Monday, July 28, 2014

How Iraq’s Civil War Broke Out In Diyala Province Interview With Former Interrogator Richard Buchanan

Diyala can be said to be a microcosm of Iraq. It is the home to all three major ethnosectarian groups in the country. It has lush farmlands and mountain ranges. It also remains a battlefield between the security forces, militias and the insurgency today. In 2005 Richard Buchanan worked there as a defense contractor interrogating prisoners where he saw first hand the early stages of the civil war. Here is an interview with Buchanan about how the Iraqi insurgency was organized, what the militias did in response, and how the Americans were caught in the middle.
Diyala province in eastern Iraq is like a microcosm of the entire country with its Sunni, Shiite, Arab, Kurdish, insurgent, militia, and security forces representation (BBC)

1. While working in Diyala you gained a lot of information about the insurgency. One specific person was Jasim Mohammed Mashadani who eventually became the head of the Islamic Army of Iraq. He started organizing almost immediately after the fall of Baghdad. Can you explain the kind of networking he did to create his first insurgent group?
Islamic Army of Iraq (IAI) fighters 2006. Jasim Mohammed Mashadani started organizing insurgent cells in 2003 and would later go onto found the IAI (Al Jazeera

Ahmed Abdullah Hussein aka Abu Qitadah, aka Jasim Mhammed ‘Abid Salih’ Ali al-Mashhadani (potentially true name) is an interesting individual as he points to the failure of the U.S. military to understand what they were seeing in 2003 through to 2006. In early 2006, there was an Army unit doing a sweep of the fields of a local village near the Abu Ghriab village near the U.S. military prison. During the process they located a rather old weapons cache. They then located the owners name and found his house where Mashhadani was residing with his family. Mashhadani was arrested and then begins the strange odyssey inside the Abu Griab prison system. He was charged by a “local national” for threatening him in the arrest documents while the Army unit arrested him because of the weapons cache. It was a month or some later that I met Mashhadani for the first time in early 2006.

When they searched around the house the unit discovered a large metal box that was sealed to protect it from water. Inside was a handwritten journal of over 300 pages and over 60 CDs ---many typical jihadi media releases of attacks and Koranic verses, others concerning military training and IEDs with one CD containing a short interview between the leader of the Islamic Army in Iraq (IAI) and a foreign journalist.

The journal entries started two weeks after we arrived in Iraq and went through to about the beginning/mid 2005.

The IAI leader in the foreign journalist interview CD had not hid his face and the photographic comparison of the CD to the arrest photo was a perfect match. Attempts to get more assistance from national level intelligence failed as there were at that time virtually no forensic capabilities in theater.

Mashhadani was tall over 6 feet, quiet, and extremely calm, confident in his behavior. He held a Ph.D in western Hebrew and could still speak western Hebrew quite well and spoke a beautiful Arabic. After graduation he could not find a job he claimed thus he became a sheep herder and had at the time of his arrest 60 sheep under his control. The owner of the sheep also owned the field where the weapons were found had allowed him and his family the use of the house where he was arrested.

For those that understood the Iraqi Security Service (ISS) no one studied western Hebrew up to the level of Ph.D without approval of the ISS unless he was in fact an ISS officer. Why western Hebrew?- it was the language of the “enemy”.

The handwritten journal was only partially translated.

Mashhadani began two weeks after the arrival of the U.S. troops in Baghdad the organizing of 20 plus “companies” code word for cells in the Baghdad area. Finding locations for those “companies”, as well as raising funds from donations. At the same time he was organizing the purchase of a large number of vehicles being imported via Basra for use by those cells. Once the Baghdad “company” organization was completed he then moved new “companies”, personnel, vehicles to Mosul, Tikrit, Fullujah, and Baquba.

After this phase was completed then weapons were moved to the “companies” and the first circuity design and use of remotely detonated electronic IEDs using remotely controlled toy cars was used and he designed the first EFPs [Explosively Formed Penetrators].

Mashhadani was also extremely religious and never missed his mosque prayers usually with other “company managers”.

By the end of the first couple of months in 2004 he had effectively organized, structured, staffed, and armed 20 plus insurgent cells operating under the banner of IAI and had started using the first remote detonated IEDs against U.S. Army units first in Baghdad until the IEDs proved to be effective and then “sold’ them to the other “company” locations.


