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Involved for over thirty years in the politics of Iraq, Ali A. Allawi was a long-time opposition leader against the Baathist regime. In the post-Saddam years he has held important government positions and participated in crucial national decisions and events. In this book, the former Minister of Defense and Finance draws on his unique personal experience, extensive relationships with members of the main political groups and parties in Iraq, and deep understanding of the history and society of his country to ...
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Involved for over thirty years in the politics of Iraq, Ali A. Allawi was a long-time opposition leader against the Baathist regime. In the post-Saddam years he has held important government positions and participated in crucial national decisions and events. In this book, the former Minister of Defense and Finance draws on his unique personal experience, extensive relationships with members of the main political groups and parties in Iraq, and deep understanding of the history and society of his country to answer the baffling questions that persist about its current crises. What really led the United States to invade Iraq, and why have events failed to unfold as planned?
The Occupation of Iraq examines what the United States did and didn’t know at the time of the invasion, the reasons for the confused and contradictory policies that were enacted, and the emergence of the Iraqi political class during the difficult transition process. The book tracks the growth of the insurgency and illuminates the complex relationships among Sunnis, Shias, and Kurds. Bringing the discussion forward to the reconfiguration of political forces in 2006, Allawi provides in these pages the clearest view to date of the modern history of Iraq and the invasion that changed its course in unpredicted ways.
With this book, the sad story of the United States in Iraq has found its author. Allawi, scion of a distinguished Shiite family from Baghdad, cousin of former Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, and nephew of Ahmed Chalabi, returned after years of exile to assume senior positions in postinvasion Iraq. This book offers all the insights of that firsthand experience and also much more: it is the most comprehensive and perceptive account yet to appear. It is, moreover, sharp-eyed in depicting all parties. Allawi realizes that his is a tough country to rule. Its "civilized veneer" of modernity and urbanity can easily break up into the worst of tribalism. He gives Iraq and Iraqis their share of the blame for "losing the peace." At the same time, he sets out, severely but fairly, American thought and actions concerning Iraq. After short introductory chapters on Iraq in history, the Iraqi opposition in exile, and the buildup to war, he moves on to provide a detailed narrative account of the war from the invasion in March 2003 to the end of 2006. Allawi's dispassionate (or, perhaps better, ironic) style of narration, capturing along the way the major actors and events, makes for a book that is not just informed and wise but also eminently readable.<
'In this regard and with my heart filled with sadness, I have to say that it is my belief that there is no Iraqi people inside Iraq. There are only diverse groups with no national sentiments. They are filled with superstitious and false religious traditions with no common grounds between them. They easily accept rumours and are prone to chaos, prepared always to revolt against any government. It is our responsibility to form out of this mass one people that we would then guide, train and educate. Any person who is aware of the difficult circumstances of this country would appreciate the efforts that have to be exerted to achieve these objectives.' - Faisal I, King of Iraq, 19321
Conflicts and wars fought on its territory have always been the lot of Iraq. It has had the geographic misfortune of lying across the fault lines of civilisations and empires, and its peoples have suffered the waves of conquerors and battles fought over its lands. The ebb and flow of powers that controlled its destiny always left behind a residue that helped to form the profile of the modern Iraqi. But these were not accretions that melded together to form a common sense of nationhood. The sharedhistory and experiences of Iraqis did not give rise to unifying national myths. The legacy of pre-Islamic civilisations - of Sumer, Babylon and Nineveh - was not one that could be readily adapted to the formation of national identity. The pride that came from knowing that Iraq was the land that gave humanity settled agriculture, its first cities and the alphabet, was not internalised. Iraq's ancient history featured only on the periphery of the identity of Muslim Iraqis. Various modern governments have tried to make the connection and continuity with this heritage - sometimes ludicrously, as when Saddam Hussein appropriated the heritage of the lawmaker Hammurrabi and stuck his name on the (rebuilt) walls of Babylon. But it was never pursued with the intent of forming a national consciousness.
