Posts Tagged Iraq

book review: ISIS: The State of Terror


ISIS: The State of Terror By Jessica Stern and J.M. Berger.
Ecco| March 2015| 385 pages |$34.99| ISBN: 978-0-06-239554-2

rating: 3.5/5*

“Terrorism is psychological warfare. Its most immediate goals are to bolster the morale of its supporters and demoralize and frighten its victims and their sympathizers. For the audience, the radius of fear dwarfs that of injury and death. Terrorists also aim to make us overreact in fear. While they don’t always get what they want, terrorists often succeed at two vital goals: spreading fear and provoking negative policies.”

Are you confused between Sunni and Shi’a branches of Islam? “Though the comparison is imperfect for a number of reasons, it can be helpful to think of Shi’a Islam as being analogous to Roman Catholicism and Sunni Islam as being analogous to Protestantism.” ISIS is anti-Sunni Muslim. Do you understand the appeal of ISIS for many radical Muslims? Are you confused by a caliphate? Do you want to know why Al Queda distanced itself from ISIS? For one reason, Osama bin Laden studied business in college while former ISIS leader Abu Musab al Zarqawi dropped out of school in the ninth grade. Zarqawi “a Jordanian thug-turned-terrorist brought a particularly brutal and sectarian approach to his understanding of jihad.” Current ISIS leader Abu Omar al Baghdadi holds a doctorate in Islamic culture and Shariah law. Do you wonder how ISIS recruits, particularly Westerners? What can the United States and other Western nations do to stop or suppress ISIS? The authors suggest: “Rather than trying to displace ISIS with an external force, we should consider efforts to cut off its ability to move fighters, propaganda, and money in and out of the regions it controls, weakening its ability to use brute force and extreme violence to keep the local population in check.”

Author Jessica Stern lectures on terrorism at Harvard University. She is a member of the Hoover Institution Task Force on National Security and Law and served on the Clinton administration’s National Security Council staff. She wrote Denial: A Memoir in Terror, Terror in the Name of God, Why Religious Militants Kill and The Ultimate Terrorists. Author J.M. Berger is a nonresident fellow with the Brookings Institution and wrote Jihad Joe: Americans Who Go to War in the Name of Islam.

This exhaustively researched and expertly written book chronicles the beginning of ISIS, what its followers and members believe and its messages and plans. This detailed account should enlighten those confused by the terrorist group. I wish there’d been a bit more on how ISIS recruits using Twitter. That chapter disappointed me. I wanted to know how and why Westerners are drawn to such a brutal group. I wanted interviews or information on more Westerners in ISIS or formally in ISIS. That’s what fell short for me. Despite majoring in Political Science in college, ISIS and other Islamic and religious terrorist organizations perplex me. This book helped me to understand a bit more.

Some highlights:

–“Bin Laden and his early followers were mostly members of an intellectual, educated elite, while Zarqawi was a barely educated ruffian with an attitude.” [pg. 16]

–“The Sunni and Shi’a branches of Islam had split soon after the death of Muhammad over the issue of who should succeed the Prophet of Islam as leader of the Muslims, or caliph. Sunnis believe that the caliph can be chosen by Muslim authorities. Shi’ites believe that the caliph must be a direct descendant of the Prophet through his son-in-law and cousin Ali.” [pg. 19]

–“Jihadists who get out of U.S. detention develop a kind of aura when reintegrated into their home communities . . . making it easier for them to recruit others, or to symbolize defiance against a Western power.” [pg. 36]

–ISIS is well-funded. “Most agreed its cash reserves ran into the hundreds of milions of dollars, perhaps even a billion, and by November, some estimated it was generating $1 million to $3 million per day . . .” [pg. 46] Most of ISIS’s revenue came from taxing local populations, looting, sale of antiquities and oil smuggling.

–The coalition to fight ISIS in Syria includes: United States, France, Australia, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands and Bahrain, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates—all Sunni-majority countries.

