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Understanding Iraq: The Whole Sweep of Iraqi History, from Genghis Khan's Mongols to the Ottoman Turks to the British Mandate to the American Occupationby William R Polk
Synopses & Reviews
Iraq will continue to be a major issue and involvement for the United States into the foreseeable future says William R. Polk, former member of the State Department's Policy Planning Council and professor of Middle Eastern history at the University of Chicago. Iraq sits on the world's largest supply of oil, and with the world's energy requirements continuously rising, Iraq will play an ongoing role in the global economy and the political environment throughout the Gulf region and the Middle East.
Polk's concise, authoritative overview of Iraq's history shows how the pattern of outside intervention was established first by the Ottoman Turks and the Persian Safavids and later by England, Russia, and Germany. After World War I came British rule, followed by a brief and uneasy period of independence that sparked Iraqi nationalism, leading Saddam Husain to power with American military and financial aid and covert CIA involvement. The Iraq-Iran War and the invasion of Kuwait was followed by the Gulf War, the sanctions period, and the Bush administration's decision to invade. Finally, there is the American occupation and the challenges, opportunities, and options that Iraqis and Americans face now and in the future.
"In this tightly crafted book, even the introductory note on words and spellings makes for a lesson in misunderstandings. Not only have occupying armies, officials and journalists not known the local language, Polk observes, but because Arabic is grounded in religious and historical texts, outsiders have missed the allusions that inform Iraqis' perceptions. Polk's history of ignorance reads like a portent. As the events in his history of Iraq from the Sumerians to the U.S. war of 2003 unfold in chronological order, they read like historical echoes of Iraq's present. The effect is haunting, and Polk's knack for understatement — he describes the recent American tactic of dismissing the Iraqi military but allowing them to keep their weapons as 'maladroit' — only adds to the feeling of dread. But Polk, a scholar of the Middle East and former adviser to John F. Kennedy, stops just short of a fatalistic view of history. In one of the clearest prescriptions for success in Iraq yet to emerge, Polk calls for 'American political courage' in allowing Iraqis to re-establish neighborhood associations to run social affairs and provide security. These associations not only inspire more genuine political participation than voting or constitutions, he says, but are a natural part of Iraqi tradition and culture. Unlike current American policy, which, he says, inadvertently invokes the post-WWI British occupation by focusing on rulers and symbols and neglecting the citizens, Polk calls attention to the reality of human relationships. With this war's death toll already at over 100,000 people, Polk notes that virtually every Iraqi has lost a parent, child, spouse, cousin, friend, colleague or neighbor. To achieve true peace in Iraq, the U.S., he argues, must acknowledge the brutalizing effect of those deaths and rebuild the trust that he thinks has been eroding for centuries. Agent, Sterling Lord Literistic. (On sale Apr. 10)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Polk's distinguished 60-year career of diplomatic and academic intimacy with the Middle East grants him unique authority on his subject and puts this book head and shoulders above other analyses...Candid, concise, and highly recommended." Booklist (Starred Review)
"A supremely helpful companion to, and gloss on, the news from Iraq...Learned, constantly engaging and full of pointed lessons for those wondering why the war has not ended, peace has not come..." Kirkus Reviews
"Polk's compact book should be required reading for servicemen and women headed for Iraq as well as for today's policy planners...crisp, clear narrative writing." The Washington Post
"[A] sober and informed account of Iraq's history, culminating in a compelling critique of the U.S. intervention there." Foreign Affairs
"[B]y far the most absorbing and disturbing of the many recent books [and] has the authority that comes from formidable knowledge and understanding of a far-away country which, so far, has proved all too complex and intractable." The Economist
"The author could hardly be more expert...for anyone truly wishing to understand this horrendous adventure, there is no better book than this one." Journal of the American Foreign Service Association
From a leading expert on the Middle East and the author of The U.S. and the Arab World comes an acute and penetrating historical explanation of current U.S. intervention and future relationship with Iraq.
About the Author
William R. Polk studied at Harvard (where he earned his B.A. and Ph.D.) and read Arabic and Turkish at Oxford (where he earned his B.A. and M.A.). As a fellow of the Rockefeller Foundation, he also studied in Iraq and other parts of the Middle East. He taught Middle Eastern history and politics and Arabic at Harvard until 1961, when he became a member of the Policy Planning Council of the Department of State, responsible for the Middle East and North Africa. In 1965 he resigned to become Professor of History and Founding Director of the Center for Middle Eastern Studies of the University of Chicago. He was also a founding director of the American Middle Eastern Studies Association. He has lectured in more than a hundred universities and colleges as well as at the Council on Foreign Relations, the Canadian Institute of International Relations,the Royal Institute of International Affairs, and the Institute of World Economy and International Affairs of the Soviet Academy of Sciences. Among his many books are The United States and the Arab World, The Arab World Today, The Elusive Peace: The Middle East in the Twentieth Century, and Neighbors and Strangers: The Fundamentals of Foreign Affairs.
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