Academic journal article Middle East Quarterly

Criminals, Militias, and Insurgents

Academic journal article Middle East Quarterly

Criminals, Militias, and Insurgents

Article excerpt

Criminals, Militias, and Insurgents. By Phil Williams. Carlisle, Pa.: U.S. Army War College Strategic Studies Institute, 2009. 275 pp. $30.50.

Analysts describing challenges facing Iraq tend to ignore organized crime, which is unfortunate because organized crime, along with corruption more generally, dominates economic life in post-Saddam Iraq and hampers security. Fortunately, Williams, a visiting research professor at the U.S. Army War College's Strategic Studies Institute, has filled this gap and does so excellently.

If Iraq today ranks among the most corrupt states in the world, just three decades ago it was among the cleanest states in the Arab League. Williams, like Iraqi scholar KananMakiy a before him,1 traces the roots of corruption to Saddam Hussein's rule, to decades of wartime economy, and to sanctions. Following the U.S. invasion, Williams identifies two waves of organized crime: One took advantage of the collapse of the state and of the breakdown of social control; the other was defined by political ambition and the need to find resources for militias.

The oil industry became the epicenter of corruption, facilitated by an absence of both standardized measures of production and of metering. Whüe on is the lifeblood for Iraq's recovery, neither the Iraqi government nor the coalition authorities knew exactly how much oil the state produced. Corrupt officials and insurgents could funnel oil away with impunity.

What affected most Iraqis, however, was not oil smuggling but kidnapping. While the Western media focused on political kidnappings - the beheadings of foreigners, for example - what terrorized Iraqis and worried foreigners across the country were kidnappings for ransom. …

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