x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Required reading: Iraq War

It's 10 years since the invasion of Iraq. So what can the best books on the Iraq War teach us?

Operation Iraqi Freedom began on March 19, 2003 with aerial bombardment; soon US, UK and coalition forces had crossed Iraqi borders. Saddam Hussein's regime fell in three weeks. But the legacy of those days was long and bloody, and the meaning of the achievement hotly contested. Ten years on, what conclusions can we draw about the Iraq war and its impact? Time to turn to the bookshelves.

The US Vice President Dick Cheney infamously predicted that the Iraq war would be over "in weeks, not months". Years later, US troops were bogged down in a struggle for order as Iraq became a crucible of sectarian violence. See The Assassin's Gate: America in Iraq for an on-the-ground look at what happened from The New Yorker's George Packer: incompetence, ideology and a failure to understand that the Iraqi people were key factors, says Packer.

Like so many past wars, the Iraq war has generated a body of literature written by the men and women who fought in it. Among the best is One Bullet Away: The Making of a Marine Officer by Nathaniel Fick, who led a reconnaissance unit during the invasion. His is a look at the human cost, both for US soldiers and for the people they came among.

As Iraq descended into chaos after 2003, US authorities struggled to regain control. Imperial Life in the Emerald City by Rajiv Chandrasekaran is the definitive account of the failure of the US's post-war planning and Paul Bremer's Coalition Provisional Authority. The CPA was stuffed, says Chandrasekaran, by young idealists who spent more time worrying about instituting a fair tax system than they did making sure of the country's water and electricity supply.

There are, perhaps, truths about the human experience of war that only fiction can capture. The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers is a spare, vivid account of the invasion. Meanwhile, the people of Iraq must have the last say. See Night Draws Near by the US-Arab journalist Anthony Shadid to hear the voices of the Iraqi people on the invasion, its aftermath, and day-to-day life in post-war Iraq.

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