cover image A Stranger in Your Own City: Travels in the Middle East’s Long War

A Stranger in Your Own City: Travels in the Middle East’s Long War

Ghaith Abdul-Ahad. Knopf, $30 (432p) ISBN 978-0-593-53688-9

Journalist Abdul-Ahad’s kaleidoscopic and incisive debut recounts the 20 years since U.S.-led coalition forces took control of Baghdad. He begins with his childhood memories of Saddam Hussein (“the embodiment of our national narrative”) pinning medals on the chests of his generals during the 1980s Iran-Iraq War and charts how sanctions imposed after the First Gulf War, combined with Hussein’s corrupt patronage system, turned Iraq into “a nation of hustlers.” In scenes of the chaotic 2003 takeover and its aftermath, Abdul-Ahad describes how Hussein’s toppling unleashed sectarian wars between Iraq’s Sunni and Shia factions, weakened democracy in the Middle East, and emboldened other dictators in the region. Explaining how Sunni insurgents captured Fallujah and other cities in 2014, Abdul-Ahad notes that in the “all-embracing corruption culture of the Iraqi state, the depravity and cronyism of the security services had reached surreal levels.” Interleaving his own observations as a Baghdad native and former translator for Western journalists with those of other ordinary Iraqis, Abdul-Ahad details bloody sectarian battles, heart-pounding run-ins with ISIS henchmen, and a populace trying to reclaim its city and country from Iraq’s greedy ruling class and those still “immersed in their selfish sectarian mentalities.” It’s a master class in reporting. Illus. (Mar.)