–17, 000 foreign fighters have traveled to Syria and Iraq to join jihadi groups. Supporters of ISIS span the globe and include those in the United States, Canada, Europe, Australia, India, Afghanistan and Pakistan. [pg. 200]

–“Western returnees have been horrified by what they saw in the Islamic State and appear to have little interest in attacking their home countries, at least for now.” [pg. 201]

–ISIS is obsessed and driven by the end of days. Over 50% of Muslims believe in this end time/ Day of Judgment. Mostly in Afghanistan, Iraq, Tunisia and Malaysia. “Why is ISIS’s obsession with the end of the world so important for us to understand? For one thing, violent apocalyptic groups tend to see themselves as participating in a cosmic war between good and evil, in which ordinary moral rules do not apply.” [pg. 224]

–review by Amy Steele

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Ecco.

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Women’s History Month: Focus on Kathryn Bigelow and The Hurt Locker

Kathryn Bigelow is only the fourth WOMAN to be nominated for a BEST DIRECTOR Academy Award. She was the first woman to win the Directors Guild of America award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures. In addition, Kathryn Bigelow won Best Film and Best Director at the 2010 British Academy Film Awards and was nominated for a Golden Globe.

The opening scene of The Hurt Locker is a creepy version of Wall-E. A robot whisks out through dusty silence scanning back and force looking for something. Iraqis hang out of windows looking on. Children stand along the streets. Snipers hide on rooftops. Suddenly it finds what it is looking for and the men of Bravo Company know that there’s some sort of bomb out there that that needs to be disarmed and fast. It’s time to suit up and get out there.

The Army’s Explosive Ordnance Disposal [EOD] squad has 38 days left of their tour to search for roadside bombs on the streets of Baghdad. Staff Sergeant William James [Jeremy Renner– Dahmer, The Assassination of Jesse James] has recently taken over as team leader. He’s a renegade with a blatant and happy disregard for military protocol and basic safety measures. Sergeant J.T. Sanborn [Anthony Mackie– Half Nelson, We are Marshall] plays by the rules while Specialist Owen Eldridge [Brian Geraghty– We are Marshall, Jarhead] is the newbie on this counterforce team. It’s a high pressure job that allows for no mistakes and requires extreme calmness. Improvised Explosive Devices [IEDs] account for more than half of American hostile deaths. The Hurt Locker is a gritty, frenetic film packed to the brim with terror-filled moments.

Told he should put on a heavy Kevlar suit to disarm one bomb Sgt James [Renner] says: “If I’m gonna die, I’m gonna die comfortable.’’ He proceeds to disarm the bomb without the protective gear to the amazement of his crew who think he’s a cowboy. Is he fearless or gutsy, rowdy or reckless? Or is this all he knows and how he is most comfortable? James showers in full uniform. The blood pours off in puddles after a particularly tense mission. At home [where he is clearly dissatisfied], James keeps a box of remnants from disarmed bombs under his bed [his own Hurt Locker] while a bomb itself is obviously a Hurt Locker and the war could be a Hurt Locker. There’s no politics involved. It is all about this company and its job: to locate and disable bombs. Renner is a revelation in this break out role. His eyes are the windows into the risks and rewards of his job. The Hurt Locker is written by Mark Boal [In the Valley of Elah] who spent months embedded with troops in Iraq.

There is so much death and destruction, blood and devastation, that you cannot help but think about the reasons behind the violence. The Hurt Locker takes place in 2004 during the Gulf War but the emotions that one feels while watching the film transcend the setting and the war. Director Kathryn Bigelow [Point Break, Strange Days] has made her career directing male-centric, action films. The Hurt Locker succeeds with Bigelow adding elements of grace, empathy and serenity to the demeanor of each character. Within the chaos and danger of The Hurt Locker lies bravery and reasoning. The Hurt Locker is without a doubt one of the most potent films you will see this year.


