Sunset Tales from the New Iraq by Al Kentawy

If I had the power to, I’d make all American voters read this book. In fact, if I had power over time and space, I’d have all American voters read this book before we invaded Iraq in 2003.
It’s hard to write about this book without gushing like a teenager. It was awesome!
Since you may not ever have heard of it, here’s the back cover:

On Thursday April 8th, 2004, US Marines arrest Iraqi farmer and school teacher Adil Ahmed Lateef Al-Shummary and his son on the wedding night of the latter. They take them from their Anbar village to Abu-Ghraib and from there to the Bucca Detention Facility.
On April 27th, 2004 First Lieutenant Robert A. Davis III lands at the Kuwait International Airport on his way to a tour of duty at the Camp Bucca Detention Facility, or the “Bucca Islamic University” as it is called by the extremist Takfiris* held in it.
On Friday February 26th, 1991 the American fighter jets carry out the Highway Massacre of the withdrawing Iraqi troops in the Kuwaiti desert. A few days later, Sheikh Zeeb Al-Nassiry decides to become a Mujahid, a holy warrior with a single goal: Kill as many Americans and Jews as he can.
In the first week of February 1996, in the Rafhah Iraqis’ Refugee Camp in the Saudi desert, 16 year old Hassan Hussein Radhi Al-Mussawy finds a letter from his father telling him of a blood debt that the Americans owed him. Two weeks later he goes to America to collect it.
This is the story of how the paths of those individuals cross as Adil (The Detainee) struggles to pry his only son from the religious claws of the Takfiris who had confiscated his reason and turned him into a suicide bomber and as Lieutenant Davis (The Soldier) tries to do his part in repairing the damage done to the image of his country by the Abu-Ghraib scandal, and as Hassan (The Collaborator) sees his plans to collect his blood debt unexpectedly derailed and as Sheikh Zeeb (The Insurgent) tries hard to quench his thirst for American, Jewish, and Shiite blood.

Of course someone like me is going to love this book, because it validates what I’ve believed all along, and therefore it makes me feel smart and insightful. And I haven’t even been to Iraq yet.

*A takfiri is a Muslim who accuses other Muslims of unbelief.



Filed under arab, arabist, books, Salafism, War in Iraq

7 responses to “Sunset Tales from the New Iraq by Al Kentawy

  1. Scott

    I too have read this book. I cannot say enough about it and recommend it to everyone I talk to. I’ve worked in Iraq for 3 1/2 years and this book captures what’s going on over here. I recommended it to my siblings, mom, girlfriend, & neighbors. They all read it, and agreed that it was a mind opener. Many read it in 2 days and literally could not put the book down until they finished it.

    Kentawy’s book is slowly gaining a cult like status amungst CI assests (Counter Intelligence Agents and organizations) in Iraq. It is being used as a “playbook” wherein agents can be imersed in Iraqi & Arabic culture so as to understand their “enemy” and still be entertained at the same time.

    I argue that it has a dual effect; it opens the mind of the typically “ignorant” American to the fact that the Iraqis & other Arabs are people, just like them. Once they read of their culutre – from the Iraqi point of view, they gain a broader understanding of the people. The result is that they treat Iraqis with more respect and this gives American foreign policy much more credibility.

    The book is not all rah rah and sunshine. It paints a picture, in black and white, of the good and bad the US military does in Iraq. You may laugh, you may cry, you may be disgusted with what you read from both sides (war IS hell), but you will come out with a sound understanding of the culture clash in Iraq & a better understanding of Iraqis and Arabs.

  2. Felicia

    I am a 20 year old female who has lived in America all my life. I have never been interested in politics until recently, and can honestly say I never really comprehended why we invaded Iraq nor had a strong opinion on it. My father gave me this book, and I could not put it down. I cried, I was disgusted, and I even smiled. I wish I could force every American to read this so they can gain the understanding and perspective that I received when reading this book. Eye-opener is the best way I can describe this book, without giving it any real justice.

  3. Mandy

    First impression was how the author wrote with such a “Western Flair.” I was really taken aback. I had the priviledge of knowing some about the author via my son serving in Iraq and meeting him some years ago. I hope to meet him one day myself.
    Kentawy’s description of how war affects the everyday person in priceless. I found myself very angry with the govenment of Iraq not feeding their people when the United States sanctioned their country for wrong doing.
    Even though Arab communities are springing up all over America, reading about their ways was enlightening.
    The author is very tallented. I hope he continues to write. I am thankful that he appreciates the United States of America and all that we do to try and help people around the world.

