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Posted on Oct 21, 2007 in Books and Movies, Front Page Features

Instructions for American Servicemen in Iraq during World War II – Book Review

By Richard N Story

cover.jpgBook Review: Instructions for American Servicemen in Iraq during World War II.  The Navy and War Departments of the United States. University of Chicago Press, 2007, Hard Cover.

Contrary to popular belief; the United States Army has had experience with Iraq since before Operation Desert Storm or Operation Iraqi Freedom.  In fact the first time the United States sent forces to garrison Iraq was during World War II.  In 1941 a coup d’etat by four nationalist Iraqi generals over threw the Pro-British government. After a brief fight the plotters were over thrown and the government was restored.  But worrying to the British was the fact that both Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy had sent the nationalists material aid and even some Luftwaffe aircraft repainted in Iraqi markings.   Fast forward to 2003 and the United States military is sending forces again into Iraq.  Not to prevent a ruthless dictator from destabilizing the country, but to remove from power a ruthless dictator running the country and who was not only threatening to destabilize the region, but in the minds of the coalition leaders was amassing weapons of self destruction that threatened the entire to world.


After the military forces of Saddam Hussein were defeated; the next phase of operations was transitioning the forces in Iraq from war fighting to reconstruction and rehabilitation.  Yet fundamental and basic knowledge of the Iraqi culture and people was not disseminated to the officers and men who would meet the Iraqis face to face.  Did not the military have advisors who were available to brief the men and women of the United State’s armed forces?  It is not the purpose of this article to guess what assumptions were made by the Civil-Military leadership on the end phase of the war.  But one thing was certain; nobody bothered to dig deep in the War Department and Navy Department archives for a small manual that was issued to the US Military during World War II on how to deal with the Iraqis and not only foster good will between the Americans and Iraqis, but how to avoid the pitfalls that could endanger the service member, his or her unit and the entire United States and Coalition Forces in Iraq.  Instructions for American Servicemen in Iraq During World War II (hereafter Instructions) was just such a book and it had been available since 1943.

“History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes.”  Is the opening sentence in the forward by Lieutenant Colonel John A. Nagl the author of Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife: Counterinsurgency Lessons from Malaya and Vietnam as well as contributing editor to US Army Field Manual 3-24 Counterinsurgency (Marine Corps Warfighting Publication no. 3-33.5)   as well as the Commanding Officer, 1st Battalion, 34th Armor at Fort Riley Kansas.  Colonel Nagl writes in his forward how this manual would have saved him and his soldiers a lot of grief if they had been issued it while he was in Iraq. He tells us in his forward that often he had to diffuse the situations that had grown tense by not being able to directly communicate with the natives with the phrase ‘Muterjiim Sayee’ which means ‘Bad Translator’.  Colonel Nagl’s forward puts the current usefulness of Instructions in no doubt even if he does not the lack of political correctness in the war time manual and understatements in regards to the political and religious differences between the various sects and tribes present in Iraq.

Instructions itself is pocket sized and runs for only 44 pages. Nothing has been changed in this edition from the original 1943 edition including the cartoon like line art. The book is broken down into 12 small sections that flow together to form the manual. Naturally the first few sections are an introduction and overview of Iraq.  But then you get into the meat of the book with the introduction of American servicemen to Islam.  How to avoid offending Islamic sensibilities and which cities to avoid at all cost (Moslem sacred sites) unless specifically ordered there. It delves deeper into Iraqi culture and the importance of the handshake to Iraqis but warns them to avoid any other type of physical contact.  It goes into detail even about how urinating while standing is a violation of the customs of the Iraqi people.  The book is full of little tidbits like that which can help ease the cultural conflict that Westerners and the Iraqis would have.  Perhaps the two best sections of the manual are the ‘Do and Don’t Section’ and the ‘Useful Arabic Word and Phrases’ section.  As Colonel Nagl said; if he had that when he was deployed than some better outcomes might have occurred than what actually happened.

Instructions is small and compact, but the 44 pages of original text is invaluable for any person interested in the complexities of the Iraqi people.  With a list price of $10 the manual is available for everybody.  It is highly recommended that the family and friends of service men and women being deployed to Iraq give a copy of the manual to the service member. If we wait for the government to reissue the manual; it might not be ready till the 3rd campaign for Iraq.  Even if you are only an Armchair General the book has value for its insights into the Iraqi people.  With a low list price, historical insight into the workings of the War/Navy Departments in World War II and useful information on the Iraqis; this manual is highly recommended.

1 Comment

  1. I what to thank all our men & women in all branches of service
    for fighting for our country and our rights..I pray every day that
    all of you come home to your family and your friends ….I would
    like to write to to any of you who doesn’t have anyone to write to
    them…Thak you all again…God Bless each and everyone of
    you …Linda