There is no shortage of accounts by U.S. and British diplomats, military officers, and political appointees of Iraq's occupation, but the voice of Iraqi participants has been nearly silent. In The Occupation of Iraq, Allawi, an activist in the Iraqi opposition who returned to his country after liberation to become, in succession, Iraq's minister of trade, defense, and finance, remedies this. The result is a product far superior to that provided by instant experts and journalists.
Allawi begins his narrative in the Iran-Iraq war years (1980-88) from which he traces the evolution of both the London-based secular and Tehran-based Islamist Iraqi oppositions. He offers often forgotten context, such as the political backdrop to the somewhat spurious Jordanian charges against Iraqi National Congress head Ahmad Chalabi in the Petra Bank scandal. He also acknowledges the CIA and British MI6's patronage of Ayad Allawi's Iraqi National Accord. His explanations also elucidate post-liberation problems.
While Western critics might blame de-Baathification for difficulties co-opting the Iraqi bureaucracy, Allawi is more nuanced: Western intelligence services had underestimated the importance of patronage systems. U.S. officials did not realize that many ministries had turned into personal fiefdoms of ministers with employees more loyal to them than the Baath Party. These employees resented Saddam's fall and had little interest in modernization or reform.
Allawi is at his best on coverage of events during his ministerial tenure with valuable perspective about Iraq's reconstruction, the April and November 2004 battles against Sunni insurgents and Shi‘i militias, the debate over elections, and the growth of corruption networks. Juxtaposing his account with U.S. newspaper coverage underlines the superficiality of the New York Times and Washington Post.
While Allawi is critical of how the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) functioned, his narrative frustrates with lack of examples. So, too, does his three-page coverage of the Governing Council, which represented Iraqi interests under the CPA. This, however, is still more ink than Allawi spends describing the militias' rise. More valuable are his coverage of the insurgency, a chapter on "The Enigma of Ayatollah Sistani," and detailed discussions of the formation of the Transitional Administrative Law, which served as the basis for Iraq's subsequent constitution.
Undercutting his account, though, is a somewhat lazy description of U.S. thinking and planning behind the war. Here, he is careless with sources, trusting that he both has a representative sample and that the conventional wisdom spouted by politicized journalists is accurate. He replicates the British obsession with the Pentagon's Office of Special Plans, which he asserts—falsely—generated intelligence when, in reality, it served as a policy corollary to the State Department's North Gulf affairs directorate. Simultaneously, he ignores the more influential National Security Council and U.S. Central Command. His emphasis on the influence of political philosopher Leo Strauss is both bizarre and cheapens Allawi's work. Certain passages read as a highbrow version of Lyndon LaRouche or other conspiracy theorists. His footnotes enhance such inaccuracies, often expanding tangential narrative rather than providing source material. He disparages both Iraqi and U.S. officials—often without self-criticism or introspection—and warns that time is running out.
The Occupation of Iraq will be of value to historians, but its value to policymakers will be more limited. For while Allawi chronicles events, he does not suggest how either Iraqi or Western policymakers should move forward in Iraq.