The best books about what the Iraq War was like for Iraqis

Who am I?

I served in Iraq as Governorate Co-ordinator of Kirkuk for the Coalition Provisional Authority, 2003-2004; and as advisor to the Commanding General of US Forces in Iraq from 2007-2010. I retain a deep love of the country and am a regular visitor. I teach about the Middle East and Global Affairs at Yale University. 


I wrote...

The Unraveling: High Hopes and Missed Opportunities in Iraq

By Emma Sky,

Book cover of The Unraveling: High Hopes and Missed Opportunities in Iraq

What is my book about?

When Emma Sky volunteered to help rebuild Iraq after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 2003, she had little idea what she was getting in to. Her assignment was only supposed to last three months. She went on to serve there longer than any other senior military or diplomatic figure, giving her an unrivaled perspective of the entire conflict.

Sky provides unique insights into the US military as well as the complexities, diversity, and evolution of Iraqi society. The Unraveling is an intimate insider's portrait of how and why the Iraq adventure failed and contains a unique analysis of the course of the war. Highlighting how nothing that happened in Iraq after 2003 was inevitable, Sky exposes the failures of the policies of both Republicans and Democrats.

The books I picked & why

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The Devil You Don't Know: Going Back to Iraq

By Zuhair al-Jezairy, John West (translator),

Book cover of The Devil You Don't Know: Going Back to Iraq

Why this book?

What did the Iraq War look like from the perspective of Iraqis? In most accounts of the Iraq War, Iraqis only feature as terrorists or victims. This book explains how Iraqis felt about the invasion of the country; what relations were like between returning exiles and those who had remained in Iraq all along; and the hopes that Iraqis had for their country. It is really well written and engaging.


Frankenstein in Baghdad

By Ahmed Saadawi,

Book cover of Frankenstein in Baghdad

Why this book?

They used to say that Cairo writes, Beirut prints, and Baghdad reads. But Iraqis are now writing – and turning to fiction in order to convey the absurdity and horror of the sectarian civil war that engulfed the country following the US invasion. This book is brilliant – and won international prizes. 


To Start a War: How the Bush Administration Took America Into Iraq

By Robert Draper,

Book cover of To Start a War: How the Bush Administration Took America Into Iraq

Why this book?

In To Start a War, Robert Draper investigates how it was that the US came to invade Iraq in 2003. A gifted writer, he reveals the paranoia and fear that led to the collecting of ‘intelligence’ that confirmed the biases of senior US officials – but which was often fabricated and false. 


Black Wave: Saudi Arabia, Iran, and the Forty-Year Rivalry That Unraveled Culture, Religion, and Collective Memory in the Middle East

By Kim Ghattas,

Book cover of Black Wave: Saudi Arabia, Iran, and the Forty-Year Rivalry That Unraveled Culture, Religion, and Collective Memory in the Middle East

Why this book?

Kim is a brilliant Lebanese journalist who set out to explain how 1979 was a pivotal year in the Middle East with the Islamic revolution in Iran, the siege of Mecca, the Russian invasion of Afghanistan, and Saddam becoming President of Iraq – and how it led to increasing fundamentalism, the decline of cosmopolitanism, and the suppression of cultural expression. It’s a fantastic book.


The Rope

By Kanan Makiya,

Book cover of The Rope

Why this book?

Kanan is an Iraqi exile who was very supportive of the US invasion of Iraq. In The Rope, he provides a fictional account of what happened in the country, placing responsibility for the rise of sectarianism and the descent into civil war at the feet of Iraqi Shia leaders. It’s a brave and honest book. 


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Iraq, the Iraq War, and the Iranian Revolution?

5,809 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about Iraq, the Iraq War, and the Iranian Revolution.

Iraq Explore 47 books about Iraq
The Iraq War Explore 37 books about the Iraq War
The Iranian Revolution Explore 13 books about the Iranian Revolution

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Echo in Ramadi, Here, Bullet, and The U.S. Army in the Iraq War Volume 1 if you like this list.