Iraq and Iran

Iraq

 

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Eclipse of the Sunnis: Power, Exile, and Upheaval in the Middle East, by Deborah Amos—Amos is well known as an intelligent correspondent for National Public Radio. This book does everything to bolster her image as a perceptive, thoughtful, and insightful reporter. The book, though, goes beyond reportage. Covering the period since the Iraq invasion in 2003, Amos focuses on the impact of the invasion on the Middle East, and particularly on Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan, given the influx of refugees. Most importantly, she gives voice to the refugee narratives and helps the reader understand the issues faced. Amos also delves into the question of Iraq’s minorities, including Christians, with special attention to the effect of the invasion and occupation on them. This is a significant contribution. (A good review article of this book can be found here.

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Night Draws Near, by Anthony Shadid—This exceptional book by Washington Post correspondent Anthony Shadid explores the day to day lives of Iraqis during and since the 2003 US invasion. The style is clear and the stories are poignant. This book comes as close as possible to gain insight from Iraqis on how they experienced the invasion. 

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The Occupation, by Patrick Cockburn—Cockburn is an excellent writer, and this book is a presentation of the state of Iraq, as observed by him during his travel and visits there covering the country for his newspaper, The Independent. Cockburn’s insights present the grim reality, and his analysis of the occupation of the country is thoughtful and strong. 

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The End of Iraq: How American Incompetence Created a War Without End, by Peter Galbraith—This former Foreign Service officer writes a scathing critique of US policy leading up to, and following, the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Galbraith is expert in conveying the nuances and potentialities around this issue, and focuses on the future of the country as a divided land, based on ethnic divisions. The failure of “nation building” is a theme in this important book. 

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What We Owe Iraq: War and the Ethics of Nation Building, by Noah Feldman—Feldman was a member of the team that helped to draft Iraq’s provisional constitution following regime change. His perspectives are informed. This book is about Iraq, but also about the idea and project of nation building. He argues that the US needs to consider the interests of the Iraqis just as much—if not more—than US interests, in debating Iraq policy. 

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Iraqi Refugees: The new crisis in the Middle East, by Joseph Sassoon—This book is a grim assessment of the history and reality of Iraqi refugees, focusing primarily on the post-2003 displacement, but putting the more recent events in the context of the 1990s refugee flight. Examining the internally displaced, as well as the refugees in Jordan, Syria, elsewhere in the Arab world, and beyond, Sassoon provides a comprehensive picture of the reality of Iraqi refugees, and states the reality that many are in a state of limbo in other countries. He explores possibilities for return and resettlement as well in this highly informative work. 

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Erasing Iraq: The Human Costs of Carnage, by Michael Otterman and Richard Hill—Sociocide. In one word, that is the result of US involvement in Iraq, beginning with the sanctions regime of the 1990s and running through the 2003 invasion and ensuing occupation. Otterman and Hill describe in this compact, yet important contribution, realities in and of Iraq that are not commonplace in mainstream commercial US media. Focusing on refugees, the reality of civilian death and injury, media coverage (including embedding), and the plundering of culture, this book provides an invaluable insight to the situation in Iraq today.

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Disarming Iraq: The Search for Weapons of Mass Destruction, by Hans Blix—The head of the UN weapons inspection team, Blix writes about the efforts of the UN and the international community to find chemical weapons leading up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Writing from first-hand knowledge and experience, Blix’s account is haunting and an important contribution to the public record. 

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Collateral Damage by Chris Hedges and Laila al-Arian—In this short but sharp read, the authors give a good sense of what it is like to be a US soldier in Iraq, and to “see” first-hand their experience. The soldiers featured here are truly in pain by what they do, and will perhaps not recover from the Iraq mission. 

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Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq’s Green Zone, by Rajiv Chandrasekaran—In this account of life in a zone within in Oraq in 2003-04, Chandrasekaran shows what it is like to be in Iraq, but not really in Iraq. The differences between life in and out of the Green Zone are stark, and it is especially helpful to know how US, and other foreign, personnel look at the situation from this insulated (and unreal) part of Baghdad. 

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Stuff Happens, by David Hare—Hare is a British playwright who has masterfully recreated the diplomatic negotiations that led to the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. He draws on quotes from public speeches by some of the primary characters (Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Powell, and British and French officials as well) and imagines some of the closed conversations. The play is short, but makes a clear point about US intentions and approaches. A missing—but important—voice only appears in the last scene.

 

Iran

 

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All the Shah’s Men, by Stephen Kinzer—This important telling of history reads like a novel. It helps readers today understand the roots of Iranian-American relations since the mid-20th century. Where common narrative usually starts with the 1979 Islamic Revolution, this book offers an important corrective and helpful background to the 1953 revolution and CIA involvement in Iran. 

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The Ayatollah Begs to Differ: The Paradox of Modern Iran, by Hooman Majd—An Iranian-American author, Majd offers much valuable insight into life in Iran, as well as some helpful analysis of the current relationship between the US and Iran, especially in regard to the current president of Iran. Majd’s smooth and witty style, and deep insight, as a bicultural person, makes him able to straddle the two places, and help each learn more about the other. The book is book very useful, highly insightful, and quite enjoyable. 

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A Treacherous Alliance: The Secret Dealings of Israel, Iran, and the U.S., by Trita Parsi—A book full of interesting international relations history related to this triangle of apparent enemies, Parsi’s book is quite stimulating and very informative. The book is divided into three parts: the Cold War, the post-Cold War, and prospects for the future. This book is well worth one’s while to understand the differences between official rhetoric and actual dealings, as well as ideological vs. strategic approaches to international relationships. It is especially helpful in these days when Iran is at the center of much discussion. 

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Death to the Dictator, by Afsaneh Moqadam—A fast but gripping account of the events preceding, during, and following the 2009 presidential in Iran, this book is written by an Iranian who witnessed the events, and writes based on intimate knowledge of the treatment of fellow Iranians. This is a disturbing book, and gives both a very personal account as well as a helpful analysis and history of the context.

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Persepolis and Persepolis 2, by Marjane Satrapi—These two books, written in graphic art form, are fascinating and illuminating insigts into life in Iran. They are written as memoir, and treat a variety of social issues facing Iranians today. 


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