Inventing Iraq

The Failure of Nation Building and a History Denied

Toby Dodge

Columbia University Press

Inventing Iraq

Pub Date: September 2005

ISBN: 9780231131674

288 Pages

Format: Paperback

List Price: $33.00£28.00

Pub Date: November 2003

ISBN: 9780231131667

288 Pages

Format: Hardcover

List Price: $95.00£78.00

Inventing Iraq

The Failure of Nation Building and a History Denied

Toby Dodge

Columbia University Press

If we think there is a fast solution to changing the governance of Iraq, warned U.S. Marine General Anthony Zinni in the months before the United States and Britain invaded Iraq, "then we don't understand history." Never has the old line about those who fail to understand the past being condemned to repeat it seemed more urgently relevant than in Iraq today, with potentially catastrophic consequences for the Iraqi people, the Middle East region, and the world. Examining the construction of the modern state of Iraq under the auspices of the British empire—the first attempt by a Western power to remake Mesopotamia in its own image—renowned Iraq expert Toby Dodge uncovers a series of shocking parallels between the policies of a declining British empire and those of the current American administration.

Between 1920 and 1932, Britain endeavored unsuccessfully to create a modern democratic state from three former provinces of the Ottoman Empire, which it had conquered and occupied during the First World War. Caught between the conflicting imperatives of controlling a region of great strategic importance (Iraq straddled the land and air route between British India and the Mediterranean) and reconstituting international order through the liberal ideal of modern state sovereignty under the League of Nations Mandate system, British administrators undertook an extremely difficult task. To compound matters, they did so without the benefit of detailed information about the people and society they sought to remake. Blinded by potent cultural stereotypes and subject to mounting pressures from home, these administrators found themselves increasingly dependent on a mediating class of shaikhs to whom they transferred considerable power and on whom they relied for the maintenance of order. When order broke down, as it routinely did, the British turned to the airplane. (This was Winston Churchill's lasting contribution to the British enterprise in Iraq: the concerted use of air power—of what would in a later context be called "shock and awe"—to terrorize and subdue dissident factions of the Iraqi people.)

Ultimately, Dodge shows, the state the British created held all the seeds of a violent, corrupt, and relentlessly oppressive future for the Iraqi people, one that has continued to unfold. Like the British empire eight decades before, the United States and Britain have taken upon themselves today the grand task of transforming Iraq and, by extension, the political landscape of the Middle East. Dodge contends that this effort can succeed only with a combination of experienced local knowledge, significant deployment of financial and human resources, and resolute staying power. Already, he suggests, ominous signs point to a repetition of the sequence of events that led to the long nightmare of Saddam Hussein's murderous tyranny.
Dodge analyzes what he describes as the failure of the British nation-building in the 1920s.... [I]t is not out of place to point out one important implication of his account for the Anglo-American invasion and occupation. It is that there are longstanding limits to the use of high-tech weaponry and air power in effectively ruling a conquered population, even in the task of counterinsurgency. Juan Cole, The Nation
The best of the policy provocative studies is Toby Dodge's book,Inventing Iraq... Dodge argues that the creation of the state of Iraq under a mandate system represented a break with traditional territorial imperialism and signaled the beginning of the end of British international dominance. Judith S. Yaphe, Middle East Journal
Dodge examines contemporary and historical experiences from macro to micro perspectives.... The parallels between current conditions in Iraq and those that shaped the interwar years provide valuable insight to a country whose troubles have origins in the flawed policies of an earlier era.... Recommended. Choice
Toby Dodge correctly depicts Iraq as a failed state arising from failed British policies and administrations early in the twentieth century...The audience for such commentary is wide. Roger Adelson, American Historical Review
For Dodge, the Americans running things in Baghdad have learned little from the British experience in Iraq. This book ought to be required reading for them. Mike Schuster, NPR, "All Things Considered"
As postwar Iraq struggles forward, Toby Dodge's book has many lessons. Inventing Iraq is primarily a cold-eye analysis of Britain's failures as an occupying power after the first world war.... Dodge's book is a powerful warning to look at countries in their own cultural and historical context. Jonathan Steele, The Guardian (UK)
Toby Dodge of Britain's Warwick University—and author ofInventing Iraq, a superb recent book on the mandate—points out the ways in which coalition authorities today are making the same mistakes as the British did 80 years ago. Michael Elliott, Time Magazine
[Dodge] offers compelling analogies and pointed commentary on how the United States might still be able to avoid repetition of some of the U.K.'s more serious mistakes.... Dodge recognizes that much of what is happening in Iraq today is the result of past events, and thus less amenable to after-the-fact corrective action. Edward L. Peck, Middle East Policy
Toby Dodge's Inventing Iray is an excellent title for the authoritative work... Roy M. Melbourne, American Diplomacy
Dodge builds a convincing case that, should the Americans continue with prescriptions that bear little relation to where Iraq is now, they risk...denying the Iraqi people "the chance at getting the better life they so richly deserve." Martin Bunton, International Journal
Inventing Iraq is a timely book with important implications for today's foreign policy and international development communities. Derick W. Brinkerhoff, Public Administration
It is a good book, and it is timely. International Journal of Middle East Studies
Preface. Iraq and the Ordering of the Postcolonial World
Understanding the Mandate in Iraq
The Mandate System, the End of Imperialism, and the Birth of the Iraqi State
Corruption, Fragmentation, and Despotism: British Visions of Ottoman Iraq
Rural and Urban: The Divided Social Imagination of Late Colonialism
Using the Shaikhs: The Rational Imposition of a Romantic Figure
The Social Meaning of Land: State, Shaikh, and Peasant
The Imposition of Order: Social Perception and the "Despotic" Power of Airplanes

About the Author

Toby Dodge is a senior research fellow at the ESRC Centre for the Study of Globalisation at the University of Warwick, England, and an associate fellow of the Royal Institute of International Affairs, London. He has acted as a consultant on Iraq for ABC News and has written for the Guardian. He is coeditor, with Stephen Simon, of Iraq at the Crossroads: State and Society in the Shadow of Regime Change and, with Richard Higgott, of Globalisation and the Middle East: Islam, Economics, Society, and Politics.