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book review: Coppola: A Pediatric Surgeon in Iraq

Title: Coppola: A Pediatric Surgeon in Iraq
Author: Christopher Coppola, M.D., LTC, USAF
ISBN: 978-0984053117
Pages: 285
Publisher: NTI Upstream (February 1, 2010)
Category: non-fiction
Review source: Library Thing Early Reviewers
Rating: 4.5/5

There is no one around and the housing compound is silent. The oscillating razor feels warm against my forehead as I slide the stainless steel blade across the crown. I suppose shaving my head is a kind of acceptance of the rotten situation of having to be here. I feel a lot of things-loneliness, fear, concern for my family back in Texas. As the last vestiges of my stateside life pile in black-gray clumps on the wet earth, I take a full breath. No longer is there any doubt my part in this war is real. Until now, the war has been something I have critiqued from afar as a mistake, a missed opportunity to deal with the stability of Iraq as a world community. But now I am in the middle of it and it is personal.

Coppola: A Pediatric Surgeon in Iraq reads a bit like M*A*S*H in the Middle East. There are some funny times, poignant moments, absurdities and plenty of new friendships spawned during Dr. Chris Coppola’s two four month tours. To pay for medical school, Coppola agreed to service with the USAF and earned two tours of duty in Iraq. He received his medical degree from Yale University School of Medicine and trained in surgery at Yale University. He completed pediatric surgery training at the Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C.

When Dr. Coppola arrives in Iraq, his twelve surgeon team of general surgeons and specialists—orthopedic, urology, neurosurgery, pediatrics, ophthalmology, maxillofacial—replaces the team that has been there for the past four months. Most of his team are from Wilford Hall Medical Center in San Antonio but others are reservists that have been called up for duty or from smaller Air Force Hospitals. So at least Dr. Coppola recognizes some familiar faces.

During his tour of duty, he faces some tough cases, professionally and personally. His writing style is not overly sentimental or too detached. He’s right there in the mix of it all– with the destruction of families and lives. Of Americans and Iraqis. Although by the second tour of duty, Dr. Coppola’s narratives read a bit more jaded, tired and matter-of-fact.

On Election Day, a 7-year-old boy got struck in the head with a piece of shrapnel during a bombing. An insurgent bleeds out after pre-maturely detonating an IED. [“The patient is a mess. His entire body looks like it was run through a meat grinder.] An Iraqi man brings in his son with a problem. His son has an intersex anomaly—he has been born with some female and some male parts. He has female reproductive organs that need to be removed so he can live his life as a regular boy. But the father is adamant that nothing is wrong. Dr. Coppola worries that the boy will not receive the care he require: the surgery or hormone therapy. After taking care of a two-year-old girl with severe burns for a month, the girl, Leila, died. It deeply affected Coppola. [“But tonight I am broken.”] He had completed several arduous skin graft surgeries on her which at first seemed promising.

Coppola: A Pediatric Surgeon in Iraq is quite enlightening in that it shows the destruction and cost of life and health of a war from the viewpoint of a surgeon, someone who takes care of both the “enemy” and the allies. Dr. Coppola has quite the memory for detail as he wrote the entire time he spent in Iraq. The book is filled with these details whether gory or touching [his dinner at an interpreter’s home before his return to America] or frustrating. If you are at all interested in the human loss during war, Coppola: a Pediatric Surgeon in Iraq is well worth the read.

** Coppola: A Pediatric Surgeon in Iraq is currently available on the website. On February 1 it will be available through online and other booksellers. A partnership has been created with the not-for-profit organization War Kids Relief. NTI Upstream, will donate 10% of book sales to the Helmand Children’s Medical Fund (HCMF).
Money raised will provide medical aid to children living in Kabul’s largest internally displaced person camp. In the U.S. led effort to hunt down Taliban, many civilians have lost their homes due to bombing and violence. Thousands of families have fled Helmand Province and are currently living in makeshift camps on the outskirts of Kabul, where open defecation, lack of toilets, and poor sanitation, have accelerated the spread of disease. Currently, more than 70% of the 2,000 children living there have pneumonia.

This review is part of the Coppola: A Pediatric Surgeon in Iraq virtual book tour.

Book received as part of LibraryThing Early Reviewers.

