Anatomy of a Failure

The Occupation of Iraq
Winning the War, Losing the Peace
Ali A. Allawi
Yale University Press, $28, 544 pp.

Who lost Iraq? This blame game will be the stuff of U.S. electoral politics for the next decade, but for now the military and diplomatic failings of the Bush administration have seemed explanation enough. A foolish venture in regime change morphed into a ruinous effort at nation building that now stands on the brink of nation collapse. The breadth of U.S. failure is the stuff of daily headlines and dozens of books by journalists. Despite the excellence of some of these efforts, they don’t get beyond the narcissistic nationalism that supposes the last superpower is alone capable of such a debacle. Not so, according to Ali A. Allawi: we had help from the Iraqis themselves, both friends and foes.

Allawi is an Iraqi, educated in England and the United States, who returned in September 2003 to the country he first left as an eleven-year-old. In 2003-04, he served as minister of trade and then minister of finance, and in 2005 he was elected to the Iraqi Transitional National Assembly, which followed the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA). His insider’s account confirms and adds to the list of culprits and causes. He personally witnessed the arrogance and incompetence of CPA head Paul Bremer and the futility of catch-up policies devised in Washington that never caught up with the postinvasion chaos, the emerging insurgency, or the sectarian civil war. Many Iraqi exiles, long gone from their country, had little...

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About the Author

Margaret O'Brien Steinfels, a former editor of Commonweal, writes frequently in these pages and blogs at dotCommonweal.