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Wars of Modern Babylon: A History of the Iraqi Army from 1921 to 2003, by Pesach Malovany

Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2017. Pp. xxii, 934. Illus., maps, appends., biblio., index. $125.00. ISBN: 0813169437.

Iraq at War

Malovany, a retired Israeli Army intelligence service colonel who is now a consultant on Arab militaries, has produced an excellent history of the Iraqi Army. Although concentrating on military operations during the regime of Saddam Hussein, he dispels many myths about Iraqi military prowess. The book is organized into five parts.

The first part offers a concise treatment of the army’s origins and operations from its formation in 1921 to the advent of Saddam Hussein in 1979. So we get looks at the Turkish, British, Arab influences on the new army, the brief Anglo-Iraqi War of 1941, Iraqi participation in the 1948 Arab-Israeli War and the 1967 Six Day War, and operations against the perennially restless Kurdish minority.

The second part of the book covers in great detail the 1980-1988 war with Iran, during which the Iraqi performance varied from quite effective to poor, and “victory” was attained largely through the exhaustion of the Iranians. Part three covers events from the Iran-Iraq War through the invasion of Kuwait in 1990 and the subsequent international coalition that inflicted a devastating defeat on Iraq during Operation Desert Storm in 1991.

The fourth part of the book deals with the period from the end of the Gulf War of 1990-1991 through the suppression of regional uprisings against the Saddam regime, the rebuilding of the armed forces, the protracted international confrontation over the status of the Kurds and other separatist regions, and events during ‘Operation Iraqi Freedom”, with some comment on the subsequent protracted resistance to Coalition occupation.

The final section “Components of Iraqi Military Power”, offers an analysis of the main trends in Iraqi military organization and doctrine. Malovany gives us a number of important insights, noting particularly that the army’s operations during its several encounters with the Israelis and in the Iranian war were far less rigid and plodding than was reported at the time, and repeated often since, pointing out, for example, that the Iraqi forces committed during the Six Day War had barely reached the war zone before the armistice had been established. He also notes that the army’s greatest weakness has not necessarily been in training or doctrine as in political leadership, Saddam in particular believing his own press releases.

The Wars of Modern Babylon, a volume in the Kentucky “Modern War Studies” series, is an important book for those interested in the history of the Middle East over the last four decades, and the background to the American invasion of 2003.

Note: The Wars of Modern Babylon is also available as an ePub, ISBN 978-0-8131-6945-3, and pdf, 978-0-8131-6944-6.


Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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