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The Occupation of Iraq: Winning the War, Losing the Peace Hardcover – April 9, 2007
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From Publishers Weekly
Allawi, until recently a senior minister in the Iraqi government, provides an insider's account of the nascent Iraqi government following the American invasion. His scholarly yet immensely readable exposition of Iraqi society and politics will likely become the standard reference on post-9/11 Iraq. It convincingly blasts the Coalition Provisional Authority for failing to understand the simmering sectarian animosity and conflicting loyalties that led Iraq into chaos. Beginning during Saddam's reign, among the motley gang of liberal democrats, Islamists and Kurdish nationalists that formed the opposition-in-exile, of which Allawi was a prominent member, he chronicles the fortunes and aspirations of the political parties, personalities and interest groups that now are tearing Iraq apart. In one representative episode, after the siege of Fallujah in 2004, the Marines initiated an ill-fated attempt to create a Fallujah Brigade of local men who would be loyal to the CPA. "[Head of the CPA L. Paul] Bremer... learned about it from newspaper reports.... The defense minister [Allawi himself] went on television, denouncing the Fallujah Brigade.... The 'Fallujah Brigade,' after a few weeks of apparent cooperation with the Marines, began to act as the core of a national liberation army. Any pretense that they were rooting out insurgents was dropped." (Apr. 9)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
In exile for more than 30 years, Allawi left a successful career in finance and Middle Eastern policy analysis to return to Iraq in 2003. During the next three years, he served as minister of trade, the first postwar civilian minister of defense, and a member of the transitional national government's legislative body. Allawi here draws on his multifaceted experience with the struggling American project in Iraq to document what went wrong and when. Although recognizing the deep roots of Iraq's internal strife and the extent to which the American invasion destroyed the fragile equilibrium holding the nation together under Saddam Hussein, Allawi emphasizes the more proximate causes of Iraq's decline, soberly cataloging dozens of missed opportunities and unintended consequences amid a culture of confusion, corruption, and administrative complacency. Avoiding quick-fix prescriptions, Allawi nevertheless somewhat tacitly suggests that the solution may involve a federalized and only minimally American Iraqi state that protects the rights of the Sunni minority without reversing the recent gains made by Shi'a and Kurdish groups. Comprehensive, factually robust, and likely to provoke public discussion, this book surpasses almost all other recent works on Iraq. Brendan Driscoll
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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This book is not only a capstone reference, but demonstrates why we need to LISTEN--none of us could learn--in a lifetime--all that this author has in his head. That's why multinational engagement is a non-negotiable first step toward the future.
Key notes and quotes:
+ Bush Senior should not have left Saddam Hussein off the hook in Gulf I, should have finished off the regime while we had enough troops on the ground to make the peace.
+ US blew Gulf II from the moment of victory onward. "Incoherent" is a word the author uses frequently in describing virtually every aspect of US operations in Iraq. The one element that gets high marks from him is the U.S. Agency for International Development (AID) but the fact that the bulk of the "reconstruction" money was mis-managed by the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) makes AID's excellent a footnote in this sorry tale.
+ Book covers 2003-2006; the author was Minister of Defense and then Minister of Finance during the reconstruction period.
+ "Too few Americans actually cared." Fred Smith (parent agency not clear) gets high marks from the author for caring and competence as the CPA-appointed advisor to the Ministry of Defense in the 2004 timeframe.
+ Up front the author identifies 33 key Iraqis and 14 key Americans, and I am struck by the fact that not a single one of the Americans is a uniformed US military officer on active duty.
+ Great map of 74 tribal districts. Very interesting when you remember that we were told to ignore the tribal chiefs and imams for the first four years, and that Maj Gant's paper "One Tribe at a Time" is now respected--just eight years too late.
+ Invasion extraordinary for "complexity of motive and ambiguity of purpose." Wow.
+ Snapshot of the 1960's through the 1980's focuses on US indifference followed by sideline role in Iran-Iraq war [during which some will recall that we gave Saddam Hussein bio-chemical weapons that he was quick to use on the Kurds as well as the Iranians]
+ Citing Robert Merton, author of Social Theory and Social Structure among many other works, he lists the five contributing factors to unintended consequences:
--- 01 Ignorance of tr5ue conditions pertaining
--- 02 Error in inference
--- 03 Primacy of immediate interests
--- 04 The ideological imperative (or the imperative of 'basic values')
--- 05 Self-fulfilling prophecy (the author says this phrase was coined by Merton).
QUOTE: In official Washington, the ignorance of what was going on inside Iraq before the war was monumental."
QUOTE: The State Department, supposedly a citadel of realist thinking, had little first-hand experience of the country, instead relying on inference and analogous reasoning when trying to unravel the possible outcomes in the postwar period."
QUOTE: The invasion and occupation of Iraq comprised an index of errors of commission and omission. It would be difficult to catalog them. There were just too many. ... The range, number, and pernicious effects of these errors was astounding.
+ HUGE FAILURE OF CULTURAL INTELLIGENCE. None. Zip. Nada. Rein.
+ PHENOMENAL accounting of the indigenous open sources of information that were precise, relevant, and IGNORED.
+ Chalabi is treated relatively kindly, and given credit for forecasting the invasion of Kuwait.
+ First serious Iraqi opposition in exile conference in 1992
+ Fascinating account of the deliberate emergence of Shia consciousness from 1988 [same year that Saudi Arabia started funding Bin Laden and radical Wahhabism world-wide), Shia emergence accelerating in 1992 (US did not notice)
+ Iraqi opposition was ostracized in the Middle East less Kuwait and Iran.
