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1 Burnside Middle East- Iraq

The Assassins' Gate: America in Iraq

by

The Assassins' Gate: America in Iraq Cover

 

 

Excerpt

Excerpted from The Assassin's Gate by George Packer. Copyright © 2005 by George Packer. Published in October 2005 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC. All rights reserved.

Prologue

in the shade of a high sandstone arch, a Bradley Fighting Vehicle and a platoon of American soldiers from the First Armored Division guarded the main point of entry into the vast and heavily fortified Green Zone along the west bank of the Tigris River, where the Coalition Provisional Authority governed occupied Iraq. When I arrived in Baghdad in the summer of 2003 and first saw the arch, I mistook it for one of the city's antique gates, built during the time of the caliphs to keep out Persian invaders. The American soldiers referred to it by a name that seemed to have come straight out of the Thousand and One Nights. They called it the Assassins' Gate.

Early every morning, before the sun grew dangerous, crowds of Iraqis gathered at the Assassins' Gate. Some were job seekers; others were protesters carrying banners--"Please Re-open Our Factories," "We Wish to See Mr. Frawley." Demonstrators brought their causes here and sometimes turned into rioters. A man handed out copies of a table printed in English and Arabic and titled "The Names of Victims of execution of my family." Many people carried letters addressed to L. Paul Bremer III, the top civilian administrator in Iraq. With the old order overthrown, the Baath Party authorities purged, and the ministries stripped bare by looters, most Iraqis didn't know where to take their grievances and petitions, where to unload the burden of their personal histories. So, like supplicants to the caliph of ancient Baghdad, they brought them directly to the front gate of the occupation. But few Iraqis had the credentials to enter the Green Zone, and interpreters at the gate were rare. The Iraqis stood on one side of coils of concertina wire, gesturing and trying to explain why they needed to get in; on the other side stood Americans doing twelve-hour shifts of checkpoint duty in body armor, keeping them out.

One day in July, a tiny woman in a salmon-colored veil stepped out of the crowd and thrust a handwritten letter up at me. She was a schoolteacher, about thirty, with glasses and thick white face powder and an expression so exaggeratedly solemn that she might have been a mime performing grief. The letter, which was eighteen pages long, requested an audience with "Mister respectable, merciful American ambassador Pawal Bramar." It contained a great deal of detailed advice on the need to arm the Iraqi people so they could help fight against the guerrilla resistance. The teacher, who was well under five feet tall, wanted permission to carry an AK-47 and work alongside American soldiers against the beasts who were trying to restore the tyrant or bring Iranian-style oppression. She showed me the fake gun permit drawn up to illustrate her desire. She had left her position teaching English at a girls' school in the Shiite slum called Sadr City, rather than submit to the dictates of the radical Muslims who had taken charge after the overthrow of Saddam and ordered the staff to poison the girls' minds against the Americans.

"In the beginning, the Americans treat Iraqi people well," the teacher said. "But later, because Iraqis are beasts, they attack Americans and kill them, and this will affect Americans' psychology badly and so they live in more isolation from Iraqi people." She had information--it came from the most reliable source in Baghdad, she said, the children in the street--that the tyrant and his followers were cutting off the heads of Americans (this was almost a year before the first known beheading in Iraq). The stories had made her ill. She was having trouble sleeping, she said, and had all but stopped eating.

A man with a cane hobbled over from the line. His left hand, wrapped in a bandage, was missing the thumb. He explained to the teacher in Arabic that his father had been killed by a missile in the Iran-Iraq War, that he had been paralyzed in a car accident while fleeing Kuwait at the end of the Gulf War, and that at some point he had lost the piece of paper entitling him to hospital care. Now that the Americans were in charge, he felt emboldened to ask for another copy--and so he had come to the Assassins' Gate. The man, unshaven and wretched looking, began to cry. The teacher told him not to be sad, to trust in God, and to speak with the American soldiers at the checkpoint. He shuffled back into line.

"Please, sir, can you help me?" she continued. "I must work with Americans, because my psychology is demolished by Saddam Hussein. Not just me. All Iraqis. Psychological demolition."

