Baghdad at Sunrise
by Peter R. Mansoor
New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008. 376 pp. $28.
Reviewed by Michael Rubin
Middle East Quarterly
Few soldiers who write narratives of war attain a perspective that transcends their own area of operation. Conversely, historians who write of battle seldom convey the nuance and color evident to those whose actions they describe. Mansoor is an exception. The chair of military history at Ohio State University, he served as commander of a brigade combat team in Baghdad, director of the U.S. Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Center, a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff strategy group, and finally, as executive officer for Gen. David Petraeus. He weaves together an expertly written narrative that describes in detail his service in Baghdad during a period of transition from tense calm in 2003 to full insurgency in 2004 with an eye toward the larger picture.
He begins his narrative in Adhamiya, the toughest Sunni neighborhood in Baghdad, on April 7, 2004, less than a week after the outbreak of insurgency. A firefight ensues, which Mansoor describes with fluid precision, making Baghdad at Sunrise read as smoothly as a Tom Clancy novel. He then flashes back to his arrival in Baghdad on June 26, 2003, to examine the run-up to the violence.
Amid first impressions, Mansoor analyzes the management of the first year of U.S. occupation. He is sharply critical of Coalition Provisional Authority director L. Paul Bremer's decision to formalize the dissolution of the army, but his suggestion that "several hundred thousand young Iraqi males" might simply have been called back, retooled, and retrained beggars belief, given how they had traveled far and wide, finally free from the oppressive conscription that Iraqi president Saddam Hussein had forced upon them.
Mansoor's narrative does not exonerate the military. He describes cooks and mechanics placed in charge of detention, a complex operation for which they had no training, and criticizes military strategy for failure to maintain a presence after clearing areas of insurgents, allowing them to return.
The last twelve pages alone—"reflections"—are worth the purchase price of the book as Mansoor places Iraq in context, pleading that the United States "learn the strategic, operational, tactical, and doctrinal lessons of the Iraq war and prepare to apply them, now and in the future … [as] our enemies believe they have found a template for victory against the West." Much rides on whether U.S. officials understand the lessons that Mansoor so eloquently lays bare.
Related Topics: Iraq | Michael Rubin | Spring 2009 MEQ
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