground which we might otherwise not have if we rely solely on administration reports and embedded reporters.

But on the other hand, a 560 page book needs to have a focus, more of a point and needs to ultimately have an opinion. Rosen could have interviewed hundreds of Americans, from Main Street to Wall Street, regarding the economic melt-down, but without a focus and a point to make, it would just be a lot of random people's opinions wrapped up into one big package. That's essentially what "Aftermath" is, only regarding the Iraqi view of the Iraq war.

Furthermore, if Rosen's point was to increase sympathy for the Iraqis, he failed with me, at least as far as sympathy for Iraqi men. I do have sympathy for innocent women and children caught up in the testosterone-laden mess. But nearly every man that Rosen interviewed seems to be more part of the problem than the solution. Nearly everyone denies that sectarianism was a problem before the Americans came, and they all deny that they personally support sectarianism. But as Rosen gives them more rope to hang themselves, they nearly all eventually espouse anger, hatred and a desire for "revenge" against members of other sects, ethnicities, religions, etc. Some Lebanese Sunni protesters sum it up nicely on page 393: "We don't want sectarianism, but God is with the Sunnis!" Nearly every person Rosen interviews is focused on getting revenge for past injustices, real or perceived, some dating all the way back to the murder of Hussein, rather than focusing on how to move forward and build a new country.

I will give Rosen kudos for exposing how little the American forces and leadership knew about Iraq, its population and its culture at the time of invasion, how long it took them to start caring enough to start learning, and how inadequate their efforts were. Time after time the Americans, intentionally or unintentionally, ignite sectarian firestorms by favoring one group over another or pitting groups against each other. It took American forces far too long to recognize that they had stumbled into the midst of a civil war (which they themselves had helped to launch through the removal of Saddam Hussein and subsequent actions such as radical de-Baathification and the disbanding of the Iraqi army). Even once they realized and, much later, admitted, to the "sectarian strife", they didn't know what to do about it. There were perhaps hundreds of different militias, large and small, organized or not, all claiming to be fighting to "protect" Iraq and/or its people, but each in their own way involved in escalating the violence, murder and chaos.

One opinion that Rosen does express, repeatedly, is that America can't simply wash its hands of Iraq and pretend that it has nothing to do with us, as we have done in Rwanda and Sudan, for instance. I don't disagree with Rosen, but he needs to take this idea further. Having broken it, and therefore bought it, what do we do with it now? I agree that it probably would have been better had we never invaded or occupied Iraq, but that ship has long sailed. Rosen has very mixed feelings about the surge (as do most analysts and experts), but he doesn't explore what specifically he agrees or disagrees with or what he would suggest doing differently.

Reading this book was a lot like reading raw field notes for an anthropological study - valuable in its own right, of course, but difficult to make much sense of without an overarching framework. This work is valuable for posterity and historical reference, but it won't do much to inform the opinion of average citizens or guide policy decisions.
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on January 22, 2011
One reviewer criticized this book because it is full of stories of individuals and moves from person to person...

That is exactly why this book is important. Think back on how we learned about the war in the news. Looking back through old issues of magazines like Time, the early part of the war was portrayed like a football play book with arrows and circles for the "game plan." Eventually, there was talk of ethnic groups, but hardly anything in depth.

I used to have much more naive ideas about the war and enlisted in the army when I was younger. When I deployed in the surge in 2007, we still had a very shallow understanding that 'if we only try harder, we'll beat the insurgents.' While in Iraq, I read an article that Rosen wrote called "The Myth of the Surge" and it was a rare piece that actually understood what was going on on the ground. My own unit had been negotiating with former enemies and Rosen explains why certain groups resisted and why others didn't and why some ended up working together with us.

The want for a simple narrative of good guys vs. bad guys is exactly what caused so many of these problems to begin with! Slapping easy labels on things helped the public to digest the war (and seemed to help justify it in the minds of those who planned it), but as we all learned, it wasn't that simple.

