IRAQ: Insurgency and Counter-Insurgency in Iraq

Article excerpt

Insurgency and Counter-Insurgency in Iraq, by Ahmed S. Hashim. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2006. xxvii + 389 pages. Notes to p. 450. Bibl. to p. 471. Index to p. 482. $29.95.

Reviewed by Steven Metz

The conflict in Iraq has spawned a large and growing literature, much of it of mixed quality. But Ahmed Hashim's Insurgency and Counter-Insurgency in Iraq stands out in part due to the author's unique qualifications. Dr. Hashim has strong academic credentials and serves on the faculty of the US Naval War College. In addition, he has spent extensive time working in the policy world. Dr. Hashim is also a reserve officer in the US Army who spent multiple tours in Iraq, which enabled him to conduct numerous interviews and discussions with former insurgents and those sympathetic to them. Combined with Hashim's linguistic skills and cultural acuity, this firsthand experience gave him an understanding of the Iraq conflict beyond the reach of most scholars.

The book is a relatively straightforward chronology of the origin, motives, and evolution of the insurgency, and of the American counterinsurgency campaign. Both are placed in their broader historical and conceptual context. This is important. It is impossible, for instance, to understand the insurgency without first understanding the nature of Saddam Husayn's regime and the power structure upon which it was based. Hashim's use of primary materials, both interviews and printed matter, helps him avoid one of the most glaring weaknesses of much contemporary scholarship - reliance on secondary sources. His assessments are frank. The same critical eye used to assess the insurgents is turned on the policy of the Bush Administration and the actions of the US military. In a time of so much political posturing and ideologically charged polemic, Hashim strives for balance.

In most of the book, the assessments are well within the emerging consensus on the insurgency, following closely, for instance, the prolific writings of Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the ideas of other important commentators such as Jeffrey White of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. On one key point, though, Hashim does diverge from the mainstream: he argues that had the Bush Administration been less hostile to the Sunni Arabs who formed the core of Saddam Husayn's regime, the conflict might have been contained or might even have been prevented. …