QUOTE: The entire process of planning for a post-war Iraq was mired in ineptitude, poor organization and indifference. The 'Future of Iraq Project' was a half-hearted and unreal attempt to tackle the issues that would confront the overseers of a country with a devastated economy and a dictatorial political culture."
QUOTE: The Bush administration's position on Iraq, in the immediate aftermath of the war, was riddled with expedient decision-making, departmental infighting, conflicting strategies, and policy incoherence."
+ General Erik Shinseki and Senator Joe Biden get high marks from the author for being intelligence and realistic. Garner is considered "well-meaning" but lacking the organization to be effective.
BOTTOM LINE: Dick Cheney personally, and bureaucratic infighting between State and Defense, combined with the complete and utter ignorance of US intelligence about Iraq, destroyed Iraq, whose fragile state was not understood in the slightest.
+ BREMER is considered by the author to have been a second-string player, a hasty compromise, to which I would add, sending him on a one-year tour was criminal, but then that was Dick Cheney's nature.
+ This entire book is an indictment of the idiocy, criminality, and lack of intelligence of the entire US Government but especially the White House, DoD, State, and CIA.
+ Discovery of mass graves (tens of thousands) was a vastly under-estimated cause for ethnic anguish and the revival of centuries old antipathies.
+ Bremer's first two decisions, the de-Bathification of the government and the dissolution of the only respected institution in the country, the military-police (vice Gestapo), destroyed whatever hope there might have been of avoiding a prolonged occupation and the total immolation of the society and economy.
+ Saddam Hussein's main focus was on Shia uprising not on US invasion.
+ US failed to integrate and listen to Iraqi leaders at all times.
+ Core divide: Sovereignty first, elections later (Iraqi view) versus US view of vice versa.
+ US crudeness inflamed tribes.
+ Marshall Plan was huge and multinational, Iraq "aid" was tiny and unilateral.
+ CPA's three key failures: no price and subsidy reform; no food distribution reform; no state-owned enterprises financial reform.
+ Saudi considerations of the invasion: fear of insurgents FROM Iraq; Iraq as proxy for Iran; Iraq as oil challenger; revival of Shia.
At Phi Beta Iota, the Public Intelligence Blog, I provide a number of quotes that will not fit here, and a link to my cluster of 33 other reviews on Iraq, one of 98 categories within which I read.
As an Iraqi, Allawi provides a number of important insights that normally get left out of the discussion by American writers. One important piece of conventional wisdom is that Saddam Hussein's regime was secular and that the rise of Islamic extremism in Iraq is somehow America's fault, but Allawi correctly points out that in 1994, Hussein launched a faith campaign in order to enhance its authority and credibility. This more than anything the U.S. did planted the seeds of Sunni extremism. Another important, but often overlooked point involves the looting of the country that happened after the invasion. Allawi draws attention to the fact that the systematic looting of government buildings was not the work of random criminals, but rather by regime elements determined to dismantle as much of the state's infrastructure as possible, making in more difficult for the Americans and successive Iraqi governments and also to destroy as much incriminating evidence as possible. This never really gets discussed in other books on the subject, but it's an important point that makes a lot of sense when you think about it. As far as the criticism goes that Allawi was an exile, and therefore unqualified to really write about Iraq, the vast majority of the book is concerned with the post-invasion period, when he was part of the government. There is very little about Iraq before the war. These types of criticisms against Allawi carry little, if any weight.
Some things that stood out to me as odd though. One was that the preface was obviously written by someone whose first language isn't English, but the rest of the book doesn't come across this way at all. Maybe it was that the rest of the book was subject to careful editing while the preface was left alone. In any case, it seems like one person wrote the preface while a different person wrote the rest of the book. Also, there are severl times in the book where Allawi refers to himself, but it's in the third person. This adds to the impression that someone else wrote the bulk of the book. In most narrative accounts like this, a person involved in the story itself uses 1st person, not 3rd. Another odd thing about this book is that Allawi never capitalizes the words West or Western. Normally when writing about "the" West or "the" East, the words are capitalized. A subtle jab at the West by Allawi perhaps? Hard to tell, but odd nonetheless.
At 460 pages, The Occupation of Iraq is a lengthy and sometimes difficult read, but ultimately rewarding. To my knowledge, this is the only work of such depth written by an Iraqi involved in the work of rebuilding Iraq at the governmental level. Fiasco and Cobra II cover the story from the American military perspective, The Assassins' Gate and the Foreigner's Gift are more of an investigative journalism/extensive travel diary, and State of Denial is the ultimate insider's look at the Bush administration. These are all important angles and necessary ones to fully understand what's happened in Iraq. Allawi's contribution provides a much needed Iraqi government perspective and in many ways, he's just as critical of the Iraqi government's failures as most are of the Bush administration. This probably shouldn't be the first book about Iraq that someone reads, because I think it requires at least some prior knowledge about the country. Someone with no background will likely have a difficult time here, but the book is certainly rewarding for those well-versed in the subject.
As Allawi puts it on page 460, "The corroded and corrupt state of Saddam was replaced by the corroded, inefficient, incompetent and corrupt state of the new order. Bush may well go down in history as presiding over one of America's great strategic blunders."
The book also contains some excellent background on the diverse population and geography of Iraq.
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Author: Ali A. Allawi
Tags iraq, occupation, war, george w bush, dick cheney, middle...Read more