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Inventing Iraq: The Failure of Nation-Building and a History Denied Hardcover – November 5, 2003

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Editorial Reviews


Dodge analyzes what he describes as the failure of the British nation-building in the 1920s.... [I]t is not out of place to point out one important implication of his account for the Anglo-American invasion and occupation. It is that there are longstanding limits to the use of high-tech weaponry and air power in effectively ruling a conquered population, even in the task of counterinsurgency.

(Juan Cole The Nation)

The best of the policy provocative studies is Toby Dodge's book,Inventing Iraq... Dodge argues that the creation of the state of Iraq under a mandate system represented a break with traditional territorial imperialism and signaled the beginning of the end of British international dominance.

(Judith S. Yaphe Middle East Journal)

Dodge examines contemporary and historical experiences from macro to micro perspectives.... The parallels between current conditions in Iraq and those that shaped the interwar years provide valuable insight to a country whose troubles have origins in the flawed policies of an earlier era.... Recommended.


Toby Dodge correctly depicts Iraq as a failed state arising from failed British policies and administrations early in the twentieth century...The audience for such commentary is wide.

(Roger Adelson American Historical Review)

For Dodge, the Americans running things in Baghdad have learned little from the British experience in Iraq. This book ought to be required reading for them.

(Mike Schuster NPR, "All Things Considered")

As postwar Iraq struggles forward, Toby Dodge's book has many lessons. Inventing Iraq is primarily a cold-eye analysis of Britain's failures as an occupying power after the first world war.... Dodge's book is a powerful warning to look at countries in their own cultural and historical context.

(Jonathan Steele The Guardian (UK))

Toby Dodge of Britain's Warwick University--and author ofInventing Iraq, a superb recent book on the mandate--points out the ways in which coalition authorities today are making the same mistakes as the British did 80 years ago.

(Michael Elliott Time Magazine)

[Dodge] offers compelling analogies and pointed commentary on how the United States might still be able to avoid repetition of some of the U.K.'s more serious mistakes.... Dodge recognizes that much of what is happening in Iraq today is the result of past events, and thus less amenable to after-the-fact corrective action.

(Edward L. Peck Middle East Policy)

Toby Dodge's Inventing Iray is an excellent title for the authoritative work...

(Roy M. Melbourne American Diplomacy)

Dodge builds a convincing case that, should the Americans continue with prescriptions that bear little relation to where Iraq is now, they risk...denying the Iraqi people "the chance at getting the better life they so richly deserve."

(Martin Bunton International Journal)

Inventing Iraq is a timely book with important implications for today's foreign policy and international development communities.

(Derick W. Brinkerhoff Public Administration 1900-01-00)

It is a good book, and it is timely.

(International Journal of Middle East Studies 1900-01-00)


Most interesting and original, from the point of view of theoretical vigour and empirical richness. Dodge argues against 'transhistorical' or essentialist views of late colonialism and also shows, very convincingly, the multifaceted nature of colonial practice and the often widely divergent views of colonial officials...well exceptionally interesting piece of work.

(Peter Sluglett, University of Utah)|

A very good piece of work in every respect: extensive research, familiarity and mastery of the secondary literature, well organised and lucid, conceptually sophisticated, with theoretical themes woven into the fabric of the substantive analysis.

(Sami Zubeida, Birkbeck College, University of London)|

This fine, lucid book is absolutely essential reading for anyone desiring to understand how profoundly history shapes the current disastrous situation in Iraq, and it shows how terrible is the price for ignoring it.

(Rashid Khalidi, Edward Said Professor of Arab Studies, Middle East Institute, Columbia University)|

This book is essential for an understanding of Iraqi history and the challenges that we are facing there today.

(Senator Joseph Biden (D-DE))

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Columbia University Press; First Edition edition (November 5, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0231131666
  • ISBN-13: 978-0231131667
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 6.8 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #533,094 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By tarihci202 on December 11, 2006
Format: Paperback
This very useful volume's goal is an analysis of British policies at the end of World War I towards their new mandate of Iraq. Dodge offers a careful analysis of a British policy constrained by limited resources, limited political will, little on-the-ground knowledge, and a considerable load of baggage based either on other imperial experiences or a heady mix of Orientalist preconceptions and romanticism. The result, according to Dodge, was a series of mis-steps which weakened the nascent Iraqi state and set the stage for Iraqi history thereafter.

Although this work is primarily concerned with the period directly after World War I, Dodge offers some useful - if tentative comparisons between the British experience and that of the United States today.

