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Books The Military Book Reviews

Book Review: The Terrorists of Iraq 270

benrothke writes: The infinite monkey theorem states that a monkey hitting random typewriter keys for an infinite amount of time will eventually be able to create the complete works of Shakespeare. Various scientists such as Nobel laureate Arno Penzias have shown how the theorem is mathematically impossible. Using that metaphor, if you took every member of United States Congress and House of Representatives and wrote their collected wisdom on Iraq, it's unlikely they could equal the astuteness of even a single chapter of author Malcolm W. Nance in The Terrorists of Iraq: Inside the Strategy and Tactics of the Iraq Insurgency 2003-2014. It's Nance's overwhelming real-world experiential knowledge of the subject, language, culture, tribal affiliations and more which make this the overwhelming definitive book on the subject. Read below for the rest of Ben's review.
The Terrorists of Iraq: Inside the Strategy and Tactics of the Iraq Insurgency 2003-2014, 2nd Edition
author Malcolm W. Nance
pages 404
publisher CRC Press
rating 10/10
reviewer Ben Rothke
ISBN 978-1498706896
summary Definitive text on the Iraq War written by one of the few Americans who truly understand the issue
Nance is a career intelligence officer, combat veteran, author, scholar and media commentator on international terrorism, intelligence, insurgency and torture. In 2014 he became the executive director of the counter-ideology think tank the Terror Asymmetrics Project on Strategy, Tactics and Radical Ideologies (TAPSTRI).

While it's debatable if most members of Congress could elucidate the difference between the Sunnis and Shiites; Nance knows all of the players in depth. He understands and describes who there are, what they are and how their methods work. His unique analysis provides an in-depth understanding of who these groups are and what they are fighting about.

The book details how the many terror groups formed to create the Iraqi insurgency that led to the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Nance places the blame on the Bush administrations 2003 invasion of Iraq that lead to the destabilization of the country. While the war was based on faulty evidence, the insurgency was created by myriad mistakes, misperceptions and miscalculations by L. Paul Bremer, who lead the occupational authority of Iraq during the war.

A common theme Nance makes throughout the book is that the US ignored history and didn't learn the lessons of the Iraqi revolt against the British in 1920 or the events of the Vietnam War. Those lessons being that insurgents and foreign terrorist operations were much more effective despite the enormous manpower and firepower that the U.S. troops brought to bear in Iraq.

Nance details how much of the coalition's strategy was based on wishful thinking. He writes that Washington never had a realistic plan for post-war Iraq. Only Saddam Hussein, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and the ex-Ba'athists has a definitive strategy for what to do in post-war Iraq. Unlike the Americans, they mobilized the right resources and persons for the job, with devastating and horrifying effects.

The book writes of the utterly depravity and evil nature of Saddam Hussein and his sons Uday and Qusay. Following the first Gulf War. Qusay revealed a brutality to match both his father's and brother's. The Hussein family was responsible for the death and torture of hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraq's and others.

The insurgency was and is made up of countless different groups. Some of these groups number under a hundred members, others in the tens of thousands. Nance details who these groups are, their makeup and leadership structure and what they hope to achieve.

Nance quotes Donald Rumsfeld and General Tommy Franks who described the insurgency as dead-enders; namely small groups dedicated to Hussein, and not large military formations or networks of attackers. Yet the reality was that Hussein started creating the insurgency in the months before the invasion. Rather than being a bunch of dead-enders, the insurgency was a group that was highly organized, heavily armed, with near unlimited funds based on looting hundreds of millions of dollars.

From a reporting perspective, the book details how the U.S. government made the same mistakes in Iraq as it did in Iran. Underreporting U.S. casualties, over reporting enemy losses, and obfuscating how terrible the situation on the ground was.

The term IED (improvised explosive device) became part of the vernacular during the Iraq War. The book details how the insurgency used the many different types of IED's (including human-based IED) at specific times and places for their political and propaganda goals.

Nance writes that the biggest gift the U.S. gave to Osama bin Laden was to invade Iraq. The invasion provided him with an opportunity for inspirational jihad. bin Laden envisioned a holy war with heroic men fights against desperate odds in the heart of historic Islam, just like the first battles of the Prophet Mohammed.

