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The Iraq War: A Military History

4.0 out of 5 stars 21 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0674012806
ISBN-10: 0674012801
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The practice of "embedding" journalists in combat units provided a good deal of spectacular, timely footage, but tended to restrict insight to the frontline perspective of riflemen and vehicle crews. Murray and Scales provide a lucid and leavened look at the larger-scale forces shaping the war. Murray (A War to Be Won), currently a fellow at the Institute of Defense Analysis, is an eminent military historian, and Scales (Yellow Smoke), a retired major general and former commandant of the Army War College, is a familiar commentator on security issues. In this operational history, they eschew discussion of such abstractions as whether the war was a "revolution in military affairs." Instead, they show how, since the Gulf War of 1991, each of the services (army, air force, navy and marines) improved its mastery of the craft of war: individually integrating technology, training, and doctrine while at the same time cultivating a "jointness" that eroded, if it did not quite eliminate, traditional rivalries at the operational level. The result, they argue, was a virtuoso performance in 2003 that did not depend on Iraqi ineffectiveness, a model exercise in maneuver warfare at the operational level that stands comparison with any large-scale operation in terms of effectiveness and economy. The authors complement their work with competent surveys of Iraq's history and of how the U.S. armed forces recovered from the Vietnam debacle, and with an excellent appendix describing the weapons systems that dominated America's television screens. While the short duration of the war's main push-three weeks from start to finish-works against systematic analysis, and there will be much more material to surface and be sifted in the coming years, Murray and Scales set the standard for future works.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.


In their coverage of Operation Iraqi Freedom...embedded reporters provided vertical depth but little horizontal scope. Profound portraits of individual soldiers and units were rarely complemented by competent narratives placing the various military operations in the context of a grand strategic view. That is the job not of war correspondents but of military historians. Williamson Murray, a senior fellow at the Institute of Defense Analysis, and Major General Robert H. Scales Jr., a former commandant of the Army War College, fill the void. (Robert D. Kaplan The Atlantic 2003-11-01)

Murray and Scales provide a lucid and leavened look at the larger-scale forces shaping the war. (Publishers Weekly 2003-09-29)

Williamson Murray and Robert Scales, both American military academics, have produced a superlative record of the invasion--part history, part critique and part doctrinal template for the future. Technical and operational aspects are explained clearly without losing the depth required to make this a serious study. (The Economist 2003-11-29)

For those wanting a detailed analysis of the strategic and operational dimensions of the recent war, this is the book. (Tim Dunne Times Higher Education Supplement 2003-11-28)

The academic depth of Williamson Murray and the professional experience of Major General Robert Scales ensure that their lively account of the war against Iraq is a superior, authoritative product. Its focus is operational (neither Donald Rumsfeld nor Paul Wolfowitz appears in the index), but the authors acknowledge the importance of political context, especially the 'sustaining power of tyranny' even in the face of a 'shock and awe' air assault. (Lawrence D. Freedman Foreign Affairs 2004-01-01)

Murray and Scales offer plenty of detailed combat accounts. But largely, their book seeks to step back and put the war in a larger frame. (Harry Levins St. Louis Post-Dispatch 2003-12-14)

Military historians Murray and Scales have written an enormously detailed description and analysis of the U.S.-led campaign to overthrow Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq in March-April 2003. Their book's value lies in its step-by-step report on the invasion. (W. Spencer Choice 2004-03-01)

The authors clearly had access to major military decision-makers and after-action reports. But as seasoned military historians, they go far beyond mere reportage, offering concise judgements about both the planning and the conduct of the campaign...Mr. Murray and Mr. Scales provide an illuminating look at the ground campaign that culminated in the capture of Baghdad...The authors' discussion of the war's ramifications is excellent and alone is worth the price of the book...More detailed analyses of the war will follow this book. By all means, read them. But the insights and judgments of Williamson Murray and Robert Scales make The Iraq War a book that will stand the test of time. (Mackubin Thomas Owens Washington Times 2004-03-21)

Murrayand Scales, both American military academics, have produced a superlative record of the invasion--part history, part critique and part doctrinal template for the future (Lawrence D. Freedman The Economist)

Murray and Scales are serious military historians [and] have a knack for integrating tactical vignettes into their operational narrative . . . Details like these give the reader a bit of the taste and smell of the fighting. More important, [the authors] use them adroitly to highlight factors that shaped the thinking of American military commanders at key stages and to point out critical lessons about the conduct of modern war . . . What emerges from their book is a far more comprehensive view of a far more complicated war than the vast majority of readers may have gleaned from the snapshots provided by the news media during the 23 days of major combat operations. (Kenneth M. Pollack New York Times Book Review)

