Thursday, July 29, 2021

Review The U.S. Army In The Iraq War: Volume I, Invasion, Insurgency, Civil War, 2003-2006

Rayburn, Colonel Joel, Sobchak, Colonel Frank Editors, with Godfroy, Lieutenant Colonel Jeanne, Morton, Colonel Matthew, Powell, Colonel James, Zais, Lieutenant Colonel Matthew, The U.S. Army In The Iraq War: Volume I, Invasion, Insurgency, Civil War, 2003-2006, United States Government, US Army, 2019


The U.S. Army’s official history of the Iraq War was delayed for years. When it was released the military tried to bury it claiming that fighting irregular conflicts like Iraq was not what the army’s doctrine was about. It wanted to focus upon taking on a major power instead. This is the exact same thing that happened after the Vietnam War and a reason why America was so unprepared for Iraq. The first volume of the history deals with the period from 2003-2006. It provides five major reasons why the U.S. strategy failed during the start of the occupation of Iraq.


The military held a series of false assumptions about the Iraq War that sank its effort. First, the U.S. believed the conflict was about former regime elements and foreigners such as Abu Musab al-Zarqawi the head of Al Qaeda in Iraq attempting to expel the Americans from the country. This missed the fact that different political parties and armed factions were in a struggle for power and control, which eventually led to a civil war in 2006. Benchmarks the U.S. held as turning points such as the three elections in 2005 divided the country and turned the government over to sectarian parties. Second, the military leadership believed that the U.S. presence created opposition and dependency and the solution was to withdraw. Pulling out units increased the lack of troops necessary for security, denied the Americans information about what was happening on the ground, and created a vacuum which warring parties occupied. Third, the Army believed that it could quickly build new Iraqi security forces. It was completely unprepared for the size of the task and focused upon numbers instead of quality and politics. The Iraqi army and police were quickly taken over by the ruling parties and joined in the conflict. By the time the U.S. realized there was a civil war going on in mid-2006 it was too late to stop it.


The last two issues were ones of omission. The U.S. detention policy led to abuses such as the Abu Ghraib scandal, caused massive overcrowding which eventually caused a catch and release policy, and finally prisons became recruiting grounds for militants. Last, the military never came up with a policy to address Iraq’s neighbors Syria and Iran that were funneling in men, weapons and money to militias and insurgents. The Americans were afraid of escalation and carried out a series of reactionary policies instead of taking the initiative. They would remain problems to the present day.


The main point of Volume 1 of the Army history is that the U.S. made the Iraq War worse by its policies and missteps. It literally goes into dozens and dozens of examples to back up its thesis. That brings up the main issue with the book. At nearly 700 pages it’s too daunting for the average reader. For those that have studied the conflict they already know these arguments. The main benefit for them is all the details that can be gleamed from it. That probably means very few will actually read it.


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