Named one of the Best Books of 2005 by The New York Times, The Washington Post Book World, The Boston Globe, The Chicago Tribune, The San Francisco Chronicle Book Review, The Los Angeles Times Book Review, The New York Times Book Review, USA Today, Time, and New York magazine. The Assassins' Gate: America in Iraq recounts how the United States set about changing the history of the Middle East and became ensnared in a guerrilla war in Iraq. It brings to life the people and ideas that created the Bush administration's war policy and led America to the Assassins' Gate-the main point of entry into the American zone in Baghdad. The Assassins' Gate also describes the place of the war in American life: the ideological battles in Washington that led to chaos in Iraq, the ordeal of a fallen soldier 's family, and the political culture of a country too bitterly polarized to realize such a vast and morally complex undertaking.
- Pulitzer Prize
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Farrar, Straus and Giroux
October 02, 2006
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Excerpt from The Assassins' Gate by George Packer
An Unfinished War
AT THE TIME of the Gulf War, in 1991, a man going by the name Samir al-Khalil started appearing on American television news programs. The name was a pseudonym, and the man's face was always turned away from the camera, his identity further disguised by a wig. Samir al-Khalil was the author of a book about Iraq under Saddam Hussein called Republic of Fear. It was written during the 1980s, while Iraq was at war with Iran and hundreds of thousands of men were dying in the trenches and minefields of the two countries' long border, by poison gas and in human-wave attacks, in fighting reminiscent of the stalemate and slaughter of the First World War ' except that this war was more modern, fueled in the manner of twentieth-century wars by totalitarian ideologies: in Iraq an aggressive brand of Pan-Arab nationalism, in Iran a revolutionary dictatorship of the clerics. It was a death struggle between fear and faith. More than a million men were killed or wounded in the Iran-Iraq War of 1980 ' 88. In this country hardly anyone noticed.
Against the background of this calamity, Samir al-Khalil, who lived in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and had access to the great collection of Arab sources at Harvard's Widener Library, researched and wrote his book. Republic of Fear is dense and obsessive; it dissects the history and character of the dictatorship of Saddam and his Arab Baath Socialist Party in relentless detail, showing how much the regime resembled and borrowed from the European totalitarian movements, the Nazis, fascists, and communists. By the end of the book, a reader understood why its author had sought refuge behind a pseudonym and a hairpiece.
It took him three years to find a publisher. When the book finally appeared in 1989, it went predictably ignored ' until August of 1990, when Saddam invaded Kuwait and put Iraq in the center of Americans' consciousness. Suddenly, Republic of Fear became a minor bestseller.
As the Gulf War came to a close in early March 1991, with Iraqi forces routed and in headlong retreat, Samir al-Khalil appeared in public at a Harvard forum and shed his pseudonym. His real name was Kanan Makiya. He was the son of one of Iraq's most distinguished architects and an English mother; he was a trained architect himself and had once managed his father's London firm. Makiya decided to reveal his identity because events in his country of birth were taking a disastrous turn. Shia in southern Iraq and Kurds in the north, encouraged by President George H. W. Bush's call for Iraqis to rise up against Saddam, were being slaughtered in the thousands by the remaining elite units of Saddam's army and his secret police. Iraqi helicopters were taking advantage of the cease-fire terms to massacre civilians from the air or drop suspected rebels to their deaths. At the Harvard event, Makiya urged Bush to stop the slaughter and finish the war by moving on to Baghdad and overthrowing the regime.