The Terrain and Population of Iraq
Iraq, the land of the two rivers, the Mesopotamia of ancient times, is an amalgam of different landscapes and terrains. The tiny coastline leads to the magnificent waterway of the Shatt al-Arab, the confluence of the two rivers, an area of dense palm groves and lush fields. Above Basra, the main city of Iraq's Deep South, the Shatt al-Arab separates into its two components. There, the marshes of the South begin. It is a landscape of immense expanses of water, of bulrushes, herds of water buffalo and dozens of scattered reed-matted villages. The Tigris River route to Baghdad passes through the cities of 'Amara and Kut, lying in a flat plain. Eastwards, the terrain gently slopes into the hills that lead towards the Iranian plateau. The Euphrates route to Baghdad is more settled, with several towns and cities along the way - Nasiriya, Samawwa, Diwaniya, Hilla, and the shrine cities of Karbala and Najaf. This is a land of rice and barley, and of market gardens and date groves, especially in the Hilla area, on the approach to Baghdad. North of Baghdad, the two rivers separate in ever-widening distances. The Tigris, capricious and flood-prone, has only a few towns of note on its banks - Samarra, Dujail, Tikrit - before the great northern city of Mosul. To the northeast of Baghdad lie the fertile lands of Diyala province - fruit orchards, vegetable farming and cereal cultivation - well watered by a number of tributaries of the Tigris. This is also the start of the undulating hilly, and then mountainous, terrain that marks the territory of Iraqi Kurdistan which stretches like a giant crescent over all of northeastern and northern Iraq. From Fallujah near Baghdad to the Syrian border, the Euphrates harbours a string of small towns on its banks - 'Ana, Rawa, Haditha - but the area is marked by its poor agricultural potential. To the west of the Euphrates lies the great western desert, which effectively separates Iraq from the Arab lands of the Near East. Between the upper reaches of the Euphrates and Tigris rivers lie the steppe-lands of the Jazira, and the grazing and pasture lands of the Arab tribes of the area.
The population of Iraq is equally varied. Arabic is universally spoken outside Iraqi Kurdistan, and Islam is the religion of the vast majority of the people. Over time, the Arab element has assumed primacy, leaving the Kurds, in their hill and mountain country, distinct in their language and culture. The Arab pre-eminence did not completely destroy the ethnic and linguistic identity of the Turkomen and the ancient Christian Assyrian and Chaldean communities, however. The lower reaches of the Tigris and Euphrates valleys are overwhelmingly Shi 'a Muslim in faith but Arab in identity. The city of Basra has an important Sunni minority. Migrants from the rural South have overwhelmed Basra, which used to be a polyglot city with large merchant communities from the Indian sub-continent and Iran. Baghdad itself, accounting for a quarter of the population, is a majority Shi'a city. It has a large Sunni Arab population (the majority population in earlier times), with important concentrations of Kurds and Christians. The upper reaches of the Euphrates River are overwhelmingly Sunni Arab, as is the Tigris north of Baghdad - with the exception of the towns of Dujail and Balad, which are two Shi'a enclaves. The north of Iraq is a mosaic of peoples including Arabs, Kurds, Shabak, Chaldeo-Assyrians, and Turkomen. Mosul, lying on the Tigris, is a majority Sunni Arab city, with a large Kurdish east bank and an important Christian community. Turkomen, who are evenly divided between adherents of Shi'a and Sunni Islam, predominate in a few towns, and are historically associated with the city of Kirkuk. In Iraqi Kurdistan, the majority of the people adhere to Sunni Islam. Iraq's total population of about 25 million is divided ethnically between Arabs (perhaps 75 per cent of the population), Kurds about 20 per cent, Turkomen and Chaldeo-Assyrians about 2 per cent each, and smaller groups, such as the Yezidi, Sabaeans and Shabak, accounting for the rest. The population is overwhelmingly Muslim (about 97 per cent of the total). The Arab Shi'a comprise about 60 per cent of the population, the Sunni Arabs about 18 per cent and the Kurds about 20 per cent. The great majority of the Shi'a in Iraq is Arab, but there are also about a million Shi'a Kurds, known as Faylis, as well as the small Shabak community of the Mosul area.
The Genesis of Modern Iraq
The Arab conquest of Iraq and the spread of Islam were distinct breaks from Iraq's ancient past. It is to this period - and to the Ottoman-Persian rivalries that were often played out on its lands - that the modern predicaments of Iraq can be traced. This past was not another country. The conflicts that arose from it remained essentially unreconciled and unresolved, even with the passing of centuries. It is true that Iraqis shared in, and often inspired, the glories of Islamic civilisation, but these were insufficient to create a common identity. There was an underside to all of this: of winners and losers; of lost causes clung to, in spite of centuries of repression; of racial and tribal animosities. Too often, what was retained was a violently different version of events, and a culture that celebrated superiority in status and entitlements, as well as past grievances and injuries. For over two millennia, Iraq had either been the centre of a world empire or, more often, part of another country's empire. It was only in modern times that the geopolitical unity of Iraq became established - neither as a contrived state, as many would later claim, nor as a nation in the full sense of the word.
