The Struggle for Iraq: A View from the Ground Up

The Struggle for Iraq: A View from the Ground Up

The Struggle for Iraq: A View from the Ground Up

The Struggle for Iraq: A View from the Ground Up


The Struggle for Iraq is a vivid personal account of the Iraqi people's fight for democracy and justice by an American political scientist. Thomas M. Renahan arrived in southern Iraq just three days before the capture of Saddam Hussein in 2003; later he worked in Baghdad through the dark days of the country's sectarian violence and then in Iraqi Kurdistan. One of the few Americans to serve in all three major regions of Iraq, he spearheaded projects to develop democratic institutions, promote democracy and elections, and fight corruption.

With inside accounts of two USAID projects and of a Kurdish government ministry, this engrossing and cautionary story highlights efforts to turn Baathist Iraq into a democratic country. Renahan examines the challenges faced by the Iraqi people and international development staff during this turbulent time, revealing both their successes and frustrations. Drawing on his on-the-ground civilian perspective, Renahan recounts how expatriate staff handled the hardships and dangers as well as the elaborate security required to protect them, how Iraqi staff coped with the personal security risks of working for Coalition organizations, and the street-level mayhem and violence, including the assassinations of close Iraqi friends.

Although Iraq remains in crisis, it has largely defeated the ISIS terrorists who seized much of the country in 2014. Renahan emphasizes, however, that reconciliation is still the end game in Iraq. In the concluding chapters he explains how the United States can support this process and help resolve the complex problems between the Iraqi government and the independence-minded Kurds, offering hope for the future.


On December 18, 2011, the last American troops left Iraq, or so it seemed until 2014. That milestone event completed a difficult but successful military mission that had overcome enormous and daunting challenges. About 4,800 Coalition troops had been killed in the struggle for Iraq, almost 4,500 of them Americans. Great Britain’s losses constituted most of the rest. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis had died, most as innocent victims, a toll still rising every day.

Less noticed amid the understandable focus on military battles and casualties were the thousands of foreign civilians who joined the struggle for Iraq. I was one of those people. We started arriving soon after the Coalition invasion in 2003. I joined a small civilian army of American, British, and other expatriates deployed to help transition Iraq toward more democratic and more effective government, improve living standards, and rebuild much of its infrastructure.

As a political scientist and former city manager, the immediately critical democracy and governance work was where I thought I could help, but nothing in my education or career experience suggested that someday I would be working in Iraq. It was an adventure into the unknown and a dangerous one.

Eventually, I did three civilian tours in Iraq, one in each of its three major areas: southern Iraq, Central Iraq (Baghdad), and Kurdistan. People often ask me what it was like. This book is my answer. I was a small part of a nation’s struggle to forge a new identity and a witness to history. My time in Iraq was often rewarding and even joyful, sometimes horrifying and sad, and ultimately unforgettable and life changing.

So much has been written and said about Iraq that one might assume we understand it clearly by now. in fact, there is still a lot we don’t understand. Media reports, expert analysis, and political spin in Washington and London focused mainly on how military . . .

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