Invisible Nation: How the Kurds' Quest for Statehood Is Shaping Iraq and the Middle East

Invisible Nation: How the Kurds' Quest for Statehood Is Shaping Iraq and the Middle East

by Quil Lawrence

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The American invasion of Iraq has been a success - for the Kurds. Kurdistan is an invisible nation, and the Kurds the largest ethnic group on Earth without a homeland, comprising some 25 million moderate Sunni Muslims living in the area around the borders of Turkey, Iran, Iraq, and Syria. Through a history dating back to biblical times, they have endured

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The American invasion of Iraq has been a success - for the Kurds. Kurdistan is an invisible nation, and the Kurds the largest ethnic group on Earth without a homeland, comprising some 25 million moderate Sunni Muslims living in the area around the borders of Turkey, Iran, Iraq, and Syria. Through a history dating back to biblical times, they have endured persecution and betrayal, surviving only through stubborn compromise with greater powers. They have always desired their own state, and now, accidentally, the United States may have helped them take a huge step toward that goal.

As Quil Lawrence relates in his fascinating and timely study of the Iraqi Kurds, while their ambition and determination grow apace, their future will be largely dependent on whether America values a budding democracy in the region, or decides to yet again sacrifice the Kurds in the name of political expediency. Either way, the Kurdish north may well prove to be the defining battleground in Iraq, as the country struggles to hold itself together. At this extraordinary moment in the saga of Kurdistan, informed by his deep knowledge of the people and region, Lawrence's intimate and unflinching portrait of the Kurds and their heretofore quixotic quest offers a vital and original lens through which to contemplate the future of Iraq and the surrounding Middle East.

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Editorial Reviews

The Atlantic Graeme Wood
A fine journalistic account of the personalities that animate the northern third of the country. They are all canny operators. Lawrence tells the story of Gen. Jay Garner's meeting with Jalal Talabani in 1991, when the latter (now president of the Republic of Iraq) was a guerilla scampering through the mountains to avoid Saddam. Shocked by Talabani's awareness of the war in areas well beyond his redoubt, Garner asked him his intelligence sources. Talabani showed Garner a room of electronics, as fancy as the general's own, and said he talked with John Major twice a day. This is the enigma of the Kurdish leadership in miniature: they are hardier than mountain goats and slicker than lobbyists. Lawrence's book captures both registers, as well as many in between.
San Francisco Chronicle Matthew B. Stannard
Extensively researched and footnoted, yet readable and often engaging, "Invisible Nation" guides the reader through the "luckless history" of the Kurds.
Interviewing people from all walks of life, from hitchhikers to Kurds now leading the Iraqi government, such as President Jalal Talabani, Lawrence touches on their concerns, very long and bitter memories, and hopes for the future.
author of Imperial Life in the Emerald City: I Rajiv Chandrasekaran
Quil Lawrence has written an engaging, revelatory book about America's accidental success in Iraq—the development of a stable, secure and reasonably democratic Kurdish region in the country's north. Drawing on his intimate, on-the-ground knowledge of Kurdistan, Lawrence exposes us to the little-known history of the Kurdish people, their epic struggle for survival and self-governance, and their crucial role in the new Iraq. A fascinating and compelling tale, it's a valuable addition to the bookself for anyone who cares about what's happening in Iraq.
Pulitzer Prize winner and author of Night Draws Ne Anthony Shadid
The quest for Kurdish statehood is, in part, a story of unintended consequences, a sweeping narrative that Quil Lawrence masterfully charts with insight, authority and, perhaps most important, compassion. His book is a story not only of Kurdistan, but of Iraq, of the Middle East and of the future. To understand any of those, this book is essential. Invisible Nation stands as one of the most important works to emerge from a war that, five years in, remains as unpredictable as when it first started, a point that Lawrence makes abundantly clear.
author of Che Guevara: A Revolutionary Life an Jon Lee Anderson
In this dramatic narrative, Quil Lawrence has untwined one of the most tangled histories of the Middle East and made it comprehensible. Invisible Nation is a riveting account of Iraq's Kurds and their essential role in the reshaping of modern Iraq. For anyone wishing to understand how the Kurds' quest for nationhood plays into the ongoing U.S. war in Iraq, this book is a must-read.
William Grimes
Mr. Lawrence…sifts through events taking place in northern Iraq at a time when the attention of the world was focused on calamitous events farther south. It is a story well worth telling…Mr. Lawrence, a sympathetic but not uncritical observer, makes it easy to root for a people whose struggle has long seemed, to quote Neville Chamberlain on Czechoslovakia, "a quarrel in a faraway country between people of whom we know nothing."
—The New York Times
Joshua Partlow
…the first thorough, book-length chronicle of the Kurds' recent history and their role in the war…[Lawrence's] brisk and engaging narrative makes clear just how tenuous—and anomalous—is this period of relative peace and prosperity for the Kurds of Iraq…a sympathetic but balanced portrait
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly

Numbering 25 million, the Kurds remain the largest ethnic group in the world without its own nation. This is not for want of trying, as British reporter Lawrence writes in this lucid, eye-opening account of the long, brutal struggle that continues despite opposition from Mideastern nations and the U.S. After centuries of oppression under the Turks, the Kurds had a chance at statehood when the Ottoman Empire collapsed in 1918. The Middle East was remapped, with the Kurds divided among Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria. Decades of bloody rebellion were ignored until Saddam Hussein's defeat in the First Gulf War. The Kurds rose again, anticipating U.S. assistance. Only media horror at Hussein's genocidal suppression of their revolt galvanized Western nations into action. When the "no-fly" zone was established in northern Iraq, Baghdad lost its capacity for governing the Kurds. Still fearful of Hussein, the Kurds cooperated eagerly as the U.S. planned a second Iraq invasion, but the Kurds' vision of statehood remains unfulfilled. Readers will close this engrossing but disturbing history with respect for a people that has struggled for millennia and whose difficulties continue to generate headlines. 30 b&w photos. (Apr.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
School Library Journal

Ever since the first Gulf War of 1990-91, the Kurdish issue has emerged as a political and strategic fulcrum in Iraq. During the period between 1991 and 2003, the U.S.-imposed no-fly zone in Iraqi Kurdistan allowed the Kurds to develop governing institutions and the components of a civil society away from the suffocating presence of Saddam Hussein's military forces. When the Bush administration invaded Iraq in 2003 and overthrew its government, the Kurdish region of the country was well poised to exert influence in post-Saddam Iraq. The fact that both Jalal Talabani, the current president of Iraq, and Hoshyar Zebari, the country's foreign minister, are Kurds has further enhanced Kurdish political clout in contemporary Iraq. Lawrence (Middle East correspondent, the World) has spent much time in the region and written reports on it for various Western publications. In lively and jargon-free language, with insights gained through experience, he explains the constellation of forces among the 25 million Kurds, the Kurds' relations to the other groups in contemporary Iraq, and their quest for independence. This is a timely and informative book that should be read by all interested in gaining a better understanding of today's Kurdish political developments. Recommended for academic and public libraries.
—Nader Entessar

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Kirkus Reviews
Stimulating history of the single Iraqi ethnic group that doesn't want American troops to leave Iraq. BBC correspondent Lawrence's debut reviews the ancient struggle for independence of 25 million Kurds (the majority living in Turkey), a struggle they may be winning despite the opposition of the United States and every Middle Eastern nation. They seemed on the verge of success after the Ottoman Empire's defeat in World War I, but Kurdish leaders made the mistake-one they would repeat-of pinning their hopes on America. By the time they realized that Woodrow Wilson was unwilling to twist anyone's arm to achieve a new world order of democracy and self-determination, Mustapha Kemal (later known as Ataturk) had created a modern Turkish state, and Britain had remapped the Middle East, leaving the Kurds inside Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria. The world ignored 70 years of violent revolt and oppression until the end of the first Gulf war in 1991. Hearing that the United States would look favorably on Saddam Hussein's overthrow, Iraqi Kurds rose again, trusting that America would help. Only widespread revulsion at Hussein's brutal reaction persuaded Western nations to act. They enforced a "no-fly" zone in Northern Iraq, essentially preventing Hussein's army from entering and creating a reasonable facsimile of an independent Kurdistan. Still insecure, the Kurds cooperated enthusiastically with U.S. planning for a second invasion-which began well before 2003, the author avers. They also did not join in the chaos that followed. Lawrence emphasizes repeatedly that America is greasing the squeaky wheel in Iraq, obsessively concerned with unruly Sunnis and Shiites at the expense of Kurds who would love apermanent American military presence to protect them from Turkey, Iran and the Iraqi Arab majority. A disturbing account that prompts new admiration for a people whose age-old toil for a homeland will continue after the United States withdraws from the region. Agent: Robert Guinsler/Sterling Lord Literistic Inc.

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Product Details

Walker & Company
Publication date:
Edition description:
First Edition
Product dimensions:
6.79(w) x 9.15(h) x 1.29(d)

Read an Excerpt

From Invisible Nation:

Kurdistan has everything the Bush administration promised for Iraq. It’s a Muslim state that is prodemocracy, pro-America, and even pro-Israel. So in a dearth of good news, why isn’t the United States crowing about this one great achievement in Iraq? Because Kurdistan’s success could be catastrophic. Like no event since the 1948 creation of Israel, a declared Kurdish state within the borders of Iraq will unite the entire region in opposition, from the Black Sea to the Persian Gulf…The Kurds understand this better than anyone, and have been willing so far to limit themselves to virtual statehood. No force within Iraq can stop them at the moment, and the forces outside have been kept at bay only by the presence of the American army.

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