The 2003 Iraq war has spawned much punditry. Journalists, think-tank scholars, and academics compete to publish articles or offer television commentary. But their analysis falls short, particularly as few of them have spent time in Iraq, much less speak its languages. Happily, Operation Iraqi Freedom and the New Iraq, a collection of short essays by scholars at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and compiled by Knights, a British scholar and defense journalist, offers real substance and quality.
Michael Eisenstadt, director of security studies at The Washington Institute, highlights lessons learned from Britain's post-World War I occupation of Iraq. Written before the U.S. occupation commenced, Eisenstadt's analysis proves remarkably prescient. Knights and former Defense Intelligence Agency official Jeffrey White contribute a number of short essays analyzing the military component of Operation Iraqi Freedom. The detailed essay showing how basing restrictions shaped the conduct of war will be highly useful to military historians and tacticians. The section on postwar coalition security policy is more relevant to the general reader. It provides useful analysis of the new Iraqi army, the alphabet soup of Iraq's other reconstructed security forces, and the multinational divisions. Of particular interest is the synopsis of a speech by General David Petraeus, commander of the 101st Airborne, on lessons of the Iraq war.
In a section analyzing the Sunni insurgency, White becomes a bit mired in the weeds, but Jonathan Schanzer brings useful field research to his analysis of the Ansar al-Sunna terrorist group, foreign jihadists, and other Sunni organizations. The section on the Shi'ite opposition is perhaps the weakest in an otherwise strong collection, for there is no mention of Iraqi National Congress leader Ahmad Chalabi and minimal mention of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq and the faction-ridden Da'wa party, all of which play key roles. The synopsis of a presentation by Yitzhak Nakash about the Shi'ite in Iraq's future is valuable but too brief to fill the gap.
A section on the post-Saddam economy and politics contributes valuable nuggets. Barham Salih, who became deputy prime minister in the interim government, discusses how Iraqi Kurdistan fits into the rest of the country while Soner Cagaptay provides good insight into the oft-forgotten Iraqi Turkmen community. More discussion of Kurdish politics and the question of federalism would have been helpful, though.
Unfortunately, Iraq's constitutional debate is ignored and questions of transitional justice and the trial of Saddam Hussein are dealt with only in passing.
Little writing produced in the wake of the Iraq war are as detailed and informed as that included in this collection. Despite an emphasis on military strategy, Operation Iraqi Freedom is a valuable resource for those needing nuance and informed comment beyond the news headlines.