The strategy and tactics of guerrilla warfare tend to involve the use of a small, mobile force against a large, unwieldy one. The guerrilla force is largely or entirely organized in small units that are dependent on the support of the local population.

Phase One and Two Guerrilla Warfare-Mao—tailored to the urban environment

1. Organization, consolidation and preservation of base areas, usually in difficult and isolated terrain.
2. Progressive expansion by terror and attacks on isolated enemy units to obtain arms, supplies and political support.

So Mashhadani had taken the IAI into and through phase one and two of guerrilla warfare in under six months while the [U.S.] Army was still trying to get control of Iraq, and provide security to Baghdad.

It was not until then end of 2005 did I fully understand just how Mashhadani had started the recruitment process which became the IAI standard through to the end of 2006 and which was used by the other Sunni insurgent groups and to a degree AQI as well.

What is amazing is that until today his journal has not been fully translated and used as a handbook for how to start a guerrilla war allowing anyone to read and fully understand what we were seeing in 2003 through 2006 as seen through the eyes of the individual who built the IAI.

2. The U.S. was caught by surprise by the development of the insurgency and how quickly it grew across the country. What conditions existed in Iraq that allowed for its spread?

Again---if one looks at the training for the BCTs [Brigade Combat Teams] deploying into Iraq up through say January 2007 most of the training scenarios either at the JRTC [Joint Readiness Training Center] or NTC [National Training Center] did not reflect Iraq in any way—either from what was being seen daily in Iraq, to what the political environment was like, to who the players i.e. Sunni/Shia tribes were, what the Baathist movement was and who were Baathists and why, the Kurdish issues and the Salafist movement—most BCTs knew only that Baathists were bad and that was about it until late 2004. It was not until late 2006 that say the NTC was able to fully replicate Diyala Province with all it’s ins and outs for the deploying BCTs that went through the NTC.

Most of the military in Iraq in the early days thought that the fighting starting in say early 2004 was being caused by the “Baathists”, crazy nationalists who did not like Americans invading Iraq and who were taking any opportunity to shoot at us, or some former Iraqi army personnel who were angry at losing, and that was about it. QRBJ [Al Qaeda al-Jihadi fi Balad al-Rafidayn] -- Al Qaeda in the Land of Two Rivers in say 2004 which became then Al Qaeda in Iraq in 2005 while known to the BCTs ---the BCTs truly had no full understanding of what it was, how was it organized, nor how did it fight.

This lack of knowledge extended as well to the other Sunni insurgent groups that the BCTs started seeing in early to mid 2004. The Shia insurgent groups outside of Badr were by 2005 not that well know at all because the Army units were looking fully at the Sunni groups. They missed totally the formations of the various Shia insurgent groups outside of the Mahdi Army under al Sadr which had our full attention.

By 2005, the IED threat had become serious as well as the fighting with the various Sunni insurgent groups which centered around the IAI, Revolutionary Brigades 1920, and Ansar al Sunnah. Most of the action in Diyala centered around these three Sunni groupings.

My introduction to Diyala was during the interrogation of over 64 Ansar al Sunnah cell members to include their Emir a 26 year old veterinarian graduate of the University of Baghdad who had been in Ansar al Sunnah since late 2003 and had moved into Baquba in mid 2004.

It was during those long five weeks that I learned to appreciate the concept that this was a war of perceptions and it was during these five weeks where I learned just how the new Iraq Security Forces were using the U.S. Army to make money via extortion from detainee families even before the December 2005 elections had officially occurred. I was also thankful for the extensive UW [Unconventional Warfare] training and experiences I had as a USA SF [Special Forces] veteran because I fully understood the [insurgents’] training, recruiting, safe house/op sec methods, surveillance/planning techniques and their fighting techniques that many young Army interrogators had no experience in nor had even heard about in their intelligence training. Also not many USA SF ODAs [Operational Detachment Alphas] (2005/2006) working the Diyala area had any understanding of unconventional warfare as carried out by a guerrilla force.

