A history from 1920, and then, the prospects
This is an excellent book for those who want to know more about how the ethnically artificial Iraqi state was created by the colonial powers, mainly the British, in the 1920s, and why; and how it "progressed" toward the Ba'athist dictatorship under Saddam Hussein with attendant intrigues and atrocities. The first chapter covers the period from 1920 to1958 under the Hashemite Monarchy; the second from 1958 to 1968; the third from 1968 to1988; the fourth begins with the end of the Iraq-Iran War and ends in 2003. Then there are three chapters devoted to the three main ethnic groups, the Shi'a, the Sunnis, and the Kurds. There is an epilogue and an index.
I came away from my reading with the sense that no matter what is done, Iraq is headed for massive bloodshed resulting eventually in a new Sunni dictatorship or a Shi'a theocracy--neither of which is what the Bush Administration had in mind. Clearly the authors--Liam Anderson, a political science professor at Wayne State University, and Gareth Stansfield, an expert on Iraqi and especially Kurdish affairs--do not think it likely that democracy will arise out of the ashes. They give three likely scenarios in terms of options for the United States in Chapter Eight, "The Democracy Dilemma" (which is where the time-strapped reader might begin reading).
The first option they call "Democracy Lite" in which there is a "short-term occupation" with an attempt "to establish a functioning democratic system," and then a pullout. (p. 191) The authors argue rather convincingly that this will never work mainly because the various political divisions within Iraq will prevent it, the Sunnis because they fear the Shi'a majority, the Shi'a because they don't really believe in democracy, and the Kurds because they want their own autonomous state.
The next option is a long-term occupation (a minimum of ten years). Here the prospects for democracy are better, but such an occupation is likely to unify the dissident elements of Iraq in an insurgency effort against a foreign power, as has happened in the past. Indeed, the attacks against Coalition forces and those Iraqis who support the Coalition have increased substantially since this book was finished a year ago. So the real question then becomes, how long will the American people put up with the cost in dollars and bloodshed before pulling out
The third option is the installation of a puppet regime and the quick withdrawal of US troops. The authors call this the "default option" (p. 209) and condemn it as spelling "disaster for Iraq" and "seriously detrimental to U.S. interests." (p. 211)
Instead of these three options, the authors opt for a fourth possibility which they call "The Managed Partition of Iraq." The idea here is to give autonomy to the Kurds in the north, and to give the rest of the country to the Sunnis and the Shi'a, or to have that territory divided between them, with the Shi'a controlling the southern portion in a kind of "state of Basra" with "a mixed Sunni/Shi'a state of Baghdad in the center." (p. 222)
There are enormous problems with each of these options, as the authors painstakingly point out, and enormous uncertainties. Clearly the Bush Administration does not agree with--or was unaware of--such obstacles when it embarked on its foolhardy invasion of Iraq. Certainly, Bush's father knew enough of the history of Iraq and the region to realize that leaving Saddam Hussein in power was the best way to further American interests in the area since we had good control over the weakened dictator. Bush the Second has ignored the lessons of history (and reality) for his "faith-based" scenario, which, according to the authors of this tightly argued and finely detailed book, can only lead to a nightmare since the prospect of a democracy any time soon is close to nil.
Bottom line: This book can be read in two ways: from the beginning straight through for those of you who want the background information and history of the Iraqi state, or beginning with Chapter Eight where the authors give their take on the prospects for Iraq. One can also, as in a textbook, read just the "Conclusion" sections at the end of each chapter, and then read Chapter Eight and the Epilogue. Since I am not an expert, I found reading the book from cover to cover informative and definitely worth my time. The presentation is clear, balanced and sharply realistic.
--Dennis Littrell, author of the mystery novel, "Teddy and Teri"