Barker provides a well-written, detailed, mostly clear and frequently engaging military history of Britain's largely forgotten Mesopotamian campaign in World War One. He takes us from the original occupation of Basra and the "mission creep" which led to the reckless dash to Baghdad, to the calamitous siege of Kut and the bloodily ineffectual attempts to relieve the British forces trapped there, and finally to the successes of 1917 and 1918. He shows how the absence of effective logistical support caused the initial failure, and lays the blame for this squarely on the shoulders of the civil and military executives in India and Britain. His sympathies lie with the common soldiers and their commanders at the front; even Nixon comes in for a good word towards the end, despite the fact that he badly underestimated his enemy and extended his supply lines beyond snapping point.
A chapter is devoted to the harrowing fate of the British and Indian soldiers who surrendered at Kut ("the most abject capitulation in British military history" according to one historian), thousands of whom were to die from neglect and maltreatment, in sharp contrast to the cushy captivity of their commander. The book ends with an intriguing what-if: what if, instead of sending our soldiers to be pointlessly slaughtered in Mespot and Gallipoli, we had landed the full might of the Indian and ANZAC armies in the Gulf of Alexandretta, as Kitchener advocated? Turkey, her empire effectively split in two, might have collapsed by the end of 1915, there would have been no Armenian massacres, no star-making turn for Peter O'Toole as Lawrence of Arabia, perhaps no Russian revolution in 1917...?
I have a few gripes, particularly as regards the title, which misleadingly suggests parallels being drawn with the recent altercations in Iraq. Since this book was originally published in 1967 under a different title and has not been updated, these are needless to say absent (and, frankly, any comparisons one might endeavour to come up with would be contrived in the extreme). A halfway competent proofreader wouldn't have gone amiss either, as the text was evidently scanned from a hard copy of the original, and is littered with OCR errors - "tins" instead of "this", "wormy" instead of "worthy" and "do-or-the" instead of "do-or-die" among far too many others.
One suspects a more recent author might have shown a greater interest in Turkish strategy and tactics; Barker is clearly aware of these, but assumes his reader only wants to read about the British side of things. Perhaps this was true in the 1960s - I would have appreciated learning more of the context in which the campaign took place, from the viewpoint of both sides. On the plus side, the book's age does mean there are occasional charming touches of jingoism and observations which don't quite reach the standards of political correctness we expect nowadays ("...under the skin, the Turk is a savage, unscrupulous where his interests were concerned, and by western standards, scarcely civilized." Johnny Foreigner can be such a blighter.)
All in all, I enjoyed Barker's account and, for a one-volume history of this "sideshow and no man's child", you could do a lot worse.