Example: This extortion was also matched by a high rate of corruption as well. The local police chief of Muqdadiya would post his police officers at various road check points, would give them lists of the types of cars that had been Iraqi government owned vehicles (largely stolen after the invasion by the locals), and when they found one during a routine stop they would confiscate it and then park it in the police station compound until they had about 20-40 vehicles. He then would hold an auction where mostly Kurdish buyers would show up, bid and pay cash usually 1000/1500USDs for each car and then they would ship them immediately back to the Kurdish zone. This had been going on since late 2003 and it had earned him a small fortune and allowed [him] to build a minor palace in Muqdadiya. We got wind and wanted to raid, but he was forewarned by the Governor who had demanded that the BCT inform him whenever a government official was suspected of something. Naturally he ended up in the Kurdish zone.

Example: One local USA SF team was hunting a wanted Baathist and had done a number of night time raids trying to capture him and were complaining to me about it—I mentioned---hey knock on the door at noon—you have set a raid pattern---they did and two days later captured him while he was working in his vegetable garden at noon.

War of perceptions---in March 2005, the IAI/1920/ASA [Ansar al-Sunna] attacked an Iraqi ISF [Iraqi Security Forces] newly built headquarters and totally shot it full of holes, blew up part of the building, killed a few ISF driving the rest away. Then the Army QRF [Quick Reaction Force] arrived after being hit by IEDs in the response to the attack.

The response of the detainees –it was a major success as they defeated the ISF, destroyed the building and hit the Army with the preplanned IEDs. Response from the Army---we drove them off the target and wounded a few. Response of the insurgents—we were not driven off we left and the wounded were from the first fight.

That was when I realized that just maybe at issue was the perception of how the Army was viewing the insurgency. While “COIN” [Counterinsurgency] was not in yet an “in thing”---the BCTs were just struggling to hold themselves above water---they did not realize they were in a full phase two guerrilla war with a structured opponent.

What confused the BCT intelligence at the time was the effective operational security that the insurgent groups were using---the simplest being--- they understood the Americans were into insurgent name collection because the young Army interrogators would always ask the question “what group do you belong too?”--- so they figured it was important to the Americans so they just created names to throw us off. There was at one point over 25 different Sunni group names in the flow when in fact there were just three core Sunni groups excluding AQI. They did this simply by naming each cell so if we picked up someone it was definitely hard to build any organizational charting. It often reminded me of the old con game of where is the pea.

The core issue though was the fact that the BCTs simply did not understand that they were seeing a fully organized, fully manned, and ready to engage guerrilla units living and fighting within the population that had an equalizing weapon system the IED that had first been developed and deployed in early 2004. The intelligence side had no understanding of the numbers of fighters, how they were structured and how they fought. The general feeling was that the insurgency was a ragtag group of guys who could not shoot straight and yes while the IEDs hurt they were often duds as well.

By early 2005, Mashhadani was literally off and running in a guerrilla war with Americans that he was already having with Saddam from 2000 through to 2003.

I have argued for a while something that I heard from a detainee in early January 2006.The BCT picked him up during one of their last flash checkpoint operations. He had been captured with a blast belt thus assumed to be a suicider. What came out was that it was a new operational security measure for leading insurgent leaders---meaning if captured by U.S. troops take as many as you could when they were in the process of capturing you. His recruitment into the insurgency actually started in 2000 in Basra where he had converted to Shia when he married his Shia wife a local teacher. He ran a small fruit store which was at least covering his family costs and would go to mosque prayers often during the day as the shop was near a mosque. There he “accidently met” someone who knew his family back in Baghdad who would come by the shop and ask if he wanted to go pray. There was never any talk of jihad—just prayers. This individual disappeared from Basra just after we entered Iraq in 2003. In mid 2005, he was approached by this man again near his shop, asked if he wanted to go pray and after prayers they spoke a long time about jihad and would he interested in joining in the jiahd fight. He left for Baghdad where he was trained for several months before being smuggled into Baqubah where he ran into the flash checkpoint.

The question I have always asked---since this was a typical intelligence agent approach and recruitment—so for how long had the ISS been monitoring Salafist activities inside Iraq before we arrived?

Next was the ISS officer actually a Salafist at heart and that was not known to the ISS and was Mashhadani part of this Salafist resistance which would have allowed him to shift gears in 2003 to face the U.S. and not Saddam thus the insurgency development speed factor we so underestimated in 2003/2004?

Next question is why didn’t we at the intelligence level see this internal Iraqi Salafist resistance?

3. Most people talked about Anbar as the base of the insurgency and Baghdad as the main battlefield, but you actually thought the center of things was in Diyala. What made you believe that?

