In the Arena

Weekend Book Club–Iraq edition

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For my fellow Iraq obsessives out there, two new and important books:

Regular Swampland readers know how much I respect the Pentagon analysis filed by Fred Kaplan of Slate. Kaplan’s new book Daydream Believers is excellent and devastating, not just on the Iraq war, but also on the Bush Administration’s fantastic devotion to anti-missile defense and its first term refusal to negotiate with the North Koreans. Kaplan is also terrific on the depredations of former Rumsfeld assistant Douglas Feith, who also has a new, rather obese book out trying to justify his lethal foolishness. I’d love to see Kaplan review it somewhere–a Cliff’s Notes version of Feith’s greatest whoppers would be a small, but essential, public service. But go, please, and buy Kaplan’s book. His great work deserves attention and reward.

Patrick Cockburn’s Iraq obsession puts my tiny 5-year jones to shame. He’s been out there for two decades and really knows the place and the players, which makes his new biography of Muqtada Sadr essential reading, especially now. I haven’t finished it yet–last few chapters to go–but it seems eminently fair and very well-informed so far and I decided to include here and now because of the events on the ground in Mesopotamia.

Speaking of which, I agree with Kevin Drum’s assessment of today’s New York Times piece about the mysterious Mr. Sadr…especially the part where Kevin confesses that he’s not quite sure what’s going on. My suspicion is that Sadr sees more hope in the October elections than in a military confrontation with the U.S. and Badr Corps right now. Also fascinating that the Iran seems, for the moment, to be taking sides with its more tradition partner–the Hakim Shi’ite faction–and against the militias that Crocker and Petraeus, Bush and McCain were so convinced were Iran’s cat’s paw in Iraq. It’s always good to remember that while the Sadr family stayed in Iraq during Saddam’s reign, the Hakims lived in Iran and their militia–the Badr Corps, now melted into the Iraqi Army, were organized and served as part of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps.

It’s a classic policy conundrum: Sadr is more anti-American, but Hakim is more pro-Iranian. Short-term Sadr is a real problem–especially those Sadrist elements that are lobbing mortars into the Green Zone and setting bombs to kill American troops. Long term, though, the Hakim faction may be crucial in the further empowerment of Iran in the region.