Nance spends a few chapters dealing with ISIS and how it came to be. There are multiple iterations of the group, which developed as the Iraq mess evolved.

The book closes with a disheartening overview of the current state. Nance writes that the Middle East is in far more danger from destabilizing collapse of states due to the effects of the American invasion today than it has ever been.

As ISIS is currently the dominant force in Iraq; Nance states that he fears ISIS will have no intention of going back to being a small insurgent group. It will attempt to consolidate captured terrain. It will offer the Sunni a chance to rule under it at the technocrat level, but that is when the pogroms will start.

In the end, Nance writes, the Islamic caliphate will attempt and fail at creating a popular Iraqi-Syrian nation out of stolen governorates. But unless confronted quickly and forcefully, it may become an isolated jihadistan from which no end of terror will spawn.

For those that want to truly understand the Iraq conflict, Nancy is eminently qualified and this book is uniquely superb. There is no better book than The Terrorists of Iraq: Inside the Strategy and Tactics of the Iraq Insurgency 2003-2014 on the subject.

Reviewed by Ben Rothke.

You can purchase The Terrorists of Iraq: Inside the Strategy and Tactics of the Iraq Insurgency 2003-2014, 2nd Edition from amazon.com. Slashdot welcomes readers' book reviews (sci-fi included) -- to see your own review here, read the book review guidelines, then visit the submission page. If you'd like to see what books we have available from our review library please let us know.
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Book Review: The Terrorists of Iraq

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  • by NotDrWho ( 3543773 ) on Monday May 18, 2015 @02:28PM (#49720967)

    career intelligence officer

    Was he one of the career intelligence officers who claimed that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction? Or was he one of the career intelligence officers who completely didn't see 9-11 coming at all? Or perhaps was he one of the career intelligence officers who had no idea where Osama Bin Laden was until some random tipster called them up and told them his address?

    • by k6mfw ( 1182893 )
      Perhaps like many in authority, didn't question the intel prior to 2003 invasion because they were destined to earn a lot of money from the invasion and later contracts awarded during occupation.
    • So figuring out what secretive people are doing is really hard, because they're (you know) secretive and shit; therefore we should never trust what anyone who works in the field says about the field?

      FYI: actual intelligence officers didn't miss the boat on Iraq's WMD. Their boss was convinced by a con-man telling him what he wanted to hear, and their job is to back up the President. They didn't know 9-11 was going to happen the way it did, but it was pretty clear something was going to be tried by Bin Lade

      • The problem was that the US, and other countries, have moved away from sending people out to gather intelligence first hand and have placed their trust in technology to gather it for them. It's a poor substitute because it can't understand the people that you are trying to gather information about. It doesn't get the nuances in messages that only two people who know one another or are from the same culture would understand.

    • by phantomfive ( 622387 ) on Monday May 18, 2015 @03:21PM (#49721433) Journal
      He was a 'security' contractor in Iraq who got ousted shortly before Rumsfeld did. Which shows up in his book as mostly misunderstanding the success of the surge, and how the insurgency was defeated sufficiently for Obama to call the war over.

      What is this doing on Slashdot? And what does someone have to do to get a book review published here? I wrote a review of If Hemingway Wrote Javascript [nostarch.com], which is a better book and actually related to tech. Why is this stuff showing up on Slashdot when reviews of tech books are not?
      • by Uberbah ( 647458 )

        The only thing the splurge did was get more people killed, both occupier and occupied.

        and how the insurgency was defeated sufficiently for Obama to call the war over

        Obama wanted [theatlantic.com] to extend the war, not end it. But the Iraqis refused to let U.S. forces go on committing mass murder with impunity, so Obama had to adhere to the withdrawal timeline negotiated by Bush.

        And who wants to die fighting a retreating enemy?

        • Obama wanted [theatlantic.com] to extend the war, not end it. But the Iraqis refused to let U.S. forces go on committing mass murder with impunity, so Obama had to adhere to the withdrawal timeline negotiated by Bush.