If you look at all the fighting from say 2004 through to early 2006, what stuck one the most was what I call the ebb and flow of the battlefield. Example---a series of attacks, IDF [indirect fire], and IEDs would become strong in one area say Fullujah drawing in the Army and ISF where fighting would go on for awhile then it would go quiet---then a month or so later it would start up all over in say Mosul, then quiet, then in Baghdad then quiet. All the while moving the Army around the battlespace.

After the major Fullujah and Ramadi fighting the insurgents that fled all arrived in Diyala and basically went through a recover and refit phase then moved back into the fight.

The pullback (recovery/refit) area for the Sunni insurgents was always Diyala province.  The insurgents who were married moved their families there and their wounded would be often moved there as well from the various fighting flareups. Diyala offered many small interconnected villages that inhibited HMMW [High Mobility Military Wheeled vehicle] raids and even USA SF had it hard when they raided due to the small narrow interconnected roads in these villages.

If the Army increased the pressure in say Mosul the fighters eased back to Diyala and then eased back when the Army pressure was off---then on to Tikrit and Fullujah, Baghdad.

It was a constant war of movement—and we were the ones always moving.

Zarqawi had a number of his safe houses in Diyala, [Izzat Ibrahim] al Duri had as well a number of safe houses in and around Muqdadiya. Zarqawi called for the creation of the Islamic State on the steps of the Green Dome in Baqubah and he had a number of associated AQI cells that had sworn allegiance to him—which were led by former Baathists also located in Diyala.

Diyala with the river basin had great palm groves which were virtually impossible to see under even if an OH 58 [helicopter] parked itself over a palm-- were used as retreat points, training areas, and weapons caches. The Diyala River was a great smuggle river which we never could fully interdict due to the limited manpower as the BCT was scattered over a large operation area. The Diyala River also ran around Baghdad allowing for small boat travel/smuggling as well.

Diyala was also a fairly secular region and had a large intermarriage rate between the Sunni and Shia and some Shia in Diyala were also Sunni converts due to these intermarriages. Diyala was also a flash point between the Arabs and Kurds as Saddam had “Arabized” Kurdish areas thus the “green line” was always being pushed by the Peshmerga already creating tensions in 2005. Diyala was a classical example of an average cross section of Iraq just in a smaller area. Diyala had as well a strong Sunni tribal representation.

Diyala also had several large Iraqi military bases (one a large Black Fedayeen base) that provided a large Sunni insurgent recruitment potential and it had a high number of former ISS and Baathists living in Diyala.

Baqubah was just down the road to Baghdad so if the Army was applying pressure during sweeps and raids the various groups just side stepped it by moving temporarily to Baqubah where they had an ever changing series of safe houses, if they needed their vehicles repaired—easy in Mechanicsville when cash was paid and no questions asked.

And the key point—the Sunni insurgent groups were well networked between themselves and tightly networked to AQI in Diyala. The Army believed that the various cells did not communicate between themselves. That failed to take into account that many of the insurgents knew each other, had fought together and had often recruited their friends into the groups. There was constant chatter on the cell phones between members of each group talking about the Friday prayers, the various previous attacks and how the families were doing-chit chat of a normal variety among friends in the cause so to speak.

Not to dig the NSA [National Security Agency], but the Sunni insurgents already had a good sense of what we could intercept and where we had holes in our abilities—all naturally from the internet in the local tea shops in Baqubah.

AQI was the major funder for many of the attacks carried out in Diyala, with the IAI carrying out the recon work and attack planning, the 1920 providing the foot soldiers against pay and the ASA the lead attack element. The AQI would also provide the suicide bombers when an attack needed them—the other Sunni groups were especially good at VBIEDs with the IAI carrying the IED fight which was effective in Diyala.

Diyala was also the focal point of the first series of swarm attacks that the Sunni insurgency would use successfully in other Provinces.
Members of the Interior Ministry's Wolf Brigade in Baghdad 2005. The Wolf Brigade was one of many units created and controlled by the Badr Brigade which took over the Interior Ministry in 2005 and were accused of carrying out sectarian raids and killings. Today Badr is part of Premier Maliki's State of Law coalition and has its militia fighting alongside the Iraqi army once again against the insurgency (Guardian)

4. Right when you arrived in Iraq in 2005 was when the Badr Brigade took over the Interior Ministry and began placing its militiamen within the commandos and other police units. What kind of actions were they carrying out in Diyala?