  4. Nicole

    I found this book to be quite interesting. On the one hand I was learning about a culture I knew very little about, but on the other hand I was weary of the author’s continual generalized demonization of the American soldier. One would think after reading this book that all American soldiers are ignorant, blundering idiots who are blood thirsty. I believe the reverse is true, that most of our soldiers are brave, honorable men and women and that war is never pretty nor should it be. I did enjoy the way the author brought his characters to life though and I have a newfound respect for the culture of the Iraqi people. I read the book in 2 days, I couldn’t wait to find out what happened to the father and his son (my favorite part of the book). I would recommend this book to everyone, but caution them that there is a bias against our troops. Whether we should have gone into Iraq or not is for history to decide but we can all agree that war is ugly and mistakes are made and maybe, just maybe in the end we will learn we are more alike then we might think.

  5. J..P

    I am personally opposed the war in Iraq. The tragedy of people being killed and my skepticism behind US invasion made me become sick of the news, and my protest was becoming ignorant and to turn a blind eye. When my boyfriend gave me this book, my perception of the war in Iraq has changed. I was fascinated with the stories that I had never heard. It was like taking adventure travel through the history of the war field of Iraq. You learned about people and seeing things from different points of view. The author truly has a sense of humor and has a well knowledge of psychology and Iraqi history. I have been living in Middle East for 4 and half years at the time I read this book, but my understanding about Arabic culture and people had never become to the point of cultural awareness until I read this book. It is a fun book to read that hard to put it down, and at the same times when there is sad part, it does leave you some messages. I thank this book for opening my eye to my new understanding of Iraq war and those people involved. The Sunset Tales from the New Iraq is truly one of the best books I have ever read.

  6. Humphrey

    I knew the author in Iraq and when i heard about the book I sent in for it… I was going to leave a comment but saw the post above and direct this towards Nicole –

    The book is not anti-American or anti-Army. It was pretty much the truth well, actually it was pretty watered down. It was worse than this. ya, there are a lot of idiiots in the military and they made us look bad. The author only writes about the experiences he saw. There was worse, some that I know the author was aware of and he didn’t put it in because the US military would have looked even worse – the “Scouse” incident comes to mind.

    In 2005 and 2006, 5 Bucca soldiers died due to sheer incompetence of the officers at Bucca.

    Interpreter Scouse was framed as a “terrorist” after he was accused of possession of a “wireless explosives detonator.” After the report went to Baghdad and then later it was determined that the detonator was actually the air conditioning remote conrol, the Bucca leadership closed tight to cover their embarrasment and let this fine young man (Scouse) to hang out to dry.

    Colonel Buxo (USMC), the former Bucca CO, 1LT Bynum (Bucca Intel Officer in Charge), and L3 Corporation – CI (Counter Intel) “Agents” Mark Palmer and Sam Bess all covered up their mistake (mis-identifying an air conditioning remote for a bomb detonator) and put the Iraqi kid on the terrorist list – forever ruining his life and any chance at decent employment.

    There are many cases like this, you could write a book about the stupidity of the US Military. “Demonization?” hardly. The point of the book was to give the reader a plain view of the good and the bad and to inform of the culture. For this, it gets an “A+”

    Really, I could go on and on about the “stupidity,” I saw on my tour in the Army at Bucca and Abu Ghraib, but I’ll leave this story that was told to me by a linguist who worked for one of the Counter Intelligence Agencies:

    Agent: Ask the detainee if he understands English.
    Interperter (in Arabic): Do you understand English?
    Detainee: No
    Agent: Ask him what is his highest level of education
    Interpreter (in Arabic): How far did you progress in school?
    Detainee: I dropped out of first year of middle school (7th grade)
    Agent: Ask him if he can read and write
    Interpreter (in Arabic): Can you read and write?
    Detainee: I can only write my name
    Agent: Ask him if he has ever been published
    Interpreter (in English): He just said he can’t read or write
    Agent: Who’s in charge here? I am. Now ask him the question
    Interpreter (in English): He’s going to think you’re an idiot
    Agent: Now almost yelling, “Damn it, ask him the question!”
    Interpreter (in Arabic): Have you ever been published?
    Detainee (in Arabic): What’s that?
    Interpreter in Arabic): He wants to know if you have ever written a book?
    Detainee (in Arabic): I just said I can’t write. Is this guy an idiot?

    I won’t even mention when the guards at the front gate slammed the provincial chief to the ground and handcuffed him because he couldn’t speak English well enough to say that he’s come to meet with the commander…. but you get my idea…

    its a really goood book, having been there, its accurate even if “mild” a bit 🙂

  7. Thanks, Humphrey, that’s really interesting. I agree there’s nothing anti-military or anti-US about wanting the facts to be known.
    “In truth lies victory,” as the MI creed goes.

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