          That's a popular theory, but it doesn't seem backed up by the evidence. It looks like Obama merely grabbed onto that as an excuse to leave. Check out this New Yorker article [newyorker.com] for example. From the reports, Obama was not pushing to leave troops, he was stalling and looking for a way out:

          President Obama, too, was ambivalent about retaining even a small force in Iraq. For several months, American officials told me, they were unable to answer basic questions in meetings with Iraqis—like how many troops they wanted to leave behind—because the Administration had not decided. “We got no guidance from the White House,” Jeffrey told me. “We didn’t know where the President was. Maliki kept saying, ‘I don’t know what I have to sell.’ ” At one meeting, Maliki said that he was willing to sign an executive agreement granting the soldiers permission to stay, if he didn’t have to persuade the parliament to accept immunity. The Obama Administration quickly rejected the idea. “The American attitude was: Let’s get out of here as quickly as possible,” Sami al-Askari, the Iraqi member of parliament, said........Many Iraqi and American officials are convinced that even a modest force would have been able to prevent chaos

          Obama seemed to affirm that fact when he was debating Romney [weeklystandard.com]. He said:

          MR. ROMNEY: [W]ith regards to Iraq, you and I agreed, I believe, that there should have been a status of forces agreement. Did you —

          PRESIDENT OBAMA: That's not true.

          So it seems pretty clear Obama was against leaving a small force in Iraq.

          Blaming the Bush timetable is silly.....he had several years to change the time

          • by Saanvik ( 155780 )

            Blaming the Bush timetable is silly.....

            No, it's not silly. It wasn't a timetable, it was a legally binding international agreement. The Obama administration negotiated with Iraq to extend the timeline for withdrawal but the Iraqi government would not approve it. The US government could either abide by their agreement with the Iraqi government, or ignore the Iraqi government's rule of law.

            • It's as if you didn't even read my post. Read what you are responding to before blabbing on.
              • by Saanvik ( 155780 )

                Is this in response to my comment? If so, your response is off base.

                The facts are quite clear. The Bush administration negotiated a planned troop withdrawal with the Iraqi government. The Obama administration negotiated with the Iraq government to change it. The Iraq government denied the request by the Obama administration.

                Your claim that the Obama administration had several years to change the agreement is true, but the Obama administration would never have had to make that attempt if the agreement

    • by k6mfw ( 1182893 )
      following up on this thread, I read a little more about this book, I was thinking maybe the author was one of few experts calling foul on Bush and Co. intelligence data but was squelched because they wanted to invade Iraq no matter what (I remember in 1990s many hawks were claiming we need to get back into Iraq and "finish getting rid of Saddam." Regarding 9-11, that provided a great excuse to do that. Of course, since nobody in US knows the difference between Sunni and Shia, and other details, new messes s
  • by Vlad_the_Inhaler ( 32958 ) on Monday May 18, 2015 @02:41PM (#49721079) Homepage

    What is meant by the U.S. government made the same mistakes in Iraq as it did in Iran.? The U.S. has not invaded Iran any time recently.

    Just how the weapons became ubiquitous is also not touched on in this summary: Saddam Hussein had an armory. The U.S. forces took that armory. Then they carried on towards Baghdad, towards the major prize and *glory* (cue exciting music). One undefended armory.

    One thing that totally stank is that the whole thing was then lost in U.S. party politics. The Republicans lied about having lied and all their supporters started claiming black was white and that the weapons of mass destruction had really existed. We are getting the same kind of crud now from the St Petersburg Propagandazentral with respect to the Ukraine.

    Another thing that stank was the sacking of pretty much all Baath party members. Being a party member was a requirement for many kinds of job, sacking all these people created a large pool of disaffected people. This was known at the time but the idiots in charge "knew better". I found it difficult to believe that so much stupidity was not malicious.

    • I assume this should be Vietnam, rather than Iran. This is from the earlier point that "the US ignored history and didn't learn the lessons of the Iraqi revolt against the British in 1920 or the events of the Vietnam War".

      Certainly "Underreporting U.S. casualties, over reporting enemy losses, and obfuscating how terrible the situation on the ground was." sounds like a good summary of what was done in Vietnam.

    • by Reid ( 629 )

      That Iran bit threw me, too, but I suspect he meant Vietnam.

    • by ShanghaiBill ( 739463 ) on Monday May 18, 2015 @03:04PM (#49721299)

      Another thing that stank was the sacking of pretty much all Baath party members. Being a party member was a requirement for many kinds of job

      The Baath Party was made up of people that believed in a secular society, a strong unified Iraq, and preventing Iranian domination of the Persian Gulf. Since these were also the goals of the United States, the Baath Party ban had the effect of banning from government all the people that agreed with us on the future direction of Iraq ... and now we are disappointed that somehow Iraq has become a fragmented Islamic state controlled by the Shiites in Iran.

      • by alen ( 225700 )

        and after WW2 we allowed the Nazis to remain in power under a different name where in Iraq we kicked out anyone in the Baath party and made them unemployable and then wondered why people began to shoot back at us

        • and after WW2 we allowed the Nazis to remain in power under a different name where in Iraq we kicked out anyone in the Baath party and made them unemployable and then wondered why people began to shoot back at us

          It should be pointed out that the people who decided to let the Nazis remain in power after WW2 were thoroughly castigated by pretty much everyone.

          So perhaps the lesson learned from that episode was that letting the former government workers continue to work after we'd ousted the government was a

      • According to Naomi Klein in The Shock Doctrine [naomiklein.org] part of the reason to exclude Baath party members from the Government was to simply sack nearly everyone in the Iraqi Government. The US had an agenda of privatising Iraq and freeing its markets and it didn't need a local Government to slow them down.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Xest ( 935314 )

        That's the common Americanised view of how you could've made Iraq go better, but this is precisely the sort of ill conceived view that I suspect this book is trying to deal with.

        The problem is that the Baath party was brutal. Like, really brutal. We're talking about the people who gassed the Kurds, who had no qualms with using human shields, and took no issue with putting power drills through the eyes of captured PoWs as a form of torture.

        Given that, it'd be naive to think that that country wouldn't have co

    • Thanks. You are correct, that should have been Vietnam, not Iran.

    • You should review your history a bit- from wikipedia:

      In 1951 Mohammad Mosaddegh was elected prime minister. He became enormously popular in Iran after he nationalized Iran's petroleum industry and oil reserves. He was deposed in the 1953 Iranian coup d'état, an Anglo-American covert operation that marked the first time the US had overthrown a foreign government during the Cold War.[92]

  • Infinite (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Livius ( 318358 ) on Monday May 18, 2015 @02:43PM (#49721119)

    Monkey keystrokes and infinite time does produce the works of Shakespeare.

    So let's show monkeys a little more respect than comparing them members of Congress.

  • member of United States Congress and House of Representatives ... collected wisdom

    you could fit the resulting tome on a 3x5 card and still have 15 square inches of white space...

    • I don't understand what was meant by the statement. Apparently the writer doesn't know crap about how our government is organized. The Congress is comprised of the Senate AND the House of Representatives.

      "United States Congress and House of Representatives" doesn't make any sense at all.

      Maybe he meant to write, "United States Senate and House of Representatives"?

      That's okay. Even the media get it wrong most of the time. You'll hear them talking about "the Senate and the Congress" all of the time. It makes m
  • by HiThere ( 15173 ) <charleshixsn@NOSPAM.earthlink.net> on Monday May 18, 2015 @02:53PM (#49721239)

    The assertion that the infinite monkeys theorum has been disproved seems incorrect. Searches for the named scientist in conjuction with monkey also fail.

    IOW, I suspect the entire article is garbage. I will admit that this is based on the fact the the only easily checkable statement appears to be factually incorrect, but if it's wrong where you can check, what should you believe about the places where you can't check?

    • I noticed the same thing. Everything I've seen on monkey typists says that as either the number of monkeys, or the time, approaches infinity, the probability of getting a target string out of the typing pool approaches 1.

      I also find it funny that in a post about a book on the Iraq debacle, the /. audience focuses on a tangential statement about probabilistics.

    • I recollect Penzias making that statement that the math simply does not work in his book: Digital Harmony: Business, Technology & Life After Paperwork

      http://www.amazon.com/Ideas-In... [amazon.com]

      • On Wikipedia's Infinite monkey theorem [wikipedia.org] page, the very first sentence under the heading "Solution" is:

        There is a straightforward proof of this theorem.

        Another commenter [slashdot.org] has said that Penzias demonstrated the astronomically vast amount of time such an effort would take, but this is not a disproof of the theorem.

        pages 404

        Is it bad that my first thought when I read that was: "How could he not find out how many pages it had?"

  • by tverbeek ( 457094 ) on Monday May 18, 2015 @03:05PM (#49721311) Homepage

    Empirical evidence demonstrates that it took only a finite number of monkeys a finite period of time to "randomly" produce the works of Shakespeare.

  • by sayfawa ( 1099071 ) on Monday May 18, 2015 @03:11PM (#49721375)
    One of the Gawker sites interviewed this guy a few weeks ago. I went into it ready to criticize, but now I wish more people like him were in charge of the armed forces.

    http://phasezero.gawker.com/an... [gawker.com]
  • by samantha ( 68231 ) * on Monday May 18, 2015 @03:53PM (#49721649) Homepage

    Resisting invasion and occupation of one's country does not make one a terrorist except to the invaders.

    • Resisting invasion and occupation of one's country does not make one a terrorist except to the invaders.

      Indeed; however, that is not entirely the case in Iraq. There were numerous groups in Iraq. All said they were doing the suicide bombing of civilians to resist America. Note how the suicide bombings of civilians never stopped once America had left.

      In other words, it was terrorism with a goal of NOT resisting the evil invaders but rather to take control of the region once America had left.

      Concerning IEDs and such that were killing American soldiers, I would agree with you and not call it terrorism; however,

  • by knightmad ( 931578 ) on Monday May 18, 2015 @04:11PM (#49721779)
    This is a weird subject matter for a book review to be on Slashdot. I don't want this to be dismissed like one of those "this is not news for nerds / stuff that matter" comments so I will develop further about why this is my opinion:

    1. From Slashdot's own Book Review Guidelines [slashdot.org] (emphasis mine): "In particular, we're interested in reviews of books on programming, computer security, the history of technology and anything else (including Science Fiction, cyberpunk, etc.) that fits under the "News for Nerds" umbrella."

    The reviewed book doesn't seem to fit any of the name checked categories and even to fit in the more general "News for Nerds" umbrella seems to be very generous for most interpretations of what a "nerd" would be in this context (of computer, technology, science fiction and cyberpunk).

    2. Here are the reviews from the past 12 months. Despite of the lack of reviewers the theme is almost always related to technology (even if as a pretext to discuss infosec, law enforcement and natsec). Curiously the same reviewer that submitted this review submitted most of the barely related ones.

    by Saint Aardvark [slashdot.org]: Book Review: Networking For System Administrators [slashdot.org] (subject: infrastructure, sysadmin)
    by Michael Ross [slashdot.org]: Book Review: Drush For Developers, 2nd Edition [slashdot.org] (subject: web development)
    by benrothke [slashdot.org]: Book Review: Future Crimes [slashdot.org] (subject: infused, cybercrime, law enforcement)
    by benrothke [slashdot.org]: Book Review: Data and Goliath [slashdot.org] (subject: infosec, privacy, law enforcement)
    by benrothke [slashdot.org]: Book Review: Core HTML5 2D Game Programming [slashdot.org] (subject: game programming)
    by benrothke [slashdot.org]: Book Review: Designing and Building a Security Operations [slashdot.org] (subject: infosec)
    by Saint Aardvark [slashdot.org]: Book Review: FreeBSD Mastery: Storage Essentials [slashdot.org] (subject: infrastructure)

    2014

    by MassDosage [slashdot.org]: Book Review: Build Your Own Website: A Comic Guide to HTML, CSS, and WordPress [slashdot.org] (subject: web development)
    by benrothke [slashdot.org]: Book Review: Spam Nation [slashdot.org] (subject: cybercrime)
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    by

  • With reviewers like this, who needs critics? I sure hope the subject of the review was better written than the review itself.
  • hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraq's

    Protip: try to pair up your errors, and hope that one masks the other.

  • can we get this without the posturing? Yeah, maybe congress is 99% populated with idiots, but what does that have to do with this book? And what does this have to do with the

    Since when did slashdot turn into boingboing?

    the editing department needs a high colonic, me thinks. This site is losing it's relevance.

  • I call bullshit. Sure, they were a nasty bunch but there's a lot of those around . Saddam himself was cruel but he also thought it was necessary to be so. As dictators go, he was relatively competent. That was maybe the main reason the US turned on him: too competent. Iraq had been developing itself very well and was becoming a bit too independent and too powerful.
    The sadism of his eldest son was another matter.

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