The Ongoing Civil War in Iraq: Mission Accomplished?

Yet another "magnificent victory" in Iraq, this time in Tikrit, