Rosen, Nir, Aftermath, Following the Bloodshed of America’s Wars in the Muslim World, New York: Nation Books, 2010
Journalist Nir Rosen said others in his field spent too much time talking to American officials, the U.S. military and the Iraqi government and ignored what was happening to regular people during the Iraq War. His goal was to create something like a people’s history of the conflict focusing upon the street. He did that in large sections of Aftermath, Following the Bloodshed of America’s Wars in the Muslim World, but then there were major problem as well. While he was great at telling the stories of average Iraqis he completely misread the country’s politics. He also went to other countries like Jordan, Lebanon and Afghanistan which distracted from his main theme and often were completely unrelated. Finally, his anti-Americanism tainted his analysis as well.
The best parts of Aftermath are when Rosen went from neighborhood to neighborhood in Baghdad during the civil war years and their immediate aftermath. He talked with members of the Mahdi Army, the Sahwa, clerics, and many regular people. One moment he’s interviewing a Sadrist cleric whose prayer hall had been raided by the government and the next he was at a mosque run by the pro-insurgency Association of Muslim Scholars which was mourning the deaths of several locals killed in the civil war. He talked with an Iraqi army officer who was constantly threatened by his fellow officers and the government because he went after the Mahdi Army which was taking over a neighborhood in Baghdad by expelling Sunnis. He then went to talk with a Sahwa leader who was helping the Americans to secure his area of the capital to kick out Al Qaeda in Iraq but was having problems with the police who were working with militias to attack Sunnis. It’s all these different stories and perspectives which makes Aftermath a worthwhile read. Few others spent their time consistently getting to know and reporting on the Iraqi public. It gives a whole other perspective to the Iraq War.
Rosen’s good points were offset by many flaws. First, he went to several other Arab countries to see how America’s war had affected them but his own writing showed that they had their own unique domestic issues that were not related to Iraq at all. His chapters on Lebanon are a perfect example and take the narrative off into unnecessary tangents that should have been cut all together. Second, the author’s anti-Americanism would drag things down as well. He would go into great detail about the Iraqi civil war with the Mahdi Army attempting to cleanse Baghdad of Sunnis, Al Qaeda in Iraq blowing up mosques, the Iraqi police who were often directly supporting the militias and all the displaced that happened as a result and then he would throw in the U.S. was much worse and killed more people. This was because he blamed all of Iraq’s problems on the U.S. for invading the country. Last, in his conclusion he went over the political changes going on in Iraq from 2008-2010 and got most things wrong. He claimed Iranian influence in Iraq was overblown and even the pro-Iran parties didn’t need their money because they had their own funding sources, which was not true. They still received millions from Tehran and top politicians for instance would report all their conversations with the Americans to the Iranians. Another time he talked about how the 2010 parliamentary elections were a turning point in the evolution of Iraqi politics because it happened without U.S. troops on the streets and most Iraqis and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki had rejected religious and sectarian rhetoric. Maliki however remained thoroughly sectarian and Rosen had nothing on how he manipulated the courts and other issues to remain in power. The 2010 balloting was a turning point but in a negative way.
Overall, Aftermath is an up and down affair. When Rosen is travelling around Iraq and relaying stories he’s at his best. He provides a series of rich experiences which rarely get told. The chapters on other countries should have never been included. The book is 600 pages and could have been a lot more focused and shorter. Finally, his biases provided constant distractions. He has long sections about all the things the Americans changed about their approach to Iraq and how that had concrete affects upon Iraqis with the 2007 Surge but then he couldn’t give them credit and said everything he just wrote actually wasn’t positive because the U.S. was bad. It’s these inconsistencies which drag down the book.
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