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Invisible Nation: How the Kurds' Quest for Statehood Is Shaping Iraq and the Middle East Hardcover – April 1, 2008

22 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0802716118 ISBN-10: 0802716113 Edition: First Edition

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Numbering 25 million, the Kurds remain the largest ethnic group in the world without its own nation. This is not for want of trying, as British reporter Lawrence writes in this lucid, eye-opening account of the long, brutal struggle that continues despite opposition from Mideastern nations and the U.S. After centuries of oppression under the Turks, the Kurds had a chance at statehood when the Ottoman Empire collapsed in 1918. The Middle East was remapped, with the Kurds divided among Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria. Decades of bloody rebellion were ignored until Saddam Hussein's defeat in the First Gulf War. The Kurds rose again, anticipating U.S. assistance. Only media horror at Hussein's genocidal suppression of their revolt galvanized Western nations into action. When the no-fly zone was established in northern Iraq, Baghdad lost its capacity for governing the Kurds. Still fearful of Hussein, the Kurds cooperated eagerly as the U.S. planned a second Iraq invasion, but the Kurds' vision of statehood remains unfulfilled. Readers will close this engrossing but disturbing history with respect for a people that has struggled for millennia and whose difficulties continue to generate headlines. 30 b&w photos. (Apr.)
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"A fine journalistic account of the personalities that animate the northern third of the country. They are all canny operators. Lawrence tells the story of Gen. Jay Garner's meeting with Jalal Talabani in 1991, when the latter (now president of the Republic of Iraq) was a guerilla scampering through the mountains to avoid Saddam. Shocked by Talabani's awareness of the war in areas well beyond his redoubt, Garner asked him his intelligence sources. Talabani showed Garner a room of electronics, as fancy as the general's own, and said he talked with John Major twice a day. This is the enigma of the Kurdish leadership in miniature: they are hardier than mountain goats and slicker than lobbyists. Lawrence's book captures both registers, as well as many in between."— Graeme Wood , The Atlantic

"Extensively researched and footnoted, yet readable and often engaging, "Invisible Nation" guides the reader through the "luckless history" of the Kurds."—Matthew B. Stannard, San Francisco Chronicle

“Stimulating history of the single Iraqi ethnic group that doesn’t want American troops to leave Iraq...A disturbing account that prompts new admiration for a people whose age-old toil for a homeland will continue after the United States withdraws from the region.”Kirkus

“Lucid, eye-opening account…Readers will close this engrossing but disturbing history with respect for a people that has struggled for millennia and whose difficulties continue to generate headlines.”—Publishers Weekly

“In lively and jargon-free language, with insights gained through experience, he explains the constellation of forces among the 25 million Kurds, the Kurds' relations to the other groups in contemporary Iraq, and their quest for independence. This is a timely and informative book that should be read by all interested in gaining a better understanding of today's Kurdish political developments.”—Library Journal

“Interviewing people from all walks of life, from hitchhikers to Kurds now leading the Iraqi government, such as President Jalal Talabani, Lawrence touches on their concerns, very long and bitter memories, and hopes for the future.”—Booklist

“Quil Lawrence has written an engaging, revelatory book about America's accidental success in Iraq—the development of a stable, secure and reasonably democratic Kurdish region in the country's north. Drawing on his intimate, on-the-ground knowledge of Kurdistan, Lawrence exposes us to the little-known history of the Kurdish people, their epic struggle for survival and self-governance, and their crucial role in the new Iraq. A fascinating and compelling tale, it's a valuable addition to the bookself for anyone who cares about what's happening in Iraq.”—Rajiv Chandrasekaran, author of Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq's Green Zone

“The quest for Kurdish statehood is, in part, a story of unintended consequences, a sweeping narrative that Quil Lawrence masterfully charts with insight, authority and, perhaps most important, compassion. His book is a story not only of Kurdistan, but of Iraq, of the Middle East and of the future. To understand any of those, this book is essential. Invisible Nation stands as one of the most important works to emerge from a war that, five years in, remains as unpredictable as when it first started, a point that Lawrence makes abundantly clear.”—Anthony Shadid, Pulitzer Prize winner and author of Night Draws Near: Iraq’s People in the Shadow of America’s War

“In this dramatic narrative, Quil Lawrence has untwined one of the most tangled histories of the Middle East and made it comprehensible. Invisible Nation is a riveting account of Iraq's Kurds and their essential role in the reshaping of modern Iraq.  For anyone wishing to understand how the Kurds' quest for nationhood plays into the ongoing U.S. war in Iraq, this book is a must-read.”—Jon Lee Anderson, author of Che Guevara: A Revolutionary Life and The Fall of Baghdad


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Walker & Company; First Edition edition (April 1, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802716113
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802716118
  • Product Dimensions: 6.8 x 1.3 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #430,777 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By J. Rawlings on December 21, 2008
Format: Hardcover
This book does two specific things:
1. Provides modern history of the Kurds, mainly the Kurds inside Iraq. This is not an all-encompassing Kurdish history book, although it does touch on some collective Kurdish events.
2. Provides needed perspective on U.S. operations in Iraq: post-1991 and the 2003- invasion. It shows the Kurdish opinion of U.S. intervention.