Overall, this is a useful book for serious students of Iraq or Middle Eastern history. It may be too specialized for casual readers.
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43 of 57 people found the following review helpful By William Podmore on February 19, 2004
Format: Hardcover
This scholarly and fascinating book studies a previous occupation of Iraq, by the British Empire's rulers, and it shows how and why this occupation failed.
British forces seized Iraq at the end of World War One and until 1932 successive British governments tried to rule it. To support this forcible occupation, Britain's ruling class used a network of self-serving deceptions. It believed, and wanted everybody else to believe, that the majority of Iraqis wanted British rule; that Iraqis would freely choose a pro-British government rather than a pro-Iraqi government; that it could divide Iraq into `good' countryside and `bad' city, `good' Kurds and `bad' Sunnis and Shia; that its desire to rule Iraq was selfless, nothing to do with the Empire's demands for Iraq's oil and for airbases; that the continuing violence and unrest were legacies from the Ottoman Empire, not responses to being occupied; and that withdrawal would lead to anarchy.
The forms of the Empire's control shifted from annexation, to League of Nations mandate, to a treaty of alliance, to an advisory role, and finally to disengagement. But the British people were not fooled by the propaganda or by the shifting constitutional arrangements. Dodge writes of `the long-running public hostility of British public opinion towards maintaining an interest in Iraq'. This anti-imperialism helped Labour to win the 1929 general election, but Labour in government failed to do what the nation wanted - withdraw immediately from Iraq.

Now Blair seems to want to repeat the dismal, costly and futile cycle. He follows Bush in rejecting the Iraqi people's demand for rule by Iraqis who win democratic elections. He denies the power and validity of nationalism, a nation's legitimate, democratic desire for sovereignty and self-determination.
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16 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Bo K. on August 29, 2004
Format: Hardcover
This short book presents the (failed)attempt at nation-building in Iraq under the British Mandate system of post WWI. In 170 pages of actual text, the author shows how Orientalist discourse colored the declining British Empire's perception of Iraq and the middle east, relying on templates that were formulated in the Indian colony and then applied wholesale and on the cheap (sounds familiar) to the Iraqi area. The book doesn't go very far in discussing the roles of the sunnis, shi'ites and kurds; it focuses more on the ideology of the colonizers and then briefly applies these sentiments towards the US current babylonian adventure.

This isn't the final word on European colonialism in Iraq, but it's an excellent start. I recommend reading David Fromkin's "peace to end all peace" first of all to get the total overview of the great power conflict at the heart of the reconstruction of the middle east and its continuing repercussions today.

Edward Said, now we need you more than ever ...
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Steven A. Peterson TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on February 11, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Dodge's book is about the British Mandate over the newly created Iraqi state. But the lessons are obvious for the American invasion and subsequent nation-building effort in Iraq. The result reminds one of the statement by Marx, attributing to Hegel the statement that history repeats itself, first as tragedy then as farce. This book should be read in conjunction with several others, the totality of these sending a strong message that not even a superpower can fully anticipate and control events--especially when such a country never really did decent post-war planning (and that which was done by the State Department was ignored).

Consider Dodge's book along with: Risen, State of War; Bacevich, The New American Militarism; Packer, The Assassin's Gate; Diamond, Squandered Victory; and, dare I suggest it, Albert Somit's and my, The Failure of Democratic Nation-Building: Ideology Meets Evolution.

It will be interesting to see how the history books treat the American war and occupation of Iraq. I fear that those histories will be most unkind; one can only hope that the United States can learn something from this. And the Dodge book can help inform that discussion. Would that the author had done more reflection on the relevance of the British adventure in Iraq to the current American nation building effort in Iraq.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Lee L. on March 9, 2007
Format: Paperback
Many would be quick to lament the fact that no one from the Bush administration read Toby Dodge's book Inventing Iraq. While it is abundantly clear that many mistakes have been made, Dodge himself states on page 158 that "for U.S. forces currently involved in attempting to reform Iraq's political structures, the libaries are full of books that provide no guidance. This is an important point because it underscores the fact that the situation facing the U.S. today is markedly different than one facing the British. Iraq was just coming into existance as a political entity and there was no sense of a collective "Iraqi" identity or nationalism when the British were involved. Also, Iraq's political development from 1932 onward would alter the society in many important ways.

You might be able to accuse Dodge of writing a book that told his readers more about his own beliefs than Iraq's early development because of his timing. This book was published in 2003 (right around the time of the U.S. invasion), and it has many noticeable comparisons between the British and American experiences. For example, he notes that the British thought they would receive a warm welcome by Iraqis just in the same way that the "flowers and candy" lines were tossed around by the Bush administration. These types of examples don't fill the book, but there are enough of them to make Dodge appear as if he's making a statement about the 2003 war.

Rather than going into an unorganized account of the British mandate period, Dodge offers an array of chapters that focus on particular details such as land reform, and the rural/urban divide. This type of organization will be a source of frustration for some because by focusing on these types of details, Dodge sometimes loses track of the bigger picture.
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