Ah… the Badr Brigade. I had a high number of Sunni insurgents tell me that you Americans do not understand Badr and you need to have more fear of them than us the Sunni. There was something about the period 2005 that was strange---while the formal elections were not held until Dec 2005 the structuring of the Interior Ministry (MoI) and what surprised us even more was the structuring of an Iraqi Security Council (SC). The SC had been formed under the noses of the U.S. in Baghdad, and the Army had no idea that it even existed.

The most feared unit of the MoI was the Wolf Brigade (an all Shia unit) of their Special Police. It raided into Diyala twice in 2005---and again this before formal elections had happened taking each time in excess of 500 Sunni prisoners---not a single Shia was ever touched.

The BCT was not even informed of their raid planning and raid actions until they had left the area with their prisoners. Then the BCT never received the names of those taken prisoner even when they asked through the SPiTT advisor team to the Special Police. The BCT Commander complained bitterly to the DoS [Department of State]/MNF-I [Multi-National Force-Iraq], but nothing ever came from the complaints.

Badr in late 2005 started attempting to wear black uniforms and carry AK47s in the open a few months before the elections and were attempting to force the Sunni to adhere to their moral standards---women on one side of the street, no liquor stores, etc. Much like the current Islamic State does when it takes over. The BCT would pick them up disarm them and let them go---they never did address though the mounting Badr influence in the local government, police, or security forces.

They simply did not understand the Shia/Sunni divide, but it was not their fault as they were simply trying to maintain security and create some sort of economic development which if one had seen Baqubah in early 2005 as say the end of 2005 they were successful at doing. They were trying to reach as well the end goal of a safe and secure Iraqi national elections which they did pull off so worrying about a hand full of guys running around in black uniforms enforcing morals was not a high priority.

Reference the SC---I had developed a Source of Information (SOI) a senior Special Police intelligence officer based on simply providing computer printers, ink and paper for a year and personal rapport. What he was providing me on information on individual Sunni’s was the first indication to me the depth of the Iraqi intelligence abilities that we never did fully understand even up to the end 2006. We also started to get the names and charges against those that had been arrested in the Wolf raids or those Sunni in Diyala that the SC had determined to be terrorists. This individual was actually a Sunni, who had been with the Iraqi ISS, and had a high reward on his head by the AQI. He died leading a police raid into Sadr City in 2009.

This is an example of how we shot ourselves in the foot over and over. This SOI came to FOB Warhouse one day uninvited just to see us and met the new BCT S2 and to share intelligence. His offer was to the BCT—pick a town you are having problems with, let me run my agents in and collect then we both raid and then move on to the next town or village. All I need is the information provided in an unclassified fashion of what you see with your drones. Response from that BCT S2 who was also of Arabic descent “I do not f…..king work with Iraqis” then he walked out. The Iraqi MoI officer was as stunned as was I.

He had tried to get the BCT to fly drones over a particularly isolated farmhouse to capture the vehicles that attended the meeting who were coming from Basra on a regular basis into Diyala. In the Mashhadani journal there is a constant reference to comings and goings from Basra on a regular basis up through to the end of 2005.  The journal does not shed any light on just why Basra.

So you see what one BCT was say able to move forward in one year was often turned on it’s head by the next incoming BCT who had other ideas of what and how they were going to take the fight to the Sunni insurgents and AQI. Yes there was RIP/TOA [Relief In Place/Transfer of Authority] and a transition between units, but it was always in a hurry and never done in a fully thorough manner. There truly never was an institutional knowledge data dump done. The outbound BCT wanted to go home and the inbound BCT just wanted to get the day count to start.

It was during a random long conversation with the MoI G2 that I heard of the extortion demands for prisoners they would take. Once the Sunni prisoners were charged and not even convicted their families would get a call and simply told for 1,000 USD or say 900 or 500 or depending on assumed family wealth 5,000 USD he would be set free if the extortion was paid. This went on down to the local police levels as well in Diyala which we stumbled onto when we were interrogating the 65 ASA members –it even extended into the Federal Major Crimes Unit which the BCT had placed great faith in. Again all before the 2005 elections had even happened.

What the Wolf Brigade was doing in their raids into Diyala the local MoI and Federal Police units were doing with their arrest waves as well. One cannot blame the BCTs they just did not see it happening even if they were doing the local met and greets. They never did hear the complaints as the local Sunnis simply did not trust the BCTs due to the raids and constant arrests. I heard it daily from our constant flow of detainees.

