The Assassins' Gate America in Iraq

George Packer

Farrar, Straus and Giroux



Trade Paperback

512 Pages



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Pulitzer Prize FinalistWinner of the Overseas Press Club's Cornelius Ryan Award for Best Nonfiction Book on International Affairs
Winner of the New York Public Library Helen Bernstein Book AwardA New York Times Best Book of the YearA New York Times Notable BookA Chicago Tribune Best Book of the YearA Boston Globe Best Book of the YearA Washington Post Best Book of the YearA San Francisco Chronicle Best Book of the Year The Assassins' Gate: America in Iraq recounts how the United States set about changing the history of the Middle East and became ensnared in a guerilla war in Iraq. It brings to life the people and ideas that created the Bush administration's war policy and led America to the Assassins' Gate—the main point of entry into the American zone in Baghdad. The consequences of that policy are shown in the author's reporting on the ground in Iraq, where he made four tours on assignment for The New Yorker. We see up close the struggles of American soldiers and civilians and Iraqis from all backgrounds, thrown together by a war that followed none of the preconceived scripts.

The Assassins' Gate also describes the place of the war in America life: the ideological battles in Washington that led to chaos in Iraq, the ordeal of a fallen soldier's family, and the political culture of a country too bitterly polarized to realize such a vast and morally complex undertaking. George Packer's first-person narrative combines the scope of an epic history with the depth and intimacy of a novel, creating a masterful account of America's most controversial foreign venture since Vietnam.


