When David Kilcullen, a young Australian army officer who had been seconded to America’s State Department as a counter-terrorism strategist, arrived in Baghdad’s Green Zone in late 2005 he found himself at “Ground Zero for the greatest strategic screw up since Hitler’s invasion of Russia”. Just as it is said that the first world war was the calamity from which sprang all the other calamities of the 20th century, so too was the bungled aftermath of the invasion of Iraq the screw-up from which all other screw-ups followed.
In his new book, Mr Kilcullen gives an unflinching insider’s account of how mistakes and missed opportunities led inexorably to the events of 2014. This is the “blood year” of his title, when Islamic State (IS) began its blitzkrieg through Iraq that culminated in the seizure of Mosul, the country’s second-biggest city, and the approach almost to Baghdad. Eighteen months after Barack Obama assembled his international coalition to “degrade and defeat” IS, the self-styled “caliphate” still holds Mosul and a string of other Iraqi cities, while controlling much of eastern Syria including Raqqa, its “capital” since 2013.