In September 2013, then Army Chief of Staff General Raymond T. Odierno directed Operation IRAQI FREEDOM Study Group to research and write an operational history of the U.S. Army’s experience in the Iraq War from 2003 to 2011.
This volume of The U.S. Army in the Iraq War is the second of two fulfilling that task. It tells how the surge counteroffensive in 2007-2008 neutralized both the Sunni insurgency and Shi’a militias, bringing Iraq to its most peaceful and stable state since the invasion. It then describes how, with political support for the war waning, consecutive Presidential administrations began to reduce the number of troops in Iraq while Multi-National Force-Iraq (MNF-I) and later United States Forces-Iraq (USF-I) worked hurriedly to prepare the Iraqi military to take responsibility for their nation’s security.
The speed of the drawdown accelerated significantly after the election of President Barack Obama, culminating in an unexpected complete withdrawal in 2011.
In scope, the study group members consciously modeled this history after the Army’s “Green Book” histories of World War II. As the Green Books did, and as General Odierno charged us to do, we focused on the operational level of war. These volumes are narrative histories that tell the story of U.S. forces in Iraq, mainly from the perspective of the theater command in Baghdad and the operational commands immediately subordinate to it. They focus on the decisions and intent of the senior three- and four-star commanders in Baghdad over time.
In a way, it would be reassuring to believe that the mistakes the United States made in the Iraq War were the result of unintelligent leaders making poor decisions. If that were so, then the United States could be assured of avoiding similar mistakes in the future simply by selecting better, more intelligent leaders. However, this is not the case.
The overwhelming majority of decisions in the Iraq War were made by highly intelligent, highly experienced leaders whose choices, often in consensus, seemed reasonable at the time they were made, but nonetheless added up over time to a failure to achieve our strategic objectives.
Examining the reasoning behind these decisions and the systemic failures that produced them should be the first task in analyzing the Iraq War’s lessons.
The study includes examinations of some of those key decisions, and in some cases their unintended consequences, as well as their implications for future wars.
Click here for the full report (713 PDF pages) on the US Army War College website.