Understanding Iraq: The Whole Sweep of Iraqi History, From Genghis Khan's Mongols to the Ottoman Turks to the British Mandate to the American Occupation

In This Review

Understanding Iraq: The Whole Sweep of Iraqi History, From Genghis Khan's Mongols to the Ottoman Turks to the British Mandate to the American Occupation

By William R. Polk
HarperCollins, 2005
240 pp. $22.95
Purchase

Unlike many single-state histories that take the reader from the dawn of history to modern times in a scant page or so, Understanding Iraq begins with two substantial chapters entitled "Ancient Iraq" and "Islamic Iraq." They set the stage for the treatment of Iraq from the time it got its modern name. A chapter entitled "British Iraq" (covering 1917 to 1958) is followed by "Revolutionary Iraq" (1958 to 1991) and then "American Iraq" (1991 to the present). These diverse adjectives bespeak a country that has long been dominated by outsiders or homegrown strongmen, and Polk's history depicts as much. Britain burst into Iraq but failed to put together an effective state. A nominally sovereign ruling elite during the years of the Iraqi monarchy accomplished little. Then, after 1958, came sundry revolutionary leaders from Abdul Karim Kassem to the long, brutal tenure of Saddam Hussein. Now Iraq faces up to yet another outside invader. Polk's final chapter is entitled -- what else? -- "Whose Iraq?" There are no heroes here, only a sober and informed account of Iraq's history, culminating in a compelling critique of the U.S. intervention there.