Praise for The Assassins' Gate

"Packer provides page after page of vivid description of the haphazard, poorly planned and almost criminally executed occupation of Iraq. In reading him we see the staggering gap between abstract ideas and concrete reality."—Fareed Zakaria, The New York Times Book Review
"Masterful . . . Packer's sketch of the prewar debates is subtle, sharp and poignant . . . His reporting from Iraq was always good, but the book is even better, putting the reader at the side of Walter Benjamin's angel of history, watching helplessly as the wreckage unfolds at his feet."—Gideon Rose, The Washington Post Book World
"The most complete, sweeping, and powerful account of the Iraq War."—Keith Gessen, New York magazine
"A deftly constructed and eloquently told account of the war's origins and aftermath . . . Packer makes it deeply human and maddeningly vivid."—Daniel Kurtz-Phelan, Los Angeles Times Book Review
"Authoritative and tough-minded."—Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
"A book that is not only relevant but discerning and provocative. [Packer] offers the vivid detail and balanced analysis that have made him one of the leading chroniclers of the Iraq war."—Yonatan Lupu, San Francisco Chronicle
"The great strength of George Packer's book is that it gives a fair hearing to both views. Free of cant—but not, crucially, of anger—Mr. Packer has written an account of the Iraq war that will stand alongside such narrative histories as A Bright Shining Lie, Fire in the Lake and Hell in a Very Small Place. As a meditation on the limits of American power, it's sobering. As a pocket history of Iraq and the United States' tangled history, it's indispensable. As an examination of the collision between arrogance and good intentions, it could scarcely be improved upon . . . In short, The Assassins' Gate is a book every American needs to read."—Tom Bissell, The New York Observer
"Extremely powerful . . . consistently moving and provocative."—David Glenn, Columbia Journalism Review
"George Packer writes a lucid, authoritative treatment of a political culture too polarized to debate the tough strategic and moral questions before the war, and too ignorant of the wider world."—Karen R. Long, The Plain Dealer (Cleveland)
“Packer’s The Assassins’ Gate is a down and dirty, on-the-scene assessment of the war in Iraq.”—Carroll R. McKibbin, Des Moines Register
“A powerful and deeply thoughtful study of U.S. involvement with Iraq during the administration of President George W. Bush. The book is written with a keen eye for detail and a clear ability to bore into the most important questions surrounding the war . . . May be one of the most important and controversial books published on the Iraq War thus far.  The intellectual foundations for the war are examined in microscopic detail, as are all major aspects of postwar policy for rehabilitating Iraq.”—W. Andrew Terrill, Research Professor of National Security Studies, Strategic Studies Institute, U.S. Army War College, Parameters
“Aptly exposes the incompetence of the Bush Administration’s occupation of Iraq . . . Packer uses the experiences of ordinary Iraqis to illustrate the ineptitude of the Bush Administration’s Iraq policy.”—Ivan Eland, Senior Fellow and Director of the Center on Peace and Liberty at the Independent Institute, Chronicles
“Packer’s super chronicle of the continuing bureaucratic and military struggle in Iraq . . . is already being cited as the most comprehensive if not ‘the’ definitive examination of what turned into chaos for both victor and vanquished following the fall of Saddam Hussein . . . Packer does a mind-boggling job of what he does best: on-the-spot reportage, trenchant interviews assembled from all ranks of military and civilian society, compellingly drawn personalities, a look at the complocated psychology of Iraqis themselves (a surface never scratched in invasion planning), valuable background information and some lifting of rocks to shine daylight on the murky history of neo-cons.”—George W. Ridge Jr., JD, Military Review
"In the midst of a war that has raised thousands of questions, George Packer has given us a brilliant, moving, and essential book with answers. Packer, who was an up close witness to the pre-war debates and the wartime carnage, cuts past the simplistic recriminations and takes us on an unforgettable journey that begins on a trail of good intentions and winds up on a devastating trail of tears. If you want to understand how Iraq became a quagmire, and who the human beings are who suffer its consequences, you must read this book."—Samantha Power, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of "A Problem from Hell": America and the Age of Genocide
"As memorable as Michael Herr’s Dispatches, and of surpassing immediacy."—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
"What a mess! That is Packer's analysis of America in Iraq. He summarizes the political and intellectual basis for the U.S. presence there as emerging from the neoconservative thinking of Paul Wolfowitz, Robert Kagan, Richard Perle, William Bennett, and other Bush administration figures. He also points to the justification embedded in Arab tyranny, weapons proliferation, strategic threats to oil, the weakness of Democratic party leadership, and security for Israel. Political philosopher Leo Strauss is characterized as the intellectual spinal cord of the Republicans, in neat contrast to Packer's implication of the lack of intellectual capacity or practice by members of the Bush administration. Packer moves the focus in the second half of his work from Washington to Iraq to record the experiences and thinking of the lower-level administrators and soldiers as they apply neoconservative policy. Although it has been said that truth is the first thing to disappear in war, Packer meets head on the failings of Washington policy as implemented by those administrators and soldiers on the ground in Iraq . . . disturbing and thought-provoking."—Library Journal
"The Iraq debate has long needed someone who is both tough-minded enough, and sufficiently sensitive, to register all its complexities. In George Packer's work, this need is answered . . . Packer shows himself once more to be the best chronicler . . . that the conflict has produced . . . He makes an impressively intelligent guide . . . Packer has a genuine instinct for what the Iraqi people have endured and are enduring and writes with admirable empathy. His own opinions are neither suppressed nor intrusive: he clearly welcomes the end of Saddam while having serious doubts about the wisdom of the war, and he continually tests himself against experience."—Christopher Hitchens, Publishers Weekly

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Read an Excerpt

Excerpted from The Assassin's Gate by George Packer. Copyright © 2005 by George Packer. Published in October 2005 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC. All rights reserved.


in the shade of a high sandstone arch, a Bradley Fighting Vehicle and a platoon of American soldiers from the First Armored Division guarded the main point of entry into the vast and heavily fortified Green Zone along the west bank of the Tigris River, where the Coalition Provisional Authority governed occupied Iraq. When I arrived in Baghdad in the summer of 2003 and first saw the arch, I mistook it
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  • George Packer

  • George Packer is a staff writer for The New Yorker and the author of several books, most recently Blood of the Liberals, winner of the 2001 Robert F. Kennedy Award. He is also the editor of the anthology The Fight Is for Democracy. He lives in Brooklyn.
  • George Packer Guillermo Riveros
    George Packer




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