The Wars of Modern Babylon: The Rise and Fall of the Iraqi Army

Dani Asher praises the book as one of the best military works originally written

The book The “Wars of Modern Babylon: The Rise and Fall of the Iraqi Army” is classic military literature at its best.

In the preface, lieutenant General (res.) Amnon Lipkin-Shahak, former IDF chief of staff and head of military intelligence, states that the book is “a fascinating mosaic of the Iraqi army - comprehensive picture of a world that existed and vanished”. The book traces the entire 82 year history of the Iraqi army from 1921 to 2003, and offers insights into the events that led to the collapse of Saddam Hussein’s regime. Through his lucid descriptions and analysis of the Iraqi army’s structure, objectives, internal struggles, and status in Iraqi society, the author has made a major contribution to our understanding of twentieth century Iraq and its current problems.

This book is a milestone in military literature and probably the most thorough depiction of any Arab army in the Hebrew language – at over 900 pages (including maps and pictures). The author, Colonel (ret.) Pesach Malovany, spent his military career in military intelligence and has dedicated most his adult life to collecting the material for the book. The work is a comprehensive study based on a wide-range of sources, especially the Iraqi press from the time of Saddam Hussein. The end product is a highly readable masterpiece of erudition, investigation, and information.

The author describes the Iraqi army’s wars and its participation in the struggles against Israel. At the heart of the book is a detailed portrayal and analysis of Saddam Hussein’s three major wars: the War against Iran during 1980–1988, the 1990- 1991 First Gulf War, and the final campaign in 2003 that led to the downfall of his regime.

The Wars of Modern Babylon is the first of its kind work that describes an Arab army from the army’s own perspective that is, as it wished to portray itself in published sources. The book is of special significance when we realize that the Iraqi army made a superhuman effort to obtain unconventional weapons and long–range missiles (that it eventually used against Israel) and constituted a genuine regional threat.

The book also discusses Israel’s security: for many years Iraq’s enormous military layout was the reason for Israel’s deep concern over the “eastern front”. Following Iraq’s participation in the War of Independence and Yom Kippur War, its army was considered a force that could leverage the balance of power between Israel and its eastern neighbors to the point of posing an existential threat to Israel. The inclusion of the Iraqi army in the eastern threat became a nightmare for Israel’s military planners.

The chapter on Iraq’s participation in combat in Israel’s War of Independence, the Six-Day War, and Yom Kippur War is only twenty-seven pages long. But since Iraq is a major Arab state, there is significant interest in the growth and development of its army, even when the events are not directly related to Israel. The four hundred pages dealing with the war against Iran, the victories and failures from the Iraqi perspective, and the two hundred pages on the Gulf War and two wars against the US-led Coalition forces are written in accessible style and make for a fascinating read.

The reader will find special interest in the last two hundred pages of the book that deal with the “components of Iraqi military power”. While this belongs to post-Saddam history, after the Iraqi ceased to exist, it is hard to escape the relevance of this part of the book, as the Arab-Israeli conflict is not yet over. Thus, familiarity with the huge army and vast military complex that once existed can also illustrate the potential of its rebirth, like a phoenix rising out of the ashes, a scenario that could take place when US forces depart from the country.

The author’s lifetime achievement justifiably earned him the Yitzhak Sade Award for Military Literature in 2010. An English edition of the book is expected.

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