It is because the war in Iraq and its effects on the surrounding region are so complex that a book like this--that goes in depth about the broad array of different responses--is of such importance. If we truly want to learn why the war played out the way it did, we need to discard the simplistic understanding of it that made it such a mess. If you are prepared for the complex details and nuances of all the different factions and how various groups reacted to various decisions and events, than this book is certainly worth your time!
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on December 10, 2010
I do not feel myself qualified to write an exacting review of Aftermath, but I simply had to post a small piece in counter-distinction to the only other available customer review, which I found vapid and deliberately misleading.

Aftermath is absolutely essential reading for anyone curious about the history and current affairs of geopolitical activity in the Middle East. Rosen writes in a style which I found perfectly suited to both the material and its urgency. There is simply no better single source of information on this topic.
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on August 24, 2011
I have high regard for Nir Rosen, and I make a point of watching all his youtube interviews, in which he appears bright, balanced, well informed and consistent. I also consider he is a brave young man -- who else would walk into those war zones as an un-embedded journalist, as he does?

And after reading the glowing reviews from Chomsky et al, I considered 'Aftermath' to be a must-have purchase.

However, I have to say, the book is just not that well written -- the prose is leaden, clumsy, confused and unclear, and Rosen meanders all over the place, often telling us irrelevant details that just muddy and befuddle his style and narrative flow -- do we really need to know that one of his interview subjects learned English from listening to hip hop songs, or that another had put on weight since Rosen last saw him, or had recently shaved his moustache? Rosen's attempts to give form to his characters emerges as wooden and simple. It becomes difficult to sustain motivation to wade through such a chaotic writing style, which is often dry and lacking in character (a surprising point, since his online interviews are so involving).

Rosen paints an unremittingly bleak view of the possibilities ahead for Iraq. It seems that every single man he interviews is full of violent hatred and thirst for vengeance. I understand the levels of relentless chaos and hate and violence that must exist in places like Iraq, but ultimately, Rosen's work de-humanises Arabs -- the Arabs in Rosen's pages are so drenched in blood, so disturbed, that they become impossible to recognise as fellow human beings. I must say, I expected the book to be extremely violent and unsettling (Iraq is not a playground) but I was very surprised by Rosen's de-humanised and unsympathetic depictions of Arabs throughout the whole text.

Compare, for a moment, with Robert Fisk's work, which also focuses on the Middle East and Islam : Fisk is very honest about the levels of extreme and horrific violence that Shia/Sunni people visit on each other -- but at the same time, he constantly reminds us of Arab humanity, and the fact that Arabs are no different from the rest of us in their hopes and dreams and aspirations. Fisk also reminds us of the demagoguery, cunning and levels of violence caused by gentile, Jew, and American, which is often far more extreme, albeit carried out by mass bombing attacks, or machine gun, or by paying other factions do it, rather than by bloody knife, beating or kidnapping. Rosen does not provide such balance of approach in his work, and each Arab emerges as a completely deranged psychopath -- and stupid too.

Rosen only seems to select for interview every incredibly violent, ignorant, tribally driven, blood thirsty, vengeful, hateful, apoplectic, seemingly psychotic, murderous individual he finds in the darkened corners of Iraq.

It gets tiring and draining after the 200th page of such relentless, bleak, vicious, hate.

It is clear that Rosen is a talented, intelligent young writer and a courageous one too. Much of his work seems to be of a similar standard to that of Fisk and Pilger. It is also clear that he has collected a wealth of information here that is valuable as a historical document as well as being valuable for students of political science, current affairs and history.

But -- why didn't the publishers pay a good editor to sculpt and hone the massive amount of often jumbled and cobbled together information here, to offer the reader a punchy, concise volume? As it stands, the reader is faced with a difficult, badly organised, confusing, often infuriating volume to wade into.