Our conversation was brief, and it would have been briefer if my driver and translator, both of whom thought the woman completely insane, had succeeded in pulling me away at the start. Months later I saw her again: Somehow she had landed a job translating for the American soldiers who inspected IDs and searched people entering the Green Zone through another checkpoint. She had grown fat and acquired a pair of designer sunglasses.

I seldom think about Iraq without remembering the schoolteacher standing outside the Assassins' Gate, the abrupt intensity of her stare and speech, the sense that there was madness and truth in her all at once. That first summer after the Americans arrived, Iraq has the heightened, vivid, confused quality of a dream, washed in the relentless yellow sunlight. The hesitations and niceties of normal life dropped away. Something extraordinary was happening. No one knew what it was or how it would go, but it mattered more than anything and there wasn't much time.

Later on I learned that I'd been wrong about the Assassins' Gate. It wasn't ancient; Saddam built it some years ago in grandiose imitation of Baghdad's classical entrances. It wasn't even the Assassins' Gate--not to the Iraqis. The name drew blank looks from them, and then annoyance. They called it, more prosaically, Bab al-Qasr, the Palace Gate, because the road that passed under the arch led to Saddam's Republican Palace, a mile or so away, where the occupation authority had its headquarters. "Assassins' Gate" came from the nickname of the soldiers positioned there, who belonged to Alpha Company: A for Assassins, like "Kilory was here." It was an American invention for an ersatz Iraqi monument, a misnomer for a mirage. Iraqis complained about the way the U.S. military renamed their highways and buildings and redrew their district lines. It reminded them that something alien and powerful had been imposed on them without their consent, and that this thing did not fit easily with the lives they'd always known, it pulled and chafed, though it had also relieved them of a terrible curse. The mesh demanded judgment and patience from both sides, and already in that first summer these were in short supply.

The name "Assassins' Gate" stuck with the Americans in Iraq, and eventually with some of the Iraqis, too. The original assassins were twelfth-century Muslim heretics; they were said to consume hashish in gardens of earthly delights before going out to kill, and they made murder such a public spectacle that it became a form of suicide as well--the assassin set upon his target at noon Friday in the mosque with a knife, knowing he too would die. Over time in Iraq, as the violence surged, and the Assassins' Gate disappeared behind watchtowers and concrete blast walls, and everything began to deteriorate, the name came to fit in a peculiarly evocative way. I imagined a foreign traveler walking under the glare of the sun through the front gate of an old walled city, believing that he was safe and welcome in this unfamiliar place, not knowing that hidden dangers awaited him just inside. At other times, it was the foreigner I saw as the assassin, taking aim from his perch high up on the arch.

The road that led America to the Assassins' Gate is long and not at all direct. The story of the Iraq War is a story of ideas about the role of the United States in the world, and of the individuals who conceived and acted on them. It has roots deep in history, yet there was nothing inevitable about the war, and the mere fact of it still sometimes astounds me. During the nearly interminable buildup to war I never found the questions about it easy to answer, and the manner in which the country argued with itself seemed wholly inadequate to the scale of what we were about to get into. I first went to Iraq, and then kept going back, because I wanted to see past the abstractions to what the war meant in people's lives. Nothing, I felt in that summer of 2003, was fixed yet. The most important struggles were the ones going on inside the minds of Iraqis and Americans alike. The war's meaning would be the sum of all the ways that all of them understood one another and the event that had thrust them together. In the end it would come down to just these encounters, millions of them, like the one at the Assassins' Gate.

Product Details

ISBN:
9780374299637
Subtitle:
America in Iraq
Author:
Packer, George
Publisher:
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Subject:
International Relations
Subject:
Middle East - General
Subject:
Americans
Subject:
Insurgency
Subject:
International Relations - General
Subject:
Military - Iraq War
Subject:
Military - Iraq War (2003-)
Subject:
United States - 21st Century
Subject:
Military/Iraq War (2003-2011)
Copyright:
Edition Number:
1st
Edition Description:
Trade Cloth
Publication Date:
October 15, 2005
Binding:
Electronic book text in proprietary or open standard format
Language:
English
Illustrations:
Includes a Note on Sources and an Index
Pages:
512
Dimensions:
9.00 x 6.00 in

