Tigris Gunboats : The Forgotten War in Iraq 1914-1917
March 2007 sees the anniversary of the fall of Baghdad - not in 2003, but 1917. Few people realize that the latest American-led invasion was prefigured by a poorly-resourced but ultimately successful British campaign during the First World War. Where the Americans had overwhelming air superiority, the British enjoyed a similar advantage - naval power. In fact, the army's advance up the Tigris marshlands against heavy odds was only possible thanks to the close artillery support of the Navy's gunboats and the transport capacities of river steamers. Beginning as an ad hoc operation by the Indian Army to secure Western oil supplies (only the first of many echoes of the present), startling initial successes were followed by overweening ambition, the disastrous surrender at Kut, a reassessment of strategy and the final triumphant capture of Baghdad, which was quickly secured with little destruction and no looting. In each phase, the Navy played a major role, eventually building special shallow-draft vessels for the task, which were shipped out in kit form and assembled at Basra. Familiar problems, like inter-tribal rivalry, were faced from the outset, but with experienced colonial administrators brought in from India, the British were well-equipped to preserve civil order after military victory. Written with insight and authority by the man who commanded the naval forces, it provides a fascinating insider's view of an operation that did not always run smoothly but whose results look all the more impressive when compared with the recent history of Iraq. This is emphasised in a new Foreword by Sir Jeremy Greenstock, until his resignation in 2004 the deputy to Paul Bremer in the Coalition Provisional Authority.