Chomsky recommended Rosen's work in the sleeve notes - but, I wonder if Chomsky actually read it.
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on February 20, 2012
Truth is alway elusive, as what we "know" is always filtered--either by what others tell us or by what our senses perceive, sometimes misleadingly (as with the significant inaccuracy of so-called eye-witness identifications). Truth in war is even more ephemeral, because most of what we learn about what is going on in dangerous places is from those driving their own agendas. As former general and now CIA director David Petraeus once candidly admitted, "What policy makers believe to have taken place in any particular case is what matters ... more than what actually occurred."

Nir Rosen's superb Aftermath tries to cut through the fog by letting us hear from those fighting and dying, those hoping and despairing, those whose lives our policy makers have inexorably changed. They tell him (and through him, us) varied stories -- sort of like stones in a mosaic. We thus get to see more of the whole than we do through ordinary reportage. That, in my view, is the great strength of this book and Rosen's reporting.

As everyone knows by now, another great reporter, Anthony Shadid, has died trying to give us a sense of the madnesses that have killed, maimed, and displaced untold millions. Thus, Rosen (and a few others like him) are even more valuable -- because without them, we have to rely on those whose words serve mainly their own interests.
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on June 10, 2014
I have just started reading Aftermath, and it demands a close read. Later I may expand this review, accordingly. I volunteered in 2003 to help the Coalition Provisional Authority with the ambitious Infrastructure Reconstruction Program. What I encountered was heading toward disaster and after three months witnessing chaos I asked to return home. When I tried to intervene I was instructed by Larry DiRita to mind my own business. He was tied to Rumsfeld, but I wasn't. Still, I shared the hope that Iraq was headed in the right direction, however indirectly. I now retract that view. If nothing else, Rosen explains how we failed to appreciate--or even try to understand--how terribly complex Iraq was, and still us. If his book is flawed because it reads like a reporter's notebook, the relevance of his revelations has more meaning now, and even greater meaning as time passes. Aftermath may not make the best seller lists, but 100 years from now it will be essential reading. I may disagree with some of Rosen's conclusions, but I'm in awe of his ability to explain and perceive.

Today I finished reading the book. There is nothing like it to help those interested understand Iraq's woes. Only an insider like Rosen could provide the details that make me believe our involvement, whatever the intent, masked the realities of ground truth. There's not much to be proud of. But there is hope for a better future.
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on December 18, 2012
It is a miracle that Rosen survived. Every big event, he gets out there and talks with survivors and the Sheiks at the mosques.

American incompetence and bloodiness come across in this work. It is "Collateral Murder" in print and about any number of neighborhoods.

This is how you have to do to describe insurgent warfare. But survival not in the cards if you try to do it. One other miracle: he is accepted as a friend by Shiite and Sunni belligerents.

Maybe the best book, ever, out of the Arab world.
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on December 13, 2010
I had no problem with the author's writing style. In fact, I very much enjoyed it. This book gave me a much clearer idea of what the people of Iraq have had to endure as a result of this pointless war.
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on September 27, 2012
it's a good book about the agression wars of USA against moslims.About the chaos,destruction and dead that USA brings in the moslim world.USA don't know the history,religion,culture of moslims therefore they only create chaos and failed states.With this agressions in Irak,afghanistan,yemen,libie and the murder of a 1 million moslims,USA only create more hate and revange.
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on January 15, 2011
In 50 years, I fully expect this book will be used to teach the history of this conflict. It is a masterwork that portrays the conflict from all sides, including that of the innocent bystanders in many countries besides just Iraq. I'm deliberately avoiding talking directly about the specific conflicts in this review, but suffice to say it's very uncomfortable reading. (Not due to writing style as one of the other reviewers stated, but due to the sheer brutality of what went on and the sense of being unable to stop what you can see coming as you read.)

This is not an easy book to read, but for anyone who want to begin to understand the current politics (especially in light of the Tunisian revolt!), this is a must read. Before you even finish it, you'll start to understand the context events are viewed in by the people in these areas, which is critical to understanding what matters and which way events are going to swing. With the recent return of Al-Sadr to Iraq, Hizbollah pulling out of the Lebanese government, the Algerian and Egyptian riots, the now fall of the Tunisian government, it is *extremely* important to know both what is going on and why it is happening.
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