The Kingdom of Iraq emerged out of World War I; it was a state whose boundaries were drawn by Great Britain with little say from its inhabitants. Faisal, son of Sharif Hussein of the Hejaz, was installed as king of Iraq in August 1921, following a referendum managed by Great Britain, the power mandated to manage the affairs of Iraq at the end of World War I. Iraq had been carved out of the remnants of the Ottoman Empire, and initially included the two Ottoman wilayets (provinces) of Baghdad and Basra, to which the northern wilayet of Mosul was added in 1926, to form the territorial boundaries of the modern Iraqi state. Faisal had led the Northern Army of his father, the Sharif Hussein of the Hejaz, who, encouraged by the British, and with financial and material support, had revolted against the Ottoman Empire in 1916. Sharif Hussein believed that he had been promised a united Arab kingdom that included modern Syria, Lebanon, Palestine and the Hejaz, as a reward for assisting the Allied war effort against Turkey. His dreams were shattered, however, when he discovered that the British and the French between them had secretly carved out the Ottoman Empire in the Sykes-Picot Agreement. Faisal, who entered Damascus in October 1918 at the head of an Arab army, tried to enforce his father's claims. He was, for a brief period, declared King of Syria, only to be ignominiously expelled by the French in July 1920. Iraq had been a different theatre of war. The British had managed to defeat the Turks only after a long and arduous campaign that stretched over four years. No sooner had the war ended than a major uprising erupted against the British, instigated and led by the Shi'a religious leadership in the shrine towns of Iraq. The revolt, always known afterwards in Iraq as the 1920 Uprising, was a defining moment in modern Iraqi history. It was put down at great human and financial cost. The British subsequently decided to rule the country indirectly. Through a series of intricate negotiations and manoeuvres in Whitehall, Baghdad and Cairo, where Britain's leading Middle East experts had gathered in March 1921 to plan the post-war order in the Middle East, Faisal emerged as the leading candidate for the throne of Iraq.
Faisal had struggled very hard to understand his adopted land, and after over a decade of rule had began to exhibit a subtle appreciation of the intricacies of this heterogeneous country. He had held the ship of state firmly on the course of modernisation and centralisation, in spite of the treacherous politics of his faction-ridden country. He had been squeezed by the often conflicting demands and pressures of the British; the Shi'a religious authorities; the Sunni Arab officers (who formed the backbone of his army and administration); the urban intelligentsia; and the tribal leaders.
In March 1932, Faisal addressed an extraordinary memorandum to the principal political figures in Iraq, asking them to comment on his assessment of the conditions of the country. Although it has appeared from time to time in the texts of a number of historical works on Iraq, only very occasionally has it been accorded its true significance. This is because the memorandum, emanating from such an authoritative source, would have proved deeply embarrassing to an emerging, ideologically driven account of Iraq's social and political history, as it laid bare the real imbalances in the country.
Iraq is one of those countries that lack a key requirement of a social polity, namely a unity of thought and ideals, and a sense of community. The country is fragmented and divided against itself, and its political leadership needs to be both wise, practical and morally and materially strong. [Its inhabitants] should not be driven by private sensibilities and concerns, or sectarian and extremist considerations. They should be both just and balanced, and strong, with a sense of respect for the people's traditions. They should not be guided by reactionary considerations, or extremist thinking that would draw a violent response.
Iraq is a kingdom that is run by a Sunni Arab government established on the ruins of the Ottoman state. This government rules a Kurdish part, whose majority is ignorant and is led by selfish individuals who incite their compatriots to secede from the state on the grounds that it is not of their kind. The government also rules a Shi 'a majority, ignorant in the main, but which is of the same ethnicity. However, the oppression that the Shi'a have suffered at the hands of the Turks did not allow them to share in power and thereby gain the necessary experience in government. This opened a deep chasm between the Arab people of Iraq, divided as they are between these two sects. All this drove this majority - or at least those amongst them who have special interests, clerics, undeserving office-seekers, and those who have not benefited financially from the new order - to claim that they continue to be oppressed simply by being Shi 'a. They are being encouraged to abandon the state as an evil entity, and we cannot deny the effect that these people have on the ignorant and simple-minded mass.... I do not want to justify the position of the ignorant mass of the Shi'a, and relay what I have heard thousands of times ... that taxes and death are the Shi'a's lot while the Sunni enjoy the privilege of office. What belongs to the Shi'a then? Even their religious occasions are not sanctioned.
Faisal's melancholic memorandum captured the essence of the country - the great divides between its peoples. It drew a muted response. The politicians were too busy in their power games to step back and look at the country over which they were fighting.
