Inventing Iraq: The Failure of Nation-Building and a History Denied

In This Review

Inventing Iraq: The Failure of Nation-Building and a History Denied

By Toby Dodge
Columbia University Press, 2003
288 pp. $24.95

This book treats the British intervention in Iraq from World War I to 1934 and, in a preface and a conclusion, suggests parallels with the current U.S. intervention. The British, overextended after the war, needed to control Iraq on the cheap. They also had to adapt to the changing ideology concerning alien rule represented by the mandates system. The result was accelerated nation-building that produced a fragile independent Iraq by 1932. In the short span of their rule, the British figured out how to use airplanes to provide low-cost security monitoring and instituted land laws and administrative measures that strengthened the role of the tribal sheik and created a power structure that favored the rural over the urban. The implicit message in this account is that the British could have done a better job. (Agreed, but a cynical realist might point out that they did manage, at low cost, to institutionalize British indirect control, which survived to the 1950s.) As for what the United States should learn from all of this, Dodge would likely suggest that doing it right demands more time, more money, more troops on the ground, and better knowledge of Iraqi society.

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