Quicksilver War

Syria, Iraq and the Spiral of Conflict

January 2018 9781849048682 240pp


Quicksilver War is a panoramic political history of the wars that coursed through Syria and Iraq in the wake of the ‘Arab Spring’ and eventually merged to become a regional catastrophe: a kaleidoscopic and constantly shifting conflict involving many different parties and phases.

William Harris distils the highly complex dynamics behind the conflict, starting with the brutalising Baathist regimes in Damascus and Baghdad. He charts the malignant consequences of incompetent US occupation of Iraq and Bashar al-Assad’s self-righteous mismanagement of Syria, through the implosion of Syria, and the emergence of eastern and western theatres of war focused respectively on future control of Syria and the challenge of ISIS. Beyond the immediate arena of conflict, geopolitical riptides have also been set in motion, including Turkey’s embroilment in the war and the shifting circumstances of the Kurds.

This sweeping history addresses urgent questions for our time. Will the world rubber-stamp and bankroll the Russian-led ‘solution’ in Syria, backed by Turkey and Iran? Is the ‘Quicksilver War’ about to reach an explosive finale? Or will ongoing political manoeuvring mutate into years of further violence?


‘Well crafted and framed.’ — International Affairs

‘Combining factual breadth with analytical depth, this fine account of the Syrian and Iraqi conflicts manages to highlight both their intertwined character and key differences between the two countries’ respective history and internal dynamics. It also challenges short-term explanations of the current fragmentation by showing how decades of Ba’thist rules have paved the way for it.’ — Thomas Pierret, Senior Lecturer in Contemporary Islam, University of Edinburgh

The strength of Quicksilver War lies in showing the dialectical interplay between domestic political authoritarianism, fierce geostrategic rivalries and  constant foreign intervention. It fills a major gap in the field.’ — Fawaz A. Gerges, Professor of International Relations, London School of Economics, and author of ISIS: A History 

‘A masterful book. William Harris is a veteran observer of the Fertile Crescent, and a particularly perceptive analyst. He offers a balanced and nuanced view of how Iraq and Syria descended into violence, instability and suffering at the hands of competing domestic, regional and international actors. In treating Iraq and Syria as a combined war Harris offers a better understanding of the complexities and the challenges awaiting both countries before a modicum of stability can be found.’ — Kemal Kirisci, TUSIAD Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington, DC, and author of Turkey and the West: Fault Lines in a Troubled Alliance

‘William Harris artfully sketches the trajectory of Syria and Iraq — two core states of the Arab world, whose geography and history made them key to the understanding of the region’s past as well as its future — from stability and solidity under the dictatorships of Saddam Hussein and the Assad dynasty to civil war and Jihad.’ — Eyal Zisser, Vice Rector of Tel Aviv University and Yona and Dina Ettinger Chair in the Contemporary History of the Middle East

‘The catastrophic conflict in Syria and Iraq doesn’t lend itself to easy analysis. But William Harris, a politics prof at the University of New Zealand, is a knowledgeable guide.’ — Toronto Star


William Harris is Professor of Politics at the University of Otago, New Zealand. He works on the politics and history of the Levant states. His most recent books are Lebanon: A History, 600-2011 and the fourth, completely revised edition of The Levant: A Fractured Mosaic.

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