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Guest Post: Christopher Coppola, M.D. [Coppola: A Pediatric Surgeon in Iraq]

Guest Post by Dr. Christopher Coppola
Author: Coppola: Pediatric Surgeon in Iraq

It is difficult to select the most memorable operation from my time in Iraq, for several reasons. On the one hand, so many of the operations have blurred together in my mind. Night after night we were treating so many people who had been seriously injured in explosions. It seemed like I was endlessly scrubbing burned flesh, digging out hundreds of embedded fragments of shrapnel, and cutting away more and more dead tissue. There were also so many striking operations — things I had never done before, like removing destroyed eyes, bizarre pieces of shrapnel, six-foot lengths of rebar or shards of human bone; simply horrifying combinations of injuries.

But the operation that is most memorable from both of my deployments was barely an operation at all. One afternoon, we received several victims from a shooting. Insurgents had opened fire on a busload of women going to worship. One of the victims was a woman who was eight months pregnant. She had been shot through the right hip, and one of the bullets had pierced her uterus near her unborn baby’s head. The mother was bleeding internally and slowly dying. None of us were obstetricians, and we were quite nervous about taking care of her. We called a few friends at home for some quick advice, and called on the help of one of our ICU nurses who was an OB nurse back home. In the OR, we had her anesthetized and her abdomen prepped with iodine liquid. I cut across her lower abdomen and found several liters of blood in her belly. Her uterus was stretched thin over her baby’s body, and there were tattered edges where the bullet had torn the muscle. I opened the uterus, and reached in to feel the baby’s head. The cord was wrapped around his neck, so I carefully worked my fingers under it and pulled the cord up over his head. I delivered the baby boy, clamped and cut the cord, and quickly carried him over to the infant warmer. My friend stayed with the injured woman to control her bleeding and get her safely to the ICU. On the warmer, I suctioned the child’s mouth and nose, gave him a flow of oxygen across his face, and listened to his breathing. He coughed twice, took a deep breath, and let out a loud healthy cry. I am pleased to report that both mother and child left our hospital in excellent health.

The most difficult operation I performed in Iraq was not for trauma at all. Even though I am a pediatric surgeon, I was deployed to Iraq as a general trauma surgeon. After I had been at the hospital in Balad for a while, word got out that there was a pediatric surgeon available, and I started to get consultations from the surrounding cities and other military bases. A surgeon in Tikrit sent a child and her parents to see me. She was a one-and-a-half-year-old who had a congenital illness of her liver called biliary atresia in which the liver becomes scarred and cannot pass bile into the intestine. It is a rare illness, and I had only treated a few cases in the United States — but I was honestly the only pediatric surgeon the family had available to them. It was unfortunate that she was as old as she was, because the best chance for these children to survive long term is if they get the operation before they are two months old.

It took some convincing to get our OR nurses and anesthesiologists to participate in the operation. The only way I was able to get them on board was to find a pediatric anesthesiologist who happened to be stationed at a nearby base and convince him to fly in. Over the next six hours, we worked as a team to carefully bypass the scarred tissue at the base of her liver with a healthy length of intestine. It was difficult, especially in a hospital designed for combat support, but we were able to get her through her recovery. It is a sad ending to her story, she died a year later; but I try to take some comfort from the fact that her parents told me they appreciated having another year with her before she passed away.

I think the child with whom I developed the greatest bond was a two- year-old girl named Leila. She was the daughter of a local commander in the Iraqi National Guard. One of the insurgents in our city threw an incendiary device like a Molotov cocktail through the window of their home and burned the man’s wife and two daughters. For a month I worked so hard to get Leila through her burns. I operated on her nearly every other day, and even got skin grafts to grow over a portion of the burns on her legs. Every day I would speak with her parents and discuss her progress. I could see the anguish in their eyes as they watched their daughter cry out in pain as I changed her dressings. At first she showed some hints of promise that she might pull through, but in the end she succumbed to an overwhelming infection. I had become so attached to her and so hopeful she would make it that her death was just a terrible blow. I still think of her often and wish I could have found some way to get her through.

–Christopher Coppola, M.D.

Visit website to purchase book.
On February 1, 2009 Coppola: A Pediatric Surgeon in Iraq is available at online and other booksellers.



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