The Shi'a-Sunni Divide
The Shi'a-Sunni split in Islam did not occur, as is often claimed, upon the death of the Prophet Muhammad on 8 June, 632. It evolved over centuries before doctrinal positions hardened and the religious and community distinctiveness of the two groups crystallised. What is indisputable, though, is that the succession to the Prophet formed the basis for this schism. This was when the nascent Muslim community divided between the claims to rulership by Ali, the Prophet's cousin and son-in-law, and those of the three 'Rightly Guided' Caliphs who preceded him as leaders of the Islamic community. From the onset, this division was not simply a case of rival political camps vying for power. It had deep social, tribal, ethnic and religious undertones. To the followers of Ali - the Shi'a of Ali - the Household of the Prophet, of whom Ali was the emphatic leader, possessed a certain charisma, bordering on divine sanction, that entitled them not only to spiritual, but temporal, authority over all Muslims. Ali's followers acquiesced, by and large, to the loss of power of their claimant to the first three Caliphs (successors) of the Prophet: Abu Bakr, 'Umar and 'Uthman. Ali himself, while upholding the righteousness of his own position, seemed to accept their rule over Muslims. The murder of the third Caliph, 'Uthman, finally thrust Ali into the Caliphate. But it was a Caliphate that at its outset was bedevilled by hostility and open rebellion by the followers of 'Uthman and the Banu Ummayya, led by the formidable Muawiyya, a relative of 'Uthman, who had been installed as governor in Syria. Ali moved his capital away from Medina to Kufa, in Iraq, on the banks of the Euphrates, to meet the challenge of Muawiyya. Iraq's allegiance to the Household of the Prophet and the veneration of the figure of Ali and his progeny can be directly traced to the momentous decision to move the fulcrum of Muslim power from the Arabian Peninsula to Iraq.
Ali's rule was short-lived. He was beset by mutinies and revolts which soon broke out into full-scale civil war - the so-called fitna - between loyalists to his cause and the followers of Muawiyya. Shortly after the inconclusive battle of Siffin with Muawiyya, Ali was assassinated. Ali's son Hassan, son of Fatima, the Prophet's daughter, briefly assumed the mantle of Caliph. He was then prevailed upon to relinquish his claim in favour of Muawiyya. He went into exile where agents of Muawiyya most probably poisoned him. The Ummayyad dynasty, based in Damascus, was born. The events that led to the first schism and its aftermath became one of the defining episodes in the evolution of Shi'a identity. The death of Muawiyya and the accession of his dissolute son Yazid to the Caliphate were contrary to the commitments that Muawiyya made to Hassan to clinch the relinquishing of his claims to the Caliphate. The opposition to the rule of the Ummayyads began to coalesce around Ali's son Hussein, also a son of Fatima, the Prophet's daughter. Hussein left Mecca for Kufa, to rally his supporters and to lead the struggle against Yazid. He was abandoned, however, by his erstwhile followers in Kufa, who had been cowed into submission by Yazid's governor. Hussein, together with a small band of devoted followers and members of his family, were left stranded in the deserts southwest of the Euphrates River and hounded by Yazid's armies. Hussein brought his party to a final halt near the modern town of Karbala in Iraq, where he prepared to confront the vastly superior numbers of his enemy. The encounter on the desert plains near Karbala, memorialised by most Muslims thereafter by the rites of penitence of the 10th of Muharram - or 'Ashoura - became the most significant date in the history of the Shi'a. Hussein was brutally killed, together with nearly all his male followers, while the womenfolk and children were driven away into captivity. The events at Karbala left a permanent scar on the psyche of Muslims. The Prophet's grandson and numerous members of his family had been pitilessly slaughtered and the guilt associated with the act of betrayal and abandonment of Hussein became a recurrent theme in Muslim, especially Shi'a, lore.
Excerpted from The Occupation of Iraq by Ali A. Allawi Copyright © 2007 by Ali A. Allawi. Excerpted by permission.
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It is an an excellent read from the Iraqi perspective with a lot of Iraqi political and social history going back to the founding of the modern Iraq through 2006. Unfortunately, it ends before the "Surge" when the security environment was much better restored to provide a much more positive end to our current engagement. I recommend reading Bing West's The Strongest Tribe for balance.
While pointing out many of the deficiencies with the CPA, American military, Iraqis, and the overall conduct of affairs, it could have done a better job of laying the necessary blame on the right individuals rather than blaming the messengers or those delegated to implement the insufficiently planned or "resourced" policies. He also appears to ascribe overly negative motivations to Bremer. Nevertheless, his insight into Iraqi personalities and relationships is invaluable.
I would like eventually to add a copy of this book to my library, which I read from the public library in July 2009, and now thanks to Barnes and Noble, I have.
Posted February 21, 2008
The book tells the success of winning the march on Baghdad, and the problems of trying to keep the peace after the war. While at times an interesting read, it fails to tell of how the surge is working today.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.