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Understanding Iraq: The Whole Sweep of Iraqi History from Genghis Khan's Mongols to the Ottoman Turks to the British Mandate to the American Occupation Hardcover – April 5, 2005
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Top Customer Reviews
Throughout much of his book, he provides a broad history of Iraq from ancient times to the present. One of his main premises is that in the scope of history the Fertile Crescent, the Mesopotamian Valley, has been a region defined by internal and external conflict. He argues that repetitive cycles are evident in the broad history of the region (from the dawn of history) to the more recent history of Iraq as a nation-state the past century. He claims, for instance, that the Sumerian "lugals," literally "big man," of roughly 2800 BCE are the ancestors of figures like Saddam Hussein, the self-proclaimed "Hero President." Some of the long historical parallels Polk draws, while they interesting on one level, seem anthropologically universal in the evolution of society (and not specific to Iraq per se). Despite this, Polk's broad analysis is informative and important.
In my opinion, the strongest sections of the book are his discussions of British colonialism, the revolutionary period (after-independence), and the current period of the U.S. led Coalition Authority. Here, historical parallels are manifest. For example, Polk points out that the U.S. provisional constitution in 2004 mandating an interim provisional authority was nearly identical to the British government's mandate for occupation, delivered to the League of Nations in 1922.Read more ›
Polk identifies mistakes recent US administrations have made in dealing with Iraq; many of them eerily similar to those made by the Brtish during their rule under League of Nations mandate in the 1920's and 1930's. The "shock and awe" of that era was generated by "armed Fords" and biplanes. The British installed as puppet king, Faisal, a man who had never previously set foot in the country. The US selected to head the Provisional Authority, Iyad al-Allawi, who once was a senior Baathist in Saddam's secret police and then for thirty years an anti-Saddam expatriate funded by the CIA. Another grievous US mistake, according to Polk, is in creating a large, well-trained Iraqi army instead of a large, well-trained Iraqi police force. It was the British-trained Iraqi army whose revolt in 1958 led to the dictatorship of Saddam.
Anyone still doubting the old saw about the need to learn from history to avoid repeating its mistakes ought to read the letter T E Lawrence (of Arabia)wrote to the London Times in 1920. "The people of England have been led in Mesopotamia into a trap from which it will be hard to escape with dignity and honour. They have been tricked into it..."
The book gets even more interesting when Polk gives the modern day history. For instance, we learn about the rise of Saddam H. how and why Kuwait was set up.
[...] The book is designed to inform, not to mobilize.
I found the book to be pretty well-balanced and thought the author did a good job of keeping his personal opinions out of the text. He may lean a wee bit to the left (based on some of his sources), but nobody can keep their biases completely out of their work.
The fact that the author speaks both Arabic and Turkish gives him credibility in my eyes, since I firmly believe that if you're going to even attempt to understand another culture, you really do need to learn the language.
At any rate, I think what this guy has written has far more insight and depth than anything that's come out of the Bush administration since this whole fiasco in Iraq began.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Great book, really lends a great perspective on the Iraq war and Iraq's history from someone who not only is well read on the subject but had lived there and speaks ArabicPublished 6 months ago by Joshtron
Really enjoyed the book. Gave a great perspective on the History of Iraq and their history of war. That said, there were times when I saw some bias come out of the author that I... Read morePublished 15 months ago by G_Phillips
William Polk opened my eyes to many hidden truths of Iraq and surrounding areas, including Syria. Once a member of the State Department's Policy Planning Council; he provides... Read morePublished on October 6, 2013 by Michael J. Bradham
There is a wealth of information in this book. The story of Iraq proves the old saying, "Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Read morePublished on January 31, 2013 by Claude D. Lamoreux
Mr. Polk gives a pretty good quick (212 page) read on Iraq in order to provide his understanding. There are six chapters covering Ancient Iraq, Islamic Iraq, British Iraq,... Read morePublished on July 27, 2011 by Amazon Customer
Before I deployed to Iraq, I wanted to do a little background reading on the history of the region. All I knew of Iraq was what I learned from the media and I figured that... Read morePublished on June 11, 2011 by Leslie Luscher