Mardini, Ramzy, Editor, Volatile Landscape, Iraq and Its Insurgent Movements, Washington D.C.: Jamestown Foundation, 2010
Full disclosure, I wrote a chapter for this book
Volatile Landscape, Iraq and Its Insurgent Movements is a collection of reports from the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor written by various authors. Like any anthology it is very inconsistent. The first half is about the Iraqi insurgency and has the most problems. The second part is much better about Iraqi politics.
The section on Iraq’s insurgency has some insights but those are overshadowed by what the authors got wrong. For instance, many said that Al Qaeda and the Islamic State were the same organization. Michael Scheuer wrote that the Islamic State of Iraq was run by Osama bin Laden and suffered many losses since many Al Qaeda leaders were killed or captured since 1995. Sometimes a writer talked about Al Qaeda in Iraq as being part of the Islamic State even though they were the same. Others wrote about the Anbar Awakening and the sahwa as one and the same as well. Some of this can be forgiven as being mistakes made at the time such as people being unsure of the relationship between Al Qaeda in Iraq and the Islamic State. Others however are not. The Awakening for instance was an organic creation of sheikhs in Anbar while the Sahwa was a creation of the United States. The shortcomings outweigh any good points that are made.
The book’s coverage of Iraqi politics is much more interesting. 1st there are profiles of some interesting figures like Abu Dura known as the Shiite Zarqawi, Harith al-Dhari the head of the Association of Muslim Scholars, Qais Khazali the leader of Asaib Ahl Al-Haq and others. The last one for instance talks about how Khazali broke with Moqtada al-Sadr and the rivalry between the two that ensued. Reidar Visser of the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs constantly noted that the U.S. would attack Sadr as the manifestation of Iranian influence in Iraq even though he was also a strong Iraqi nationalist while the Americans gave its support to the Iraqi Supreme Council of Iraq and the Badr Brigade which were formed by Tehran and were much closer and longer allies. His main point was that the U.S. was only thinking short term. Compared to the coverage of the insurgency this is a much better history of post-Saddam Iraq. To bring up Visser again, he countered American conventional wisdom. More importantly some of the divisions like that between Sadr and Khazali are still on going.
Volatile Landscape is a very up and down affair. The low points are really low and makes this a non-essential book. Yes, you can get something out of it but that’s almost all in the second half.
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