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 312 pages
  • Publisher: Belknap Press (October 30, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674012801
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674012806
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.8 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,264,808 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
There are already too many books on the Iraq War, but this compact and mostly objective history is the best of the bunch if you are looking for a quick and factual overview from the purely military perspective. Other books treat individual events in greater depth, or take stronger (often controversial) positions on the issues, or provide deeper analysis of the thicket of surrounding issues. But none does as good a job at covering the basic facts of the military operations.
If you are looking for an informed and clear-headed account of the military operations of the Iraq War without the encumbrance of ideology or political agendas start here. What analysis this book does contain is provided in a separate chapter at the end of the book and consists exclusively of clear-headed and balanced insights into the military lessons (many of which are bitter pills) of the war.
The only real shortcoming of this book is that it is so understated. Events that loomed large in the hysterical real-time media coverage of the war (the firefight at the overpasses on the approach to Baghdad, the Jessica Lynch "rescue") are all given their proper place in the context of the overall strategic situation. As a result, it is easy to miss important clarifications (e.g. the extent to which the disorientation of the maintenance convoy that was attacked at An Nasiriyah was an almost inevitable consequence of the Coalition plan and the speed with which it was executed), though the implications are clearly spelled out (support units need better close-combat training).
Like many history books published by non-specialty presses, this one suffers from a lack of maps and diagrams. The few maps that are provided, though colorful, are not tied to the text and convey very little information.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I found this descriptive military history of the Iraq War to be balanced, fluid, and comprehensive--in the various fields of battle, armed forces staff and theater organization, and the cooperation between services and allies. I am not really a military history buff, but I found this book to be filled with information that somehow had not reached me through the newspapers or television accounts of the War. I found myself grateful to, and admiring the ingenuity and adaptability of, the soldiers, sailors, and airmen (and women) of the United States. I also found the chapters on the political organization and terror of Saddam's Iraq to be very informataive.

I also liked John Keegan's account of the Iraq War (also available on Amazon). Each book has different strengths. This book seemed to capture the "theater"-eye view very well.
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Format: Hardcover
Historian Victor Davis Hanson has remarked that the United States has fought four Iraq Wars, the Gulf War of 1991, the 12 year armistice enforcement from 1991 - 2003, the Iraq War of the Spring of 2003 and the Insurgency War of 2003 - . Historian Williamson Murray and Gen. Robert Scales (ret.) have collaborated on this late 2003 volume about the third US v. Iraq War that ended with the overthrow of Saddam Hussein's Baathist regime. Their intent was to write a straightforward account of the lead-up to the conflict in context, a description of the actual US/British led invasion and an analysis of why the conflict ended the way it did and what the results mean for future United States and British military strategy and policy.

Previously, Murray had written the military account of the US air war during the 1991 Gulf War and Maj. Gen. Scales had written the official postwar analysis of that six week conflict. Both are experts in the US military's strategy and weaponry. And more importantly for how they wrote this work, both are knowledgeable in how the United States changed its approach to manpower and tactics between the first and third Iraq Wars.

The significance of this volume is to concisely describe how the US military approached its third Iraq War, what the differences were on the operational level between this conflict and previous ones and likely lessons to learn and apply for future military operations. The Iraq War was written in late 2003, after the end of the operation to overthrow the Baathist regime and before the insurgency and founding of the new Iraqi government took hold. So the authors' comments about the continued need for initiative, change and operational awareness in future conflicts is almost prophetic in light of the last two years.
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Format: Paperback
In their book "The Iraq War: A Military History," Murray and Scales demonstrate their expertise in the study and writing of military history and analysis. However, this book is not necessarily a history of the Iraq War as much as it is about the re-making of the American military machine. In any case, their research, as well as their writing, is sound and candid and makes for interesting reading.

While the authors do focus on military history, they fail in adequately explaining the Iraq War. However, the authors do give readers some good historical background on Iraq and the Middle East in general. They begin by writing on the troubled history of Iraq and the Middle East, including Iraq's independence in 1932, Saddam Hussein's rise to power in 1979, and the rain of terror against his own citizens. The authors take a brief look at the 1980 "Iran-Iraq War, Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait that resulted in the "Gulf War", "Operation Enduring Freedom", and the rise and ultimate fall of the "Taliban".

Murray and Scales' primary focus is on the US military, its deficiencies, and its growth and development into a modern, unified force. They conclude that this growth was a byproduct of lessons learned during and after the "Vietnam War". They also discuss improvements in professionalism in the US all-volunteer military that reduced jealousies and uncooperativeness among the various military branches. The authors describe the military build-up, not only in means of manpower but in the military's arsenal, including the famed F-15 and F-16 fighters, sidewinder missiles, aircraft carriers, Abrams tank, and most importantly, in computer and other technologies, which in some cases, allow missiles to strike any enemy target with pinpoint accuracy, from a safe distance.
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