IRAQ: Lawrence of Arabia and Anbar


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The first book that Marine Col. Robert F. Castellvi turned to when he was assigned as a senior advisor to the Iraqi Army’s 1st Division was T. E. Lawrence’s ‘Seven Pillars of Wisdom,’ first published in 1922.

He also asked the Marines in his 45-man team to read it. The book, an autobiographical account of war experiences by ‘Lawrence of Arabia,’ is a perennial on the Marine Corps’ official reading list.


Castellvi’s team is assigned to help the Iraqi army in western Anbar province get ready to continue the fight against insurgents after the U.S. leaves. It’s a slow process that can be undermined by impatience.

One of Lawrence’s rules that Castellvi abides by is: ‘Better the Arabs do it tolerably than that you do it perfectly. It is their war and you are to help them, not to win it for them.’

— Tony Perry in Habbaniya

Art: Portrait of T.E. Lawrence. Credit: James McBey