Saturday, January 06, 2007

Books on Iraq

EPIC, the Education for Peace in Iraq Center, which I have found to be one of the most reliable sources of information on Iraq has come out with a list of the ten best books on Iraq in 2006, honorable mentions, classics, and a longer list of recommended books. It's a very well done page. For each of the recommended books there is a separate more information page which has excerpts from reviews, links to articles by the authors, and so forth.

Take a look, and consider a New Year's Resolution to read at least one book on Iraq in 2007. And consider ordering it through the EPIC site as a portion of your order will benefit their work.

Top 10 Books of 2006
(1) Iraq Study Group Report: The Way Forward -- A New Approach by The Iraq Study Group, James A. Baker III, and Lee H. Hamilton
(2) The Prince of the Marshes: And Other Occupational Hazards of a Year in Iraq by Rory Stewart
(3) Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq by Thomas E. Ricks (Penguin Group, 2006, 482 pgs, ISBN: 159420103X).
(4) Baghdad Burning II: More Girl Blog from Iraq by Riverbend (The Feminist Press, 2006, 190 pgs, ISBN: 1558615296) and Baghdad Burning: Girl Blog from Iraq (The Feminist Press, 2005, 304 pgs, ISBN: 1558614893).
(5) Reaching for Power: The Shi'a in the Modern Arab World by Yitzhak Nakash
(6) The Kurds: Nationalism and Politics edited by Faleh A. Jabar and Hosham Dawod
(7) The Occupation: War and Resistance in Iraq by Patrick Cockburn
(8) No True Glory: A Frontline Account of the Battle for Fallujah by Bing West
(9) Ahmad's War, Ahmad's Peace: Surviving Under Saddam, Dying in the New Iraq by Michael Goldfarb
(10) Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq's Green

Christian Caryl discusses four recent books about Iraq in a an article ("What About the Iraqis?") in the latest New York Review of Books. It's well worth reading, sort of a Cliff Notes if you don't have the time to read the 3,988 pages in EPIC's list. Here are two crucial paragraphs.
It is an aspect of the problem often overlooked in reporting of the war, but Iraq today is a country in the grip of revolutionary change. The American occupation swept away the institutions of Saddam's regime without providing for new ones to replace them. It encouraged a remarkable flowering of pluralism in expression (including satellite television, avidly competing newspapers, and cell phones), allowing Iraqis to discuss the problems of their own society with a freedom that is still rare in the Arab world, while failing to provide many basic services or respond to widespread unemployment. It organized democratic elections and stimulated the growth of local self-government without ever dealing with the conditions that prevented these new participatory institutions from effectively exercising power—and watched helplessly as they were bypassed by other forms of community self-assertion... [e.g., activist clerics] Most catastrophically of all, the occupation government never managed to offer Iraqis a basic level of security —a situation that led to the expansion of already existing militias and encouraged the growth of new ones.

Many American commentators mistakenly assume that the democratic freedoms brought by the Americans have simply allowed the inherent weaknesses of Iraqi society to come out into the open. Certainly Iraqi society has always been deeply divided against itself; but under the occupation it has been turned upside down. The middle class, under attack from criminals and murderous ideologues, is abandoning the country. According to the Iraq Index of the Brookings Institution, the authorities have issued two million passports since August 2005. An estimated 40 percent of Iraq's professional classes have left the country. New elites are rising in their place, sometimes through the use of violence; needless to say, this is not the sort of civil society that the Americans were hoping to promote. There is evidence, for example, that some of the Shiite parties have embarked on systematic assassination campaigns against leading Baathist officials, including secret policemen and air force officers who flew missions against Iran during the Iran–Iraq war in the 1980s.

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