Vets Pick the Best Books About Iraq

To shed light on the quandary that is Iraq, The Daily Beast asked for recommended reading from four veterans of the war who are also writers.

07.05.14 9:45 AM ET

The modern Iraqi state is less than a century old but it may not survive to mark its hundredth birthday. Only three years after the 2011 withdrawal of U.S. forces, the country is on the brink of collapse. It has been a short and often brutal life for Iraq, marked by imperial conquest, war, and crushing despotism.

To illuminate the country’s history, and to help explain the forces and events that brought Iraq to its present state, we solicited book recommendations from a group of Iraq war veterans, all of whom are writers themselves. These are the books they consider essential to understand the country they fought in, and how the fights they left behind led Iraq to its current crisis.

Elliot Ackerman:

One of the finest front line accounts of the Battle of Fallujah. Bing West brings all the grit of the city to his pages with a nuanced view towards the political realities that shaped the battle and its aftermath.

Evan Wright’s inside look at one Marine reconnaissance platoon’s role spearheading the invasion of Iraq in 2003. It’s a journey from certainty to uncertainty as the invasion’s clarity recedes into the quagmire which defined the Iraq War. A must read for anyone who wishes to understand the zeitgeist of those early days.

Phil Klay:

Produced by the U.S. Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, this comprehensive look at the U.S. reconstruction effort up to 2008 lays out where we went wrong, and lessons for the future. Highly intelligent, readable, and enraging.

Jessica Goodell’s raw and moving account of the challenges of being a Mortuary Affairs specialist and of being a woman in the Marine Corps.

Jim Frederick’s nonfiction account pieces together the relationship between a dysfunctional command stretched thin in a volatile region and one of the most grotesque crimes of the war.

Roy Scranton:

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Nir Rosen’s exhaustive, fine-grained book on the Iraq War offers one of the best lenses for understanding the sectarian violence tearing Iraq apart today: close reporting of the civil conflict that burned through Baghdad from 2005 to 2008, from inside mosques, alongside both insurgents and U.S. troops, and among Iraqis. Absolutely essential.

As even Alan Greenspan admitted, the Iraq War was “largely about oil.” The complex relationship between oil and politics has driven events in the Middle East since 1908, and today’s conflicts are no exception. Timothy Mitchell’s painstakingly researched political history traces the effects of oil on politics in the Middle East from British and German conflict in Mesopotamia before World War I to the eruption of what Mitchell terms “McJihad”: the structural collusion between petroleum-based capitalism and Islamic extremism.

Even before the U.S. invasion, Iraq had suffered decades of war, a heinous dictator, brutal secret police, and a culture of fear. Hassan Blasim’s unforgettable collection of short stories brings to life the surreal horror of seemingly unending bloodshed.

Matt Gallagher:

I can’t rave enough about Scott Anderson’s book—it’s that damn good. So much of what’s happening in the Middle East now can be tracked back to the events in the desert during and immediately after World War I—and no single work about that time is as engaging or thorough as this one.

Personal accounts of Sunnis—historically the “ruling class” in Iraq—displaced by the war and spread across the wider region. The roots for much of the Sunni tribes’ discontent with the Maliki government can be found here, along with intimate portraits of Iraqi exiles desperate to make new lives for themselves and their families.

Mark Kukis’s haunting series of interviews with Iraqis recalling the American invasion and occupation, in the tradition of Studs Terkel. This isn’t easy reading, but it is imperative, as mothers, militia members, and small business owners trace the effects of seven years of war and chaos.