Summary and book reviews of The End of Iraq by Peter Galbraith

The End of Iraq

How American Incompetence Created a War Without End

By Peter W. Galbraith

The End of Iraq
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  • Hardcover: Jul 2006,
    272 pages.
    Paperback: Jun 2007,
    288 pages.

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Book Summary

The End of Iraq, definitive, tough-minded, clear-eyed, describes America's failed strategy toward that country and what must be done now.

The United States invaded Iraq with grand ambitions to bring it democracy and thereby transform the Middle East. Instead, Iraq has disintegrated into three constituent components: a pro-western Kurdistan in the north, an Iran-dominated Shiite entity in the south, and a chaotic Sunni Arab region in the center. The country is plagued by insurgency and is in the opening phases of a potentially catastrophic civil war.

George W. Bush broke up Iraq when he ordered its invasion in 2003. The United States not only removed Saddam Hussein, it also smashed and later dissolved the institutions by which Iraq's Sunni Arab minority ruled the country: its army, its security services, and the Baath Party. With these institutions gone and irreplaceable, the basis of an Iraqi state has disappeared.

The End of Iraq describes the administration's strategic miscalculations behind the war as well as the blunders of the American occupation. There was the failure to understand the intensity of the ethnic and religious divisions in Iraq. This was followed by incoherent and inconsistent strategies for governing, the failure to spend money for reconstruction, the misguided effort to create a national army and police, and then the turning over of the country's management to Republican political loyalists rather than qualified professionals.

As a matter of morality, Galbraith writes, the Kurds of Iraq are no less entitled to independence than are Lithuanians, Croatians, or Palestinians. And if the country's majority Shiites want to run their own affairs, or even have their own state, on what democratic principle should they be denied? If the price of a unified Iraq is another dictatorship, Galbraith writes in The End of Iraq, it is too high a price to pay.

The United States must focus now, not on preserving or forging a unified Iraq, but on avoiding a spreading and increasingly dangerous and deadly civil war. It must accept the reality of Iraq's breakup and work with Iraq's Shiites, Kurds, and Sunni Arabs to strengthen the already semi-independent regions. If they are properly constituted, these regions can provide security, though not all will be democratic.

There is no easy exit from Iraq for America. We have to relinquish our present strategy -- trying to build national institutions when there is in fact no nation. That effort is doomed, Galbraith argues, and it will only leave the United States with an open-ended commitment in circumstances of uncontrollable turmoil.

Peter Galbraith has been in Iraq many times over the last twenty-one years during historic turning points for the country: the Iran-Iraq War, the Kurdish genocide, the 1991 uprising, the immediate aftermath of the 2003 war, and the writing of Iraq's constitutions. In The End of Iraq, he offers many firsthand observations of the men who are now Iraq's leaders. He draws on his nearly two decades of involvement in Iraq policy working for the U.S. government to appraise what has occurred and what will happen. The End of Iraq is the definitive account of this war and its ramifications.

On March 2, in Basra's Sa'ad Square, an Iraqi tank driver turned his turret toward a two-story portrait of Saddam Hussein and fired. The shell ignited a rebellion that spread from Basra up the Euphrates and Tigris river valleys, reaching the southern outskirts of Baghdad.

In Nasiriyah, crowds literally tore Ba'ath Party officials apart. Government offices, Ba'ath Party headquarters, and military installations were looted and burned. The intensity of Shiite feelings was encapsulated for me in an incident that I witnessed a few weeks later.

I was in a refugee camp on the Iraq-Kuwait border when a U.S. Army medic in a Humvee drove into the camp. Four children, he said, had been collecting tomatoes on the Iraqi side of the border when they stepped on unexploded American ordnance. It had detonated. Was there a doctor, he asked. I rounded up the only available medical person, a Kuwaiti medical student, and drove him into Iraq. Three of the children had been moved to an American...

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Reviews

BookBrowse

Galbraith's cogent analysis of the history of Iraq, and the USA's involvement in the country, seems to be eminently balanced and clear and, from the point of view of this armchair-observer of the Iraq debacle, it is difficult to find fault with his conclusions.   (Reviewed by BookBrowse Review Team).

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Media Reviews
Author Blurb Richard Holbrooke, former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations
Peter Galbraith has seen, with balance and clarity, the whole arc of America's tragic and mismanaged relationship with Iraq. This is an essential book as the debate on what to do in Iraq continues to grow in the United States.

Author Blurb Foreign Affairs
The perceptive and well-informed Galbraith has it just about right in his litany of miscalculations and mismanagements.... Fast paced.

Author Blurb Phillip G. Henderson, National Catholic Reporter
Excellent and indispensable.... Peter Galbraith's learned and insightful book is literally a must-read for those who wish to place the Iraq war in historical context and to understand the forces at play in what may well be the dissolution of Iraq.

The Age (Australia)

The End of Iraq is possibly the best yet of the crop of post-Iraq monographs, in part because it does not linger in the swamps of Washingtonian "where did we go wrong?" policy introspection. Galbraith knows Iraq, knows what went wrong, and shows us. And it is a timely account: as Iraq's disintegration becomes luridly visible, this is the book that provides the real-time autopsy. In passing, one also gets a sense of how Iraq might have been managed had there been a US presidency receptive to Galbraith's peculiar combination of human rights activism and aggressive strategic realism.

Library Journal

...a former top Senate staffer and diplomat, Galbraith supports his accusations of U.S. incompetence in conducting the war and the catastrophic assumption of an easy occupation with his extensive personal experience in Iraq, especially with the Kurdish leadership. He finds the country in the throes of civil war and recommends partition with a residual U.S. force in an independent Kurdistan.

Washington Monthly - Michael Hirsh

Galbraith is all the things a passionate advocate should be: brave, dedicated, smart, and aggressive to a fault. What he is not, it seems to me, is altogether intellectually honest about whether his Kurdish ties have skewed his overall view of the Iraq situation. It is not that Galbraith makes any attempt to hide his work as an advisor to the Kurds. Instead he seems to practice a studied disingenuousness on this score.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Galbraith's authoritative grasp of the issues and his cogent, forthright call for disengagement ensure that the book will move into the center of the debate over American policy in Iraq.

The Washington Post - David Ignatius

While Bush administration officials warn of the dangers of giving up on a united Iraq, Galbraith argues that the worst has already happened: The United States has failed to create a stable post-Saddam Hussein government; a bloody civil war is already raging; and the longer the United States tries to maintain the fiction that the Iraqi killing ground is a viable nation, the more people will get killed.

The Empire Page

In approaching the pile of articles and books about Iraq that is piling up in places like The Atlantic Monthly and Borders bookstores -- trying to piece together a semblance of accurate history and truthful, realistic intelligence -- one must conclude that Peter W. Galbraith has a credibility that far surpasses that of just about anyone else. At least I have encountered none whose judgment on the matter I would trust more.

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A Short History of Iraq (map showing Kurdish and Shia areas)
The Republic of Iraq (about the size of California) spans the lands of ancient Mesopotamia, (between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers), the northwestern end of the Zagros mountain range and parts of the Syrian Desert.  Mesopotamia was home to the world's first known civilization, the Sumerians, who were followed by the Akkadians, Babylonians and Assyrians.  Between them they were responsible for the earliest known writing, establishing mathematical principles and laws, developing irrigation ...

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