5. In another contradiction to the conventional wisdom you argued that Diyala rather than Baghdad was the origins of the Iraqi civil war. What were the signs you saw there that would later be repeated across the rest of the country?

The argument for sending in the surge troops was to end the ethnic cleansing that was ongoing on both sides—but when did the ethnic cleansing really start? I would argue it started far earlier in the outer provinces before it got to Baghdad. We just did not see it as we were not that in tune to the problem—or maybe we could not envision what one religious group would/could/did do physically to another religious group. Yes the BCT understood the Sunni/Shia thing, but did they really understand the depth of the distrust and anger on both sides. No not really as it was in fact the settling of scores for the long period of Sunni dominance over the Shia. It is argued that Zarqawi kicked it off—I would argue he knew it was there under the surface he just needed to trigger it.

Now there is something that has bothered me for years since Iraq---the Sunni insurgency had great surveillance constantly on the Army activities and knew just about all of our daily routines and movements. In late 2005, the then MNF-I Commander General Casey had started pushing the BCTs to plan for a re-shifting of AORs [Area of Responsibilities] and the reduction of one BN [Battalion] from each BCT. Our BCT completed that tactical re-shift and positioned the next BCT to be able to draw down one BN. The new AOR though was much larger and harder of a BCT to manage.

The Sunni insurgents were not asleep at the wheel and had to have seen those shifts with the related BN movements as well and one could tell from IEDs strikes in those new areas that they were following the moves closely.

I have often wondered did in fact Zarqawi/Sunni insurgency see the same shifts, realized a draw down was afoot and triggered the ethnic cleansing just to bind the Army in place as an excellent source of targets and was surprised when even more targets flooded into the country?

By mid 2005, we started to get reports of random killings or bodies being found in/around/near Baqubah, Kan Bani Saad, Muqdadiya, but no one could place a reason to it. It was assumed to be connected to the insurgency was the reasoning. Then a suicide bombing of a Shia wedding occurred that rocked Diyala both from the numbers killed and wounded, but also from the side that the marriage was an interreligious marriage.

Then mid to late 2005 we had an incident where the Deputy Governor of Diyala had the entire Major Crimes Unit mainly Shia and one Sunni MoI officer arrested and thrown into jail for the “torturing of prisoners” that riled Diyala province for weeks with accusations from both Sunni and Shia.

Then the random assassinations of individuals in Baqubah started, but it was assumed to be the work of AQI or Sunni insurgency as those killed were usually Shia, but then we started to see Sunni’s being randomly killed as well. All the while Badr was increasing in strength and residing in the more Shia areas in Diyala. At this time Badr was the strongest Shia grouping in the area. So the tit for tat was occurring by late 2005---it just was not recognized for what it was.

We were getting information that indicated other unnamed Shia groups had started in late 2005 to drift into Baqubah and the surrounding Shia villages especially since the Iranian border crossing point was in Mandali with the main road from Mandali connecting to Baqubah through the brick manufacturing areas near the Iranian border region.

At the same time we recovered over 80 prisoners being held by the new Iraqi Army in a hidden prison who had been badly tortured-all Sunni and located another prison being run by the Iraqi 6th Army Division that held even 13 year old Sunni prisoners who were being abused and underfed—all with the statements “Hey they are criminals so we can treat them as dogs”. None had been charged or convicted and some had been held as long as a year. Again all of this before the 2005 elections.

There had been no Department of State or Army guidance for the BCTs in 2005 in how to train the Iraqi security forces in the proper detainee handling processes. Many BCTs seriously tried, but it got lost in the sands of the daily grind or in providing security/economic development.

So by mid 2005, a subtle and sometimes not so subtle tit for tat ethnic cleansing was starting long before the actual wave was triggered allegedly by Zarqawi with Baghdad  being the focus for the media even though the outlying regions had been at it since mid 2005.
U.S. soldiers in the Diyala River area of Baquba 2005. American Army units rarely seemed to understand the Diyala environment they were fighting in (Department of Defense)

6. The U.S. forces seemed caught in the middle of this war. They never understood the environment they were working in, and appeared to be reactive to all these other actors. Why weren’t the Americans able to be more of a dominant force?

Simply put when you are only in a reactive mode you never ever get into a proactive mode. The BCT I supported started in late 2005 to go proactive against the Sunni insurgency and made some solid captures and raids but it only dented the insurgency.

Basically it just held the insurgency in place as the roots of the insurgency were never ever addressed. When one is basically treading water without a life vest it is hard to think about rowing a boat.

There was also the push to get some kind of economic development going and to get the Sunni tribes involved and those famous meet and greets had to occur in order to check the blocks for division reports.

Although in a credit to the BCT most of the year 2005 was spent trying to train the Iraqi electoral commission in Diyala, train the tribes in the election process, select election sites and develop security plans for those sites, and then to exercise those planes before the elections happened so chasing and destroying a growing guerrilla environment was again not a high priority.

Yes if a target presented itself and yes they did continue target development and when they had a target in their sights (they did have a top ten wanted listed list and targeted against that list) they would raid, but by October 2005 they were in election support mode which was again different when one looks at BCT missions in say 2006/2007.

7. Nine years after you first arrived in Iraq it seems like history is repeating itself. Once again there are ISF and militias fighting insurgents in Diyala. The government forces seem to be repeating many of the same mistakes that the U.S. did back in 2005. What do you see as the similarities and differences between the two time periods?

Basically I see no difference between the then and now with the ISF and MoI. While the Iraqi SF were great until 2010 that was due to the constant USA SF training and mentoring. Even the Iraqi SF has fallen off since the IS has rolled back in.

The ISF was never even in 2010 capable of fighting as equals with the AQI or Sunni insurgency if it was one on one and without U.S. fire power. Example---there was a rather large AQI training, refit and supply base discovered deep in the palm groves in the Diyala river basin.

Basically the ISF refused to go into the palm groves and the fighting was intense and their losses mounted with none on the AQI side. It took USA SF, Iraqi SF and heavy U.S. bombing to drive out the insurgents. Once the fighting was over the ISF never went back in and several days later the AQI moved back in---the exact same tactic the ISF is doing today in the fight against the IS/Sunni coalition.

Now the ISF fights and temporarily drives out the IS/Sunni coalition, claims in their media a victory, then leaves and the insurgents drift right back in.

Currently the ISF when they cannot dislodge the insurgents say now in Ramadi or Fullujah simply shell the areas indiscriminately, fire Hellfires, and drop large really large barrel bombs causing extensive losses to the civilian population and buildings which in the end does not win the hearts and minds of the Sunni’s.

Corruption in the ISF then and now never did stop—an example—they raided in mid 2005 a large weapons cache given them on a tip by the BCT to just to get them into the cache raiding planning cycle. The cache was really large and contained a large media kit that was typical of both IAI/AQI which consisted of several computer systems, CD burners, printers, and a large number of cellphones were taken as well.

The new Iraqi Army gave the U.S. the munitions for destruction, kept the weapons for the black market in Baqubah and the computers, CD burners and cellphone were kept by the Commander who sold them and pocketed the money for himself. A portion of the proceeds went into the pockets of the Diyala Deputy Governor.

Corruption in the selection of unit commanders---who in 2005/2006 had virtually no military experience other than being a Shia and having paid large sums of money to the division commander to get the position. Now we hear the same thing, but this time it is loyalty to Maliki not money that drives their selection as unit commanders and senior staff officers. Yes there were a select few of former Sunni and Shia commanders who were well trained, experienced, and combat proven, but they all have been removed as Maliki could/did not trust them.

From current reports coming out of Iraq this type of internal Army corruption is now even more rampart than in 2005/2006.

Lastly we trained an Iraqi army in our own image---from staff operations to planning operations to the thinking of combatting an insurgency.

Actually some Army officers will admit ----especially senior officers will admit they knew this problem was there—the Iraqi’s did not have the combat support, the maintenance and the long logistics tail the Army had and that is now being fully seen. They did not have it in 2006 and they do not have it now.


Buchanan, Richard, “Rural versus Urban Insurgency: How We Missed the Enemy’s Center of Gravity in Iraq and Why It’s Important,” Small Wars Journal, 1/2/12
- “What we saw, but failed to understand, about the Iraqi insurgency in 2003-2005,” Best Defense, 1/31/12

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Review The Prisoner in His Palace, Saddam Hussein, His American Guards and What History Leaves Unsaid

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