Books offer insight on Iraq

This week marks the fifth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq. News that the surge of American troops has dampened violence, coupled with worries over a possible economic recession, has pushed the issue of Iraq back in the public's consciousness.

But if only for the sake of understanding &

and not repeating &

history, it's worthwhile to take a look at how early decisions about how to conduct the war impacted American soldiers on the ground, as well as Iraq's residents.

Two new books at the Ashland Public Library make that impact crystal clear, although in markedly different ways.

Martha Raddatz, chief White House correspondent for ABC News and the network's former senior national security correspondent, has written a book that is not overtly political with "Long Road Home: A Story of War and Family."

She tells the story of a platoon patrolling the streets in Sadr City, Iraq, that was pinned down by a surprise attack from the Moqtada al-Sadr militia in 2004. Surprise because Sadr City's residents suffered under Saddam Hussein's regime and were supposed to view Americans as liberators.

Raddatz writes that U.S. Army leaders and officials with the Office of the Secretary of Defense had ordered the First Cavalry Division to leave most of its tanks at home since they would be inappropriate for a "stability" operation.

— and Angela Howe-Decker

When a platoon in the division was attacked by hundreds of militiamen and trapped in an alley, American soldiers who rushed to their rescue had only a handful of tanks. Many drove into the hail of bullets and bombs in canvas-topped Humvees and the open backs of pick-up trucks.

In vivid detail, Raddatz describes the carnage and heroism that ensued, as well as the impact on the families waiting at home for their husbands, sons and brothers.

She mentions the main architects of the early war plan by name only once when she describes how Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz publicly belittled a general who had warned the United States was not sending in nearly enough soldiers to stabilize Iraq after the initial invasion.

There's one reason to read this book, summed up in a single word Raddatz wrote at the end of her acknowledgments: "Remember."

"Babylon's Ark: The Incredible Wartime Rescue of the Baghdad Zoo" by Lawrence Anthony with Graham Spence delivers on its promise of offering a heartwarming tale from an unlikely place.

During the early days of the Iraq war, Anthony left his tranquil wildlife preserve in South Africa, intent on saving what animals he could at the Baghdad Zoo.

Those animals that survived the bombing, shooting and looting of the city were trapped in their excrement-filled cages, near death from dehydration and starvation.

Anthony, the Iraqi zoo staff, soldiers and members of the international conservation community risked their lives to find food, water and supplies in a war-torn land.

Each day brought new challenges, from finding and buying donkeys in the dangerous Baghdad streets to slake the appetites of the zoo's lions, to planning daring raids to rescue animals kept in appalling conditions by black marketeers.

The U.S. government's missteps in the war had a direct impact on the zoo. Soldiers weren't ordered to take action early enough to stop looters, who contributed to the destruction of the infrastructure when they stole pipes, wiring and anything else they could plunder. Banning members of Saddam Hussein's Ba'ath party from government jobs meant the zoo's brave Iraqi director was stripped of his post right when he was needed most.

The future for the Baghdad Zoo in many ways mirrors that of Iraq itself. The animals and zookeepers have a chance for a better life as the international community embraces and aids the zoo &

but only if fragile stability and democracy can prevail.

The Ashland Public Library accepts suggestions for new book purchases. Visit or ask for a form at the check-out counter. To submit your own mini-review of a library book or post a comment about this column, go to and visit Quills Queues.

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