READING LIST | 19 books to help you understand Iraq

Iraq; Mesopotamia, the Cradle of Civilisation, the Land Between Two Rivers – these are just a few of the names used to refer to one of the most beautiful and misunderstood countries in the Middle East.

Much of we have heard about Iraq in the West in recent years has come from simplistic news stories about war, sectarianism and terrorism. But Iraq was once the cultural and intellectual hub from which came much of the wisdom and knowledge that have shaped our understanding of the world today.

Below is a list of essential books to read if you’re looking to gain a deeper, more nuanced understanding of Iraq – featuring a combination of both non-fiction and fiction written by a mixture of Iraqi and foreign authors. This ultimate Iraq reading list covers Iraqi history, politics and culture and gets to the heart of the country’s most complex and intractable struggles.


A History of Iraq – Charles Tripp

Widely recognised as one of the leading accounts of Iraqi history, setting the stage for the disastrous events that have given rise to the Iraq we see today.

Baghdad: City of Peace, City of Blood – Justin Marozzi

The captivating story of the rich history of the former cultural and intellectual centre of the world.

The Iran-Iraq War – Pierre Razoux

A detailed historical overview of one of the most defining eras in recent Iraqi history – the eight year war between Saddam Hussein’s army and the newly formed Islamic Republic of Iran.


Republic of Fear: The Politics of Modern Iraq – Kanan Makiya

One of the leading accounts of Saddam Hussein’s brutal regime, as told by a member of the exiled opposition community of the Saddam era.

The Foreigner’s Gift: The Americans, the Arabs, and the Iraqis in Iraq – Fouad Ajmi

A portrait of the post-2003 struggle for Iraq by one of the world’s foremost authorities on Middle Eastern politics.

The Unravelling: High Hopes and Missed Opportunities in Iraq – Emma Sky

A critical inside look at the US occupation, written by a Brit who went from anti-war activist to senior political advisor to the US military.

Muqtada al-Sadr and the Shia Insurgency in Iraq – Patrick Cockburn

A fascinating overview of the Shia struggle in Iraq, providing the impressive detail and historical context often missing from media accounts.

The Shia Revival: How Conflicts within Islam Will Shape the Future – Vali Nasr

A fascinating history of the Shia struggle and a thoughtful analysis of Shi’ism today and its future role in Iraq and beyond.

The Struggle for Iraq’s Future: How Corruption, Incompetence and Sectarianism Have Undermined Democracy – Zaid Al-Ali

A critical look at some of the deepest and most complex issues standing in the way of development and democracy in post-2003 Iraq.

Islamic State: The Digital Caliphate – Abdel Bari Atwan

One of the most fascinating and insightful accounts of the unprecedented rise of the so-called Islamic State. A book you’ll struggle to put down!


Kurdistan – In the Shadow of History – Susan Meiselas

A history of the plight of the Kurdish people, from the arbitrary drawing of borders that excluded the Kurds after World War II to attempted genocide during the era of Saddam Hussein.

The Kurds: Nationalism and Politics – Faleh A. Jabar and Hocham David

An account of the political exclusion of the Kurds and their attempts to establish themselves as a political force, bringing together history, anthropology, sociology, politics and linguistics.

Invisible Nation: How the Kurds’ Quest for Statehood Is Shaping Iraq and the Middle East – Quil Lawrence

A critical analysis of the significance of the Kurdish issue in post-2003 Iraq.

The Miracle of the Kurds: The Remarkable Story of Hope Reborn in Northern Iraq – Stephen Mansfield

An inspiring vision for the future of the Kurdish people, building on their historical successes and their resilience in the face of adversity.


Between Two Worlds: Escape from Tyranny: Growing Up in the Shadow of Saddam – Zainab Salbi

The captivating and inspiring life-story of the daughter of Saddam Hussein’s personal pilot, who escaped tyranny to build a new life outside of her homeland.

The Last Girl: My Story of Captivity and My Fight Against the Islamic State – Nadia Murad

The heartbreaking and inspiring story of Nadia Murad, the Yezidi girl and Nobel Peace Prize Winner whose life was ripped apart by the Islamic State and who now fights for the freedom and dignity of her people.


The President’s Gardens – Muhsin Al-Ramli

A novel providing a human perspective of the history of modern Iraq, as seen through the eyes of one rural village community.

Frankenstein in Baghdad – Ahmed Saadawi

A satirical yet dark story of life in Baghdad during wartime. Shortlisted for the Manbooker Prize in 2019.

The Sirens of Baghdad – Yasmina Khadra

A heart-wrenching novel following the journey of a young Iraqi villager who is radicalised by extremists during the US occupation.

Have we missed anything? We’re always looking for recommendations and would love to hear about your favourite books on Iraq – leave a comment and let us know!

If you found this useful, you might also like:

10 books to help you understand Yemen

3 books to help you understand Oman

Essential podcasts to help you understand the Middle East

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