During the summer of 2005 the United States was still struggling in Iraq. New commander General George Casey wanted to change tactics but didn’t listen to experts while the rebuilding of the new Iraqi Security Forces was running into major issues including sectarianism and corruption. On the other hand, some American units were creating successful tactics on a local level but they weren’t sustainable. Finally, more splits were happening between Al Qaeda in Iraq and tribes in western Anbar. The U.S. failed to exploit this development because the Iraqi government was opposed to any aid going to Sunnis.
General George Casey called for a new counterinsurgency campaign in Iraq but was confused about how to implement one. First, he didn’t think U.S. troops could carry it out because they had been trained for decades in conventional warfare. Instead he thought the new Iraqi security forces (ISF) who were still in their infancy would do the job supported by the Americans. Casey also called in a group of advisers to conduct a survey and provide recommendations on this new strategy. They found that there weren’t enough U.S. troops to maintain security after an area was cleared and suggested that the Iraqi population should be the focus of the new policy along with government and economic development. Casey disagreed with much of the findings so their work was for naught. They would prove right however so when Casey finally came up with a counterinsurgency strategy it failed because he did not listen to expert advise.
The ISF was the basis of almost all of the U.S.’s plans in Iraq from counterinsurgency to an eventual withdrawal but its development was facing serious problems. General David Petraeus was in charge of the new training program for the Iraqi forces. He found that the public order battalions created by Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari and Interior Minister Bayan Jabr were off limits to the Americans because they were almost 100% Shiite and being used for sectarian attacks upon Sunnis. There were army units which were largely recruited from political parties and militias. At the Defense Ministry logistics were never developed because the emphasis was upon pumping out as many soldiers as quickly as possible. The U.S. military transition teams which were in charge of training had serious manpower shortages. They were supposed to change the entire culture of the ISF but failed. It was still steeped in Saddam era practices like top down control, micromanagement, political control of promotions and officers being removed as threats to vested interests, etc. There was also a 30% turnover rate in the army from 2005-06 meaning many of the newly trained troops had to be immediately replaced. The Americans wanted to create an army and police force modeled after itself which was impossible. It ignored Iraqi traditions and politics to its detriment. It also wanted to rebuild the ISF as quickly as possible so that it could withdraw with quality being sacrificed for quantity.
On top of that the new Iraqi leadership was corrupt creating a further barrier to the new ISF. 10-20% of the army, around 15,000-30,000 soldiers, only existed on paper so that their officers could collect their salaries. Companies were hired to provide food, fuel, etc. which pocketed much of their contracts. The leadership of the Defense Ministry did the same. Former Premier Iyad Allawi’s Defense Minister and 23 other high level officials had warrants issued for them and many were found guilty in absentia as they had fled the country. They set up a series of shell companies and took kickbacks costing between $1.3-$2.3 billion. This hurt not only the treasury but the equipping of the Iraqi forces. The graft and stealing would continue into all the following administrations as Iraq has consistently been ranked one of the most corrupt countries in the world.
There were a few successes for the U.S. but they were localized and unsustainable. The 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment led by Colonel H.R. McMaster who would later become a general and National Security Adviser to President Donald Trump carried out an effective counterinsurgency campaign in Tal Afar in western Ninewa. In Qaim along the Anbar-Syrian border Lieutenant Colonel Julian Alford of the 3rd Marine Battalion carried out a similar campaign of embedding with the Iraqi population and separating them from the insurgency. The Tal Afar example was touted by President Bush as an example of how the U.S. was making progress in Iraq. He missed the fact that after the 3rd Cavalry and 6th Battalions rotated out Tal Afar and Qaim fell back into insurgent control and that their actions were not part of a campaign plan but the result of individual initiative by the commanders. This did show that change was possible but that wouldn’t happen until 2007 with the Surge.
Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) was facing further splits with Iraqis. During the spring and summer of 2005 the Albu Mahal, the Albu Nimr, the Albu Issa and the Jaghafi tribes all had conflicts with Zarqawi’s group in Haditha, Hit and Qusaiba in Anbar. In May AQI attacked the Jaghafi in Haditha. In June the Albu Mahal not only started fighting AQI but expelled them from Qusaiaba. In Ramadi, insurgent leader Mohammed Mahmoud Latif was continuing with his anti-Zarqawi campaign calling on local sheikhs to form a tribal force to oppose AQI. In Hit the Albu Nimr, Albu Mahal and elements of the Army of Mohammed turned against Zarqawi and Ansar al-Sunna. Some U.S. units tried to assist this effort but they were opposed by the Jaafari government who did not want the Americans providing any aid to Sunnis. Without that backing AQI retaliated against the sheikhs with assassinations and bombings which drove many of them into exile and split the tribes. It wouldn’t be until 2006 that the Americans would start a serious tribal outreach program in Ramadi that would lead to the Awakening.
2005 was another year of frustration for the U.S. General Casey wanted change but didn’t know how to do it. He also believed that he was succeeding and that he would be able to withdraw all of his forces sooner rather than later. He had no idea about what was happening in the country. The 2005 elections which Washington had touted as a turning point in the war only entrenched a sectarian and corrupt leadership which did not want to help Sunnis and was trying to steal as much as it could. That meant that when Zarqawi started facing opposition from Iraqis neither Baghdad nor DC could exploit it. It would take another year and for the civil war to fully emerge before the U.S. would even realize it was going in the wrong direction.
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, Strategic Studies Institute and U.S. Army War College Press, 2019