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Iraq: A Political History from Independence to Occupation [Hardcover]

Adeed Dawisha

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Book Description

March 9 2009

With each day that passed after the 2003 invasion, the United States seemed to sink deeper in the treacherous quicksand of Iraq's social discord, floundering in the face of deep ethno-sectarian divisions that have impeded the creation of a viable state and the molding of a unified Iraqi identity. Yet as Adeed Dawisha shows in this superb political history, the story of a fragile and socially fractured Iraq did not begin with the invasion--it is as old as Iraq itself.

Dawisha traces the history of the Iraqi state from its inception in 1921 following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and up to the present day. He demonstrates how from the very beginning Iraq's ruling elites sought to unify this ethnically diverse and politically explosive society by developing state governance, fostering democratic institutions, and forging a national identity. Dawisha, who was born and raised in Iraq, gives rare insight into this culturally rich but chronically divided nation, drawing on a wealth of Arabic and Western sources to describe the fortunes and calamities of a state that was assembled by the British in the wake of World War I and which today faces what may be the most serious threat to survival that it has ever known.

Iraq is required reading for anyone seeking to make sense of what's going on in Iraq today, and why it has been so difficult to create a viable government there.



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Review

"Anyone who thinks that Iraq has no history of democratic government needs to read this book immediately."--Choice

"We are fortunate to have scholars, such as Adeed Dawisha, who continue to grapple with Iraq's political complexities. . . . A highly accessible and insightful work on one of the most important and complex countries in the Middle East."--Eric Davis, Middle East Journal

"Dawisha's . . . reliance on the many memoirs, monographs, and histories written by Iraqis themselves, plus his own intimate knowledge of Iraq in its domestic, regional, and international setting, makes for a fine (if disheartening) study of abortive state building."--L. Carl Brown, Foreign Affairs

"Dawisha has only the worst superlatives for Saddam's tyrannical regime. . . . And yet we should not give up on Iraq, for Dawisha doesn't. He never loses his calm or objectivity."--Robert D. Kaplan, National Interest

"This book should be required reading for all those involved in building a brighter future for Iraq."--Alison Webster, European Legacy

"Adeed Dawisha's well-written and flowing book makes an important contribution to understanding the complex history of Iraq. . . . Dawisha's approach indeed provides a multidimensional, complex, and nuanced picture of the development of Iraq. . . . Dawisha's important book is recommended for anyone who is interested in the comprehensive view of Iraqi history or for anyone who is interested in Middle Eastern affairs and history."--Michael Eppel, Historian

From the Inside Flap

"Adeed Dawisha has written a deeply informed study of the history of the Iraqi state. This is a book to be read by all who care about Iraq's future."--William B. Quandt, University of Virginia

"A pleasure to read. This book is a major contribution by a scholar who has written extensively on Arab nationalism and Iraq and knows the subject well. It is grounded in thorough research, good judgment formed by working on Iraq over a long period of time, and excellent analysis of Iraq's governing institutions and their relation to society over time."--Phebe Marr, author of The Modern History of Iraq

"A new and useful approach that provides a bird's-eye view of Iraqi history mainly through three lenses: building a governing structure, molding a national identity, and legitimizing the state and the ruling elites through democratic institutions. Dawisha helps readers to better understand what went wrong in Iraq, why, and what are the roots of the present crisis."--Amatzia Baram, University of Haifa


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Amazon.com: 4.0 out of 5 stars  1 review
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good summary of Iraqi national politics Dec 3 2009
By Kirk H Sowell - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Pay close attention to the subtitle: "A Political History from Independence to Occupation." The emphasis here should be on "Political History" - this book provides a good account of Iraq's national level politics in the 20th century, but contains very little coverage of the rest of the country during the period.

Chapters two through eight cover Baghdad politics between 1921 and 1958, and account for about two-thirds of the book. Three chapters cover the 1921-36 period, with Dawisha attempting to have one chapter be purely chronological while the other two are more topical, describing the attendant circumstances, such as the existence of protests in various parts of the countries or Sati al-Husri's pan-Arabist education/indoctrination programs. But because the details almost all related to happenings in Baghdad, there is a great deal of repetition of the same facts over and over, perhaps from a slightly different angle each time.

There is virtually no discussion of social, economic or religious currents, except to mention them in passing, but with insufficient detail for the reader to understand their importance. Significant in this regard is the historical development of the Shia clerical establishment, which played a key role in the 1920 revolt and was in stagnation after that point until 2003. Dawisha mentions the clerical role in 1920, several times, but explains nothing about the clerical establishment itself, its economic and social decline in the decades that followed (to explain why the 1920 events were not repeated until 2003), the importance of Iranian ties to the shrine cities during this time, or anything more than a passing reference to the great urban migration of the Shia poor, which has had such an important impact over contemporary events.

What Dawisha does well is explain why democracy failed in Iraq. The revolving door of the prime minister's office in the 1921-58 period, and the bizarre paradox of tolerant authoritarianism (elections were rigged, but political opposition leaders rarely faced a threat to their lives) during this period are explained well, and in a way that shows how the period paved the way for the nightmare that was to come. Dawisha poignantly points to how those who attempted to kill Abd al-Karim Qasim in 1959, including the young Saddam Hussein, were pardoned by 1961. Qasim would be killed in a coup in 1963, and when Saddam had his time to rule, no one who showed the slightest tendency toward opposition would live to coup another day.

The last three chapters cover three periods: 1958-1968 (the "Authoritarian Republic"/Abd al-Karim Qasim, Abd al-Salam Arif, Abd al-Rahman Arif), 1968-2003 (the Baathist/Saddam Hussein period) and the 2003-2007 period. The 1958-68 chapter is probably the most insightful of these. The Baathist period is mainly dominated by anecdotes of the horror of Saddam's rule, rather than a narrative. The eight-year Iran-Iraq war, which cost so many Iraqis their lives and changed the country forever, is covered in a single page. And it isn't until the book reaches 1980 that Dawisha mentions Muhammad Baqir Sadr and the Dawa Party, which Sadr helped found in 1958, and only then to report Baqir Sadr's murder by the regime. Quite a bit was happening in the interim that Dawisha passes over.

Dawisha's coverage of the post-2003 period broadly acceptable but there isn't much nuance. In discussing the Shia political parties, for example, he mentions four key parties - the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, Dawa, the Sadr faction and Fadhila - without discussing the ISCI-Sadr blood feud, that Fadhila is a branch of the Sadrist movement, or anything useful about the ISCI-Dawa relationship. The Sunni Awakening and the Iranian role in post-2003 period are very briefly discussed.

If you only plan to read one history of Iraq, read Charles Tripp's "History of Iraq" rather than this. But if you've read that and you want to know more, you could read this book for a better understanding of national politics, and the books of Yitzhak Nakash (buy "The Shiis of Iraq," NOT "Reaching for Power") and Mier Litvak on the Shia. I've written Amazon reviews on the latter two authors' books you may want to check out.

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