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History and Social Science » Middle East » Iraq
History and Social Science » Military » Iraq War (2003-)
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The Assassins' Gate: America in Iraq Used Hardcover
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Product details 512 pages Farrar Straus Giroux - English 9780374299637 Reviews:
"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "It is extremely uncommon for any reporter to read another's work and to find that he altogether recognizes the scene being described. Reading George Packer's book, I found not only that I was remembering things I had forgotten, but also that I was finding things that I ought to have noticed myself. His book rests on three main pillars: analysis of the intellectual origins of the Iraq war, summary of the political argument that preceded and then led to it, and firsthand description of the consequences on the ground. In each capacity, Packer shows himself once more to be the best chronicler, apart perhaps from John Burns of the New York Times, that the conflict has produced. (I say 'once more' because some of this material has already appeared in the New Yorker.) A very strong opening section traces the ideas, and the ideologists, of the push for regime change in Iraq. Packer is evidently not a neoconservative, but he provides an admirably fair and lucid account of those who are. There is one extraordinary lacuna in his tale — he manages to summarize the long debate between the 'realists' and the 'neocons' without mentioning Henry Kissinger — but otherwise he makes an impressively intelligent guide. Of value in itself is the ribbonlike presence, through the narrative, of the impressive exile Iraqi dissident Kanan Makiya, upon whom Packer hones many of his own ideas. (I should confess that I myself make an appearance at this stage and, to my frustration, can find nothing to quarrel with.) The argument within the administration was not quite so intellectual, but Packer takes us through it with insight and verve, giving an excellent account in particular of the way in which Vice President Cheney swung from the 'realist' to the 'neocon' side. And then the scene shifts to Iraq itself. Packer has a genuine instinct for what the Iraqi people have endured and are enduring, and writes with admirable empathy. His own opinions are neither suppressed nor intrusive: he clearly welcomes the end of Saddam while having serious doubts about the wisdom of the war, and he continually tests himself against experience. The surreal atmosphere of Paul Bremer's brief period of palace rule is very well caught, but the outstanding chapter recounts a visit to the northern city of Kirkuk and literally 'walks' us through the mesh of tribal, ethnic and religious rivalry. The Iraq debate has long needed someone who is both tough-minded enough, and sufficiently sensitive, to register all its complexities. In George Packer's work, this need is answered." Christopher Hitchens, Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Review" by , "It is a pleasure to find a work that strives for balance, fairness, and understanding in surveying the causes and course of the ongoing Iraqi war....[Packer] covers a broad range of topics...This is a troubling but deeply moving examination of a struggle that seems far from resolution."
"Review" by , "[A]uthoritative and tough-minded....What The Assassins' Gate may lack in freshness...is more than made up for by its wide-angled, overarching take on the Iraq war..."
"Review" by , "As memorable as Michael Herr's Dispatches, and of surpassing immediacy."
"Review" by , "Packer meets head on the failings of Washington policy as implemented by those administrators and soldiers on the ground in Iraq. [A] disturbing and thought-provoking work..."
"Review" by , "Packer relates all this clearly and briskly, painting moving portraits of both Iraqis and Americans while skillfully guiding the reader through the intricacies of colonial administration, Iraqi ethnic politics and Beltway skullduggery."
"Review" by , "In the midst of a war that has raised thousands of questions, George Packer has given us a brilliant, moving, and essential book with answers. Packer, who was an up close witness to the pre-war debates and the wartime carnage, cuts past the simplistic recriminations and takes us on an unforgettable journey that begins on a trail of good intentions and winds up on a devastating trail of tears. If you want to understand how Iraq became a quagmire, and who the human beings are who suffer its consequences, you must read this book." Samantha Power, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide
"Synopsis" by , Packer's intimate first-person narrative navigates his journey through the landscapes of America and Iraq while tracing his own evolving views, bringing to the page the full range of ideas and emotions stirred up by America's most controversial foreign-policy venture since Vietnam.
"Synopsis" by ,
Named one of the Best Books of 2005 by The New York Times, The Washington Post Book World, The Boston Globe, The Chicago Tribune, The San Francisco Chronicle Book Review, The Los Angeles Times Book Review, The New York Times Book Review, USA Today, Time, and New York magazine.
 
 The Assassins Gate: America in Iraq recounts how the United States set about changing the history of the Middle East and became ensnared in a guerrilla war in Iraq. It brings to life the people and ideas that created the Bush administrations war policy and led America to the Assassins Gate—the main point of entry into the American zone in Baghdad.
 
The Assassins Gate also describes the place of the war in American life: the ideological battles in Washington that led to chaos in Iraq, the ordeal of a fallen soldier s family, and the political culture of a country too bitterly polarized to realize such a vast and morally complex undertaking. George Packers best-selling first-person narrative combines the scope of an epic history with the depth and intimacy of a novel, creating a masterful account of Americas most controversial foreign venture since Vietnam.
"Synopsis" by ,
THE ASSASSINS GATE: AMERICA IN IRAQ recounts how the United States set about changing the history of the Middle East and became ensnared in a guerilla war in Iraq. It brings to life the people and ideas that created the Bush administrations war policy and led America to the Assassins Gate—the main point of entry into the American zone in Baghdad. The consequences of that policy are shown in the authors brilliant reporting on the ground in Iraq, where he made four tours on assignment for The New Yorker. We see up close the struggles of American soldiers and civilians and Iraqis from all backgrounds, thrown together by a war that followed none of the preconceived scripts.

The Assassins' Gate also describes the place of the war in American life: the ideological battles in Washington that led to chaos in Iraq, the ordeal of a fallen soldiers family, and the political culture of a country too bitterly polarized to realize such a vast and morally complex undertaking. George Packers first-person narrative combines the scope of an epic history with the depth and intimacy of a novel, creating a masterful account of Americas most controversial foreign venture since Vietnam.

George Packer is a staff writer for The New Yorker and the author of several books, most recently Blood of the Liberals, winner of the 2001 Robert F. Kennedy Award. He is also the editor of the anthology The Fight Is for Democracy. He lives in Brooklyn.
Winner of the Overseas Press Club's Cornelius Ryan Award for Best Nonfiction Book on International Affairs

Winner of the New York Public Library Helen Bernstein Book Award
A New York Times Best Book of the Year
A New York Times Notable Book
A Chicago Tribune Best Book of the Year
A Boston Globe Best Book of the Year
A Washington Post Best Book of the Year
A San Francisco Chronicle Best Book of the Year
 
The Assassins' Gate: America in Iraq recounts how the United States set about changing the history of the Middle East and became ensnared in a guerilla war in Iraq. It brings to life the people and ideas that created the Bush administration's war policy and led America to the Assassins' Gate—the main point of entry into the American zone in Baghdad. The consequences of that policy are shown in the author's reporting on the ground in Iraq, where he made four tours on assignment for The New Yorker. We see up close the struggles of American soldiers and civilians and Iraqis from all backgrounds, thrown together by a war that followed none of the preconceived scripts.

The Assassins' Gate also describes the place of the war in America life: the ideological battles in Washington that led to chaos in Iraq, the ordeal of a fallen soldier's family, and the political culture of a country too bitterly polarized to realize such a vast and morally complex undertaking. George Packer's first-person narrative combines the scope of an epic history with the depth and intimacy of a novel, creating a masterful account of America's most controversial foreign venture since Vietnam.

"A comprehensive look at the largest foreign policy gamble in a generation, by a New Yorker reporter who traces the full arc of the war, from the pre-invasion debate through the action on the ground."—The New York Time Book Review
"A comprehensive look at the largest foreign policy gamble in a generation, by a New Yorker reporter who traces the full arc of the war, from the pre-invasion debate through the action on the ground."—The New York Time Book Review
 
"Masterful . . . Packer's sketch of the prewar debates is subtle, sharp and poignant . . . His reporting from Iraq was always good, but the book is even better, putting the reader at the side of Walter Benjamin's angel of history, watching helplessly as the wrechage unfolds at his feet."—Gideon Rose, The Washington Post Book World
 
"A deftly constructed and eloquently told account of the war's origins and aftermath . . . Although he works in snapshots and anecdotes, every time an image might allow him to settle into a simple conclusion about the war's worthiness, he turns his attention—and his considerable powers of description and dramatization—to another image that points to the opposite conclusion. The cumulative effect is a wrenching cognitive dissonance—the kind, Packer observes, that few Americans can stand but with which Iraqis live every day . . . Packer makes it deeply human and maddeningly vivid."—Daniel Kurtz-Phelan, Los Angeles Book Review
 
"[Packer] has succeeded in creating a book that is not only relevant but discerning and provocative. Using on-the-ground reporting and a talent for storytelling, he offers the vivid detail and balanced analysis that have made him one of the leading chroniclers of the Iraq war."—Yonatan Lupu, San Francisco Chronicle
 
"Packer covers the same ground as the other authors — the war dreamed up by fevered minds in Washington, the strange world of diaspora politics, the lack of planning in the Department of Defense, the occupation, and the insurgency — but he does it from the perspective of a journalist rather than of a participant. The result is a beautifully written, poignant, and fair-minded narrative of two dreams deferred."—Mark Leonard, The Chronicle of Higher Education
 
"Read George Packer's book The Assassin's Gate . . . And I wish . . . I had been able to help George Packer write that book. In some places I could have given him a hell of a lot more specifics . . . But if you want to read how the Cheney-Rumsfeld cabal flummoxed the process, read that book. And, of course, there are other names in there, Under Secretary of Defense Doug Feith, whom most of you probably know Tommy Frank said was the 'stupidest blankety blank man in the world.' He was. Let me testify to that. He was. Seldom in my life have I met a dumber man. And yet, and yet, after the Secretary of State agrees to a $400 billion department, rather than a $30 billion department, having control, at least in the immediate post-war period in Iraq, this man is put in charge. Not only is he put in charge, he is given carte blanche to tell the State Department to go screw themselves in a closet somewhere. That's not making excuses for the State Department. That's telling you how decisions were made and telling you how things got accomplished. Read George's book."—Larry Wilkerson
 
"A brilliant new book."—Richard Holbrooke, The Washington Post
 
"[Packer's] own reportage of the effects of the war on the individuals involved . . . [is] much fresher and more compelling."—The Boston Globe
 
"Brutal analyses and trenchant on-the-spot reportage for the New Yorker magazine over the past two years provide the core of this devastating critique . . . Mr. Packer brilliantly describes the evolving mindset of the neoconservatives who took hold of policy towards Iraq in the run-up to the war, as well as the hopes and arguments of their assorted Iraqi allies in exile . . . Where he scores most is in his portraying the psychology of Iraqis, their ambivalence to the liberation/occupation . . . . Mr. Packer empathizes with them in all their diversity, drawing a remarkable cast of sharply defined characters."—The Economist
 
"George Packer, a staff writer for The New Yorker, blends on-the-scene reporting and thoughtful analysis in a sobering account of the unfinished war in Iraq and its impact on Americans and Iraqis. He cheers the demise of Saddam, while questioning a war with deep roots in history, but far from inevitable."—USA Today
 
"The Assassins' Gate is almost certain to stand as the most comprehensive journalistic account of the greatest foreign-policy debacle in U.S. history . . . the best book yet about the Iraq war . . . Packer is a rare combination: an excellent reporter, a sophisticated analyst and a fine writer. He was also ubiquitous. No other journalist can match the breadth of Packer's Iraq coverage . . . exceptional—varied, empathetic and intelligent . . . The Assassins' Gate is required reading for anyone who wants to understand the terrible predicament in which we now find ourselves, how we got there, and why we must not repeat the same tragic mistake."—Gary Kamiya, Salon
 
"Wrenching dispatches from the heart of the war that won't end."—New York Magazine
 
"The great strength of George Packer's book is that it gives a fair hearing to both views. Free of cant—but not, crucially, of anger—Mr. Packer has written an account of the Iraq war that will stand alongside such narrative histories as A Bright Shining Lie, Fire in the Lake and Hell in a Very Small Place. As a meditation on the limits of American power, it's sobering. As a pocket history of Iraq and the United States' tangled history, it's indispensible. As an examination of the collision between arrogance and good intentions, it could scarcely be improved upon . . . In short, The Assassins' Gate is a book every American needs to read."—The New York Observer 
 
"In The Assassins' Gate, the most complete, sweeping, and powerful account of the Iraq War yet written, George acker tries to see, to really see, how this all happened and what has happened since . . . The tale of [Packer's] disillusionment is slow, eloquent, but if you've been following the news, unsurprising . . . It is heartbreaking to read, because we know how it will end . . . Was it right to invade Iraq? . . . He never gets any answers, but becasue he keeps going back, the characters in his book develop, return, advance, fail. The middle 200 pages of The Assassins' Gate are like a great big-picture realist novel, from the top American administrator on down, and though Packer never quite says as much, the portrait he paints of Iraq in the year and a half after the invasion is full and vivid and utterly, utterly damning . . . Packer has done something more valuable than write the tale of his own disillusionment. He has depicted in stark colors the disillsuionment of an entire nation. By the end of the book, all the people who'd had great hopes for the Americans no longer do."—Keith Gessen, New York Magazine

"Want to know what really happened in Iraq? This intelligent, vivid account from an 'ambivalently pro-war liberal' chronicles the buildup to the war and its repercussions firsthand and doesn't let ideology get in the way."—Details
 
"A brilliantly reported analysis of the war in Iraq."—GQ
 
"The best book yet written on the Iraq war."—The New York Sun
 
"[The Assassins' Gate] isn't a 'policy' book or an 'I-was-there' battlefield account. It is a rigorous, sustained inquiry into the clashing expectations for Iraq, how the war was planned, and the staggering wreckage of Iraqi society."—Bob Ruby, The Baltimore Sun
 
"A sobering tale . . . It's hard to think of a journalist better suited to the task . . . first-rate on-the-ground reporting and gritty insider accounts."—John Freeman,
The Plain Dealer (Cleveland)
 
"Extremely powerful . . . consistently moving and provocative."—David Glenn, Columbia Journalism Review
 
"[Packer anchors] a complex narrative with rich and insightful portraits of the people caught up in the conflict."—Charles Matthews, The San Jose Mercury
 
"In the midst of a war that has raised thousands of questions, George Packer has given us a brilliant, moving, and essential book with answers. Packer, who was an up close witness to the pre-war debates and the wartime carnage, cuts past the simplistic recriminations and takes us on an unforgettable journey that begins on a trail of good intentions and winds up on a devastating trail of tears. If you want to understand how Iraq became a quagmire, and who the human beings are who suffer its consequences, you must read this book."—Samantha Power, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of "A Problem from Hell": America and the Age of Genocide
 
"Memorable . . . and of surpassing immediacy."—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
 
"It is a pleasure to find a work that strives for balance, fairness, and understanding in surveying the causes and course of the ongoing Iraqi war . . . This is a troubling but deeply moving examination of a struggle that seems far from resolution."—Jay Freeman, Booklist
 
"What a mess! That is Packer's analysis of America in Iraq. He summarizes the political and intellectual basis for the U.S. presence there as emerging from the neoconservative thinking of Paul Wolfowitz, Robert Kagan, Richard Perle, William Bennett, and other Bush administration figures. He also points to the justification embedded in Arab tyranny, weapons proliferation, strategic threats to oil, the weakness of Democratic party leadership, and security for Israel. Political philosopher Leo Strauss is characterized as the intellectual spinal cord of the Republicans, in neat contrast to Packer's implication of the lack of intellectual capacity or practice by members of the Bush administration. Packer (staff writer, The New Yorker; Blood of the Liberals) moves the focus in the second half of his work from Washington to Iraq to record the experiences and thinking of the lower-level administrators and soldiers as they apply neoconservative policy. Although it has been said that truth is the first thing to disappear in war, Packer meets head on the failings of Washington policy as implemented by those administrators and soldiers on the ground in Iraq . . . disturbing and thought-provoking."—Library Journal
 
"The Iraq debate has long needed someone who is both tough-minded enough, and sufficiently sensitive, to register all its complexities. In George Packer's work, this need is answered . . . Packer shows himself once more to be the best chronicler . . . that the conflict has produced . . . He makes an impressively intelligent guide . . . Packer has a genuine instinct for what the Iraqi people have endured and are enduring and writes with admirable empathy. His own opinions are neither suppressed nor intrusive: he clearly welcomes the end of Saddam while having serious doubts about the wisdom of the war, and he continually tests himself against experience."—Christopher Hitchens, Publishers Weekly
 
"The Iraq book to watch this season."—Publishers Weekly

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