Reviewed by Norvell B. DeAtkine
A Chronology of United States-Iraqi Relations, 1920-2006. By Henry E. Mattox (McFarland and Company; Jefferson, North Carolina, and London: 2008. 190 pages. $35.00)
This book is highly recommended to those involved with Iraq professionally or personally. It is an indispensable work from the standpoint of a quick reference to recall events or trends in Iraq. In the preface Dr. Mattox tells readers he “offers an overview of political, economic and diplomatic relations between the United States and Iraq from the time the latter state came into being until decades afterward, when a second major crisis dominated interactions between the two nations.” He does this in an admirable fashion, without polemics that have plagued so much of what has been written about Iraq recently; and he is careful to tell the reader where he injects his opinion or comment. In those comments he is also careful to relate the facts as known, with an opposing view when required.
Writing a good chronology without burying the reader in trivia or obscuring the main events or trends with insignificant detail is very difficult. The author’s judgment on what is significant and what is not, while still producing a usable book, is a task for an expert with long experience who can draw upon his own background as well as that of others. Sometimes it is simply the intuitive sense of a long-time Foreign Service hand who can separate the chaff from the wheat. Dr. Mattox, a career Foreign Service Officer before he became a university professor, has done this with a tightly written narrative that is cogent and coherent for anyone who follows events in Iraq with more than passing interest.
With what he considers solid background knowledge of Iraq, the reviewer could not find any place in this book where one could seriously quibble in terms of events covered or emphasis given them. The author not only lays out the thread of United States-Iraqi relations with continuity, but also gives the reader enough information to put it into context.
A non-ideologically based chronology on our relations with Iraq is vital at this point because of the pervasive politicization the conflict has incurred on the domestic scene. The lead-in to the second Iraqi War chronicled by the author is particularly instructive in a number of ways. First it conveys the obstinacy and suspicious nature of the Saddam regime in its dealings with the UNSCOM (United Nations Special Commission) team after the first Iraqi War. It was a tactic that fooled most intelligence agencies of the Western world and even the inner circle of the Saddamists. In a recent interview, Saddam Hussein’s FBI interrogator, George Piro, stated that Saddam kept up the image of having weapons of mass destruction to deter Iran from a possible invasion.
Dr. Mattox also conveys the mixed signals that emanated from the U.S. Administration, along with some gross misjudgments concerning Iraq, leaving it open to charges that the justification was made after the course of action to invade was determined. Vice-President Cheney seemed to be the point man on leading the charge for an invasion, but his assessments were obviously wildly overly-optimistic. Believing U.S. troops would be greeted as liberators seems very naïve in light of what has happened.
Thirdly, Dr. Mattox does yeoman service in revealing the collective amnesia of many U.S. politicians in their claim to have had reservations or been against the invasion of Iraq. The mainstream media has given a pass to many in political circles on their previous pronouncements concerning Iraq — for instance, House Resolution 612 of December 17, 1998, expressing support for the removal of Saddam and the institution of a democratic government. In fact, Public Law 105-338, signed by President Clinton in October 1998, declared that the official policy of the United States was to remove Saddam Hussein from power and install a democratic government.
Four appendices attached to the book are very useful to give background to the war, particularly the United States Congressional Resolution on Iraq and the Executive Summary of the Iraq Study Group Report. Perhaps, given its central importance to the conflict, the Executive Summary of the CIA unclassified report, Iraq’s Weapons of Mass Destruction Programs of October 2002, would be beneficial in that the key finding was that Iraq had continued its WMD programs in spite of UN resolutions.
A second document that would complement the above report would be the key findings of the Comprehensive Report of the Special Advisor to the DCI on Iraq’s WMD of September 30, 2004, in which a salient finding of the Strategic Intent section indicated Saddam Hussein wanted to end sanctions while preserving the capability to reconstitute the programs as soon as sanctions ended. This significant judgment was largely ignored by the media at the time of the release of the report. Finally, I would like to have seen an overview of The Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction, March 11, 2005. This damning report gives one pause in evaluating the latest National Intelligence Estimate of Iranian nuclear capabilities.
The bibliography section is excellent and covers the many and complicated aspects of the Iraqi story. My only recommendations would be to include Edmund Ghareeb’s book, The Historical Dictionary of Iraq, and provide a more thorough survey of the Shi’a (largely neglected until recently by academics and U.S. officials as well). I would include Faleh A. Jabar’s book, The Shi’ite Movement in Iraq.
These are minor suggestions which can hopefully be folded into a later edition which covers the impact of the “surge” and subsequent trends.
Because of the intense politization of the Iraq War, many years will pass before the truth and a balanced view of the war, its origins, and the way it was fought will be known. Henry Mattox’s book is, and will be, an essential document in that endeavor.
Norvell “Tex” DeAtkine served eight years in Lebanon, Jordan, and Egypt (in addition to extensive combat service in Vietnam). A West Pointer, he holds a graduate degree in Arab studies from the American University of Beirut. Until recently he taught at the JFK Special Warfare School at Ft. Bragg, North Carolina.