A dense, informed chronicle of a U.S. Agency for International Development civilian officer’s three deployments to Iraq.
As part of the ongoing “struggle for Iraq,” Renahan, a political scientist and international development consultant, participated intimately in the arduous, dangerous work of trying to move the war-torn country toward democracy during three separate deployments: in the Maysan Province (2003-2004), in Baghdad (2005-2006), and in Erbil (2007-2008). Renahan’s separate work in the three areas dominated by Shia, Sunni, and Kurds, respectively, offers a rare insight into the development of Iraq’s three major ethnic areas within the context of overall nation-building. In Amarah, the capital of Maysan Province in the southeast, the author and his team at an American NGO worked with local councils to bolster the fledgling democratic process, counter corruption and the culture of violence, and promote women’s rights (“the social issue in Iraq”) and employment. The lingering effects of Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship were daunting, as were the basic struggles for law, water, and electricity as well as security for the NGO team. Renahan was then hired as an “anti-corruption manager” for the Iraqi Civil Society Program in Baghdad, where the American key words “transparency” and “accountability” were well-meant but required way more time and training to implement. During his last stint, in Erbil, the author helped support institutional reform at the Ministry of Municipalities as they aimed to construct a “model ministry” incorporating nonpartisan governance, democratic management, organizational effectiveness, and external leadership. Following his discussion of each mission, Renahan gives a helpful roundup of what worked and what did not. In the last section, “America and the Future of Iraq,” the author looks at the more recent discouraging descent into sectarian violence, the rise of the Islamic State group, the complication of Kirkuk’s oil reserves, and the enormous refugee crisis.
An overlong but noncynical, eye-opening book that amply shows how America’s civilian work aiding democratic reconstruction in Iraq is unfinished.