The Iraqi insurgency continues to bedevil U.S. plans for a new Iraq. Hashim, a professor at the Naval War College, seeks to address three interrelated issues: who the insurgents are, how they are organized, and what tactics they use. He also seeks to analyze the popular mood in Iraq and trace the development of U.S. policy.
He is at his best as a chronicler of groups, tracing their evolution and charting their organization, and in identifying key insurgents and their supporters. As an analyst, though, Hashim falls short: he writes that many Sunni Arabs saw themselves as targets of the invasion but initially took a wait-and-see attitude before joining the insurgency. While he notes that Sunni clerics rallied opposition from the mosques, he misses the forcible eviction of moderate Sunni clerics by Islamist gangs, who installed handpicked replacements.
As Hashim chronicles the growth of the insurgency in response to the errors of the "occupation authorities," he makes mistakes. For example, he cites strong distrust of the U.N. in Fallujah, but Sunni Arab leaders led the call for U.N. involvement. He downplays Iranian and Syrian involvement, stating that the "insurgency has few sources of external state support," suggesting that the Bush administration fingered these two states for political reasons. But his analyses offer little support for such statements. He does a better job demonstrating that foreign jihadists are a minority within the insurgency, but sometimes quality counts more than quantity; foreigners are far more likely to be suicide bombers than Iraqis.
Other problems: Hashim does not discuss the issue of pre-invasion subsidies from Baghdad to Sunni tribal leaders, some of whom refused to rise up. Nor, in addressing the growth of insurgency in relation to U.S. "mistakes," does he address the myriad documents that chronicled insurgency and terror as a predetermined plan. And while it is fashionable to blame de-Baathification for the insurgency, a strict examination of the numbers demonstrates instead a strong correlation between re-Baathification and insurgent violence.
Hashim writes venomously about former deputy secretary of defense Paul Wolfowitz for downplaying the insurgency's popular support, but Wolfowitz was speaking of the larger Iraqi population and not just the narrow Sunni slice that Hashim examines. (Does Hashim's anger derive from disappointment that Wolfowitz declined to hire him?) Hashim also cherry-picks secondary sources in ways that undercut accuracy, quoting New York University professor Noah Feldman as an authority on events occurring in 2004, long after Feldman had left his Coalition Provisional Authority employment of less than one month in Iraq. Elsewhere, he brings out the "neoconservative" bogeyman without citation as an inaccurate straw man. He also cites dubious press accounts, themselves based on anonymous and agenda-ridden sources, arguing that "Israeli generals" visited the Pentagon's Special Plans Office to urge evisceration of Iraq's army. This reviewer was in that office, and no Israeli general ever visited.
Hashim's study is thick with detail but his style undercuts his narrative. His use of the first person gives an arrogant tone to the narrative, transforming his study into a lecture. Insurgency and Counter-Insurgency in Iraq won plaudits in the popular press precisely because Hashim pressed the right populist buttons. It is this pandering, though, that ultimately detracts from his study's utility to serious policy practitioners.