Consequently Rosen didn't (usually) embed with US troops, though he certainly talked with the soldiers. But he learned much more by putting to good use what he labels his "melanin advantage."
What he saw isn't pretty. The book is a 550 page chronicle of misunderstandings, ignorance, violence and futility.
For Iraqis, the US invasion brought first hope for a better life, then the humiliation of occupation by blundering and sometimes vicious foreign troops, then a civil war that formerly oppressed Shiites won and previously ascendent Sunnis lost. The invaders were never really in control of much of Iraq; how could a force that never exceeded 165000 really control a nation of 30 million? But wherever they were, they aroused opposition. A local leader described to Rosen what drove him into armed resistance.
The occupiers responded to the hostility of the occupied with house to house sweeps based on poor or non-existent "intelligence" (now there's a perversion of language) locking up huge numbers of mostly innocent Iraqi men. Rosen points out:
Rosen, speaking the language and respecting the culture, was often able to see what troops never fathomed. He recounts a 2007 experience he had while on foot patrol in Baghdad with a US unit. This was during "the surge," driven by the new counter-insurgency (COIN) doctrine that aimed to "win hearts and minds" while suppressing violence.
The US soldiers had only the dimmest sense of what was really going on around them.
When President George W. Bush was about to leave office, he held a sort of victory press conference in the Green Zone. People in the United States wanted to pretend that the "surge" and an elected authoritarian Shiite government somehow made their war worthwhile. An Iraqi journalist threw his shoes at the US potentate. Rosen knows why:
Rosen offers a deeply uncomfortable glimpse of what empire wrought in the last decade. I know of no other recounting that comes close to the immediacy and energy of this book. And I believe he tells truths.