If you're looking for this scope of information, this is an excellent read. If you are looking for a complete history of all Kurds everywhere, this is not the book.

Having said this, Quil's writing style engages the reader and jumps to related events when necessary to help bring clarity. This is not a read that stiffly follows a chronological time line.

Some takeaways from this book:
1. Iraqi Kurds are independent as a nation already within "Kurdistan," probably since 1991, and we simply have not "officially" recognized them within an international venue (such as UN).
2. The coming choice for the international community will be to either ignore this, or take a leap and recognize the nation of Kurdistan, even if its borders are only within the confines of Iraq.
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14 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Richard J. Sanders on April 17, 2008
Format: Hardcover
As a producer/director for British and American TV I have made numerous films in and about Iraq over the last five years, but Invisible Nation is a revelation to me. Like most people covering the tragedy, I have been distracted by the carnage in the south and Lawrence's book fills a gaping hole. He has been a regular visitor there since shortly before the US invasion and, as well as providing a potted history of Iraqi Kurdistan, he paints a vivid picture of the country, its people and its leaders. There is a wonderful breezy energy to his prose and by the end we feel not only informed but also emotionally involved in what happens there.

Lawrence was an eye-witness to many of the key events he describes and he talks us through the strange parallel history that has unfolded. As Sunni and Shia Iraq have descended into anarchy, the Kurds, largely un-noticed, have established the prosperous, peaceful, functioning democracy (rough and ready though it may be) that was supposed to be the goal all along. The paradox is that it is only the weakness of their southern neighbours that has enabled them to do so and, should the US succeed in restoring stability in the rest of Iraq, Baghdad will almost certainly try and re-establish its traditional control. The Sunnis can look for support to Saudi Arabia, the Shias to Iran. The Kurds have no-one to shake a stick on their behalf other than us, and we have always betrayed them in the past. The truly unforgivable final act in this tragedy, as we scuttle away from the disaster we have inflicted, would be to do so again as the price of peace.

Richard Sanders
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By dusty jack on April 29, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Lawrence's insightful look at this little understood nation will open your eyes to events that led to America's invasion of Iraq. His first hand knowledge and in-depth research will introduce you to a cast of characters that underlay America's invasion and continue to influence events in the region. This eminently readable book will be referred to by historians for decades to come as America's misadventure is studied.
Lawrence's travels have clearly given him a great fondness for the region. In vivid language, Lawrence gives you a feel for the landscape and people of Iraqi Kurdistan. Several times while reading Invisible Nation I found myself thinking that I wanted to travel there. No other person has made me want to visit Iraq.
Buy this book!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Mike Russell on October 22, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book was very helpful to me during my 1 year tour in northern Iraq working with the Kurds. I had the good fortune to meet a few of the individuals written about in the book. With rare exception I found the information in the book to be spot on. One glaring exception was the depiction of Karim Sinjari. I worked with him on many occasions and found him to be intelligent, well informed, deeply devoted to his people and not at all aloof or arrogant. Strongly recommend this book to anyone who wants to gain a basic understanding of the situation there, particular if you are going to travel or work there.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Douglas A. Young on December 30, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
After taking an assignment to photograph the Kurdish refugees coming out of Syria, I needed a briefing on the Kurds. Quill Lawrence's book did an excellent job of informing me about them and their recent history in a very readable and engaging style. I now understand the alphabet soup of Kurdish politics and understand why there were gun-toting guards at the PDK political party headquarters and why the people working at the refugee camp near Dohuk feared the PPK had spies inside. I understand how the Kurds enjoy their autonomy within the current state of Iraq and am more aware of the enmity between Arab and Kurd.

I highly recommend this book for anyone trying to learn about still another area of the Middle East's complex politics - and why those politics make life so difficult for the people who live there.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By R. L. Huff on November 21, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Quill Lawrence is developing into one of the best journalists of his generation, and his deep probe into Iraqi Kurdistan demonstrates why. However, for all his wealth of detail, his account still leaves a few stones unturned in the road.

The US established a de facto "independent nation," as in Kosovo, and two longterm trends are likely: the consolidation of yet another "fledgling democracy" that never learns to fly, as in so much of the Third World; or an expendible region and people abandoned once they've served their strategic purpose for the top brass and blue suits, with organized crime as the local economic backbone. The latter seems to be the prevailing course.

Also problematic is the ethnic hegemony sweeping the region. The labelling of non-Kurds as "illegal immigrants" who must be disfranchised or bulldozed out is analogous to attitudes in the post-Soviet Baltic republics. One hopes that it will not lead to more violent forms of ethnic cleansing, if it hasn't already. (If a tree falls in a forest, and no Beeb reporter records it, does it make a sound?)

Quill rightly describes the US exhibition of its "usual schizophrenia" - promoting democracy for Kurds in Iraq, but not in equally-brutalized eastern Turkey, for fear of harming a "vital ally of democracy." Washington has never shown patience with the demands of history; all factors must be reduced to a power-point policy analysis with dissidents bludgeoned out of the picture. So too in its handling of Iraq and its Kurdish "autonomous republic."

What the future holds for this region and people remains an open question a decade after liberation. As one quoted Kurd stated at the end of Quill's journey, "anyone who tells you they know the answer is a liar."
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