What to read on Iraq
Monitor Middle East correspondents Scott Peterson, Dan Murphy, and Jill Carroll recommend the best books on the Iraq war.
Walk into any bookstore today, and you are bound to find a shelf filled with books on current events in Iraq.Skip to next paragraph
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How can a reader far from the fray know what's worth reading? For help, we turned to our in-house experts – the Monitor's Middle East correspondents Scott Peterson, Dan Murphy, and Jill Carroll – who've experienced the conflict in Iraq firsthand and asked them for their top picks.
Peterson calls Spider's Web: Bush, Saddam, Thatcher and the Decade of Deceit (Faber & Faber, 1993) by Alan Friedman "the most detailed account of how senior US officials – former Defense chief Donald Rumsfeld among them – helped clandestinely arm and support Saddam Hussein in his fight against the revolutionary Islamic regime of Ayatollah Khomeini in the 1980s."
'Spider's Web' is 'a powerful reminder of how policies shift again and again in the Middle East.' (Scott Peterson)
Journalists Andrew and Patrick Cockburn offer "an invaluable understanding of Saddam Hussein's regime in the 1990s" in Out of the Ashes: The Resurrection of Saddam Hussein (HarperCollins, 1999), says Peterson. The book explains "how the aftermath of the first Gulf War from 1991 – with its sanctions, weapon inspections, and political brinkmanship – set the stage for the eventual US invasion of 2003. Full of on-the-ground reporting and detail, it is the best on this period."
'"Out of the Ashes" was the first book I read when I learned I was going to Iraq, and it's one I refer back to often.' (Dan Murphy)
Peterson also recommends Endgame (Simon & Schuster, 1999) by former United Nations weapons inspector Scott Ritter. "The book describes the work of the UN inspectors and how some of their efforts were used by the CIA and Western intelligence agencies until Ritter resigned in 1998," says Peterson. Ritter "was one of the few US voices before the 2003 war to declare that Iraq had dismantled its weapons programs – which proved to be true."
'Scott Ritter's insight into the workings of Baghdad's security apparatus are invaluable – and help explain the potency of the anti-US insurgency today.' (Peterson)
Crusade: The Untold Story of the Persian Gulf War (Houghton Mifflin, 1993) by Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Rick Atkinson offers insight into the United States' 1991 military engagement with Saddam's Iraq. Atkinson had "unparalleled access to US decisionmakers, both military and civilian," says Peterson. By "drawing upon exquisitely detailed sources," Atkinson "explains how the US obsession with Saddam began."
This is 'the definitive – and voluminous – account of the 1991 Gulf War.' (Peterson)
Night Draws Near (Henry Holt, 2005) by Anthony Shadid is "the best book to have emerged from the 'shock and awe' campaign against Baghdad," says Peterson. A Lebanese-American, Washington Post reporter Shadid won a 2004 Pulitzer Prize for his journalistic accounts of the daily lives of ordinary Iraqis during and after the 2003 Baghdad bombing campaign. "Night Draws Near," which Peterson praises for its "masterful writing" and "lyrical power that draws on [Shadid's] Arabic fluency and honed eye for detail," tells of the run-up to the war in Iraq, the invasion, and its aftermath – as seen through the eyes of Iraqis.
'Few writers have ever deserved the Pulitzer Prize for international reporting more than Anthony Shadid for his masterful writing during and after the 2003 Baghdad bombing campaign.' (Peterson)
Readers who want an up-close look at the 2003 US invasion of Iraq should turn to Generation Kill (Putnam, 2004) by Evan Wright, says Peterson. Wright was embedded with a platoon of First Reconnaissance Battalion marines during the invasion and later wrote about his experiences in a three-part series for Rolling Stone. "Generation Kill," says Peterson, is "full of raw power, adrenaline, exhaustion, and the profane flavor of modern-day war." Wright captures "a powerful, unvarnished, unblinking view of conflict, as if he turned on his tape recorder and video camera from the first order to 'step' and forgot to turn them off." He also calls "Generation Kill" the Iraq equivalent of the classic Vietnam war book "Dispatches," by Michael Herr.
' "Generation Kill" is the book that takes the reader as close as possible to the 2003 invasion of Iraq.' (Peterson)
For Jill Carroll (Monitor Middle East correspondent now based in Cairo), the fullest and most thorough accounting of the current war in Iraq is found in Fiasco (Penguin, 2006). "Fiasco" was written by Washington Post reporter Thomas Ricks and is based on hundreds of interviews – conducted both in person and via e-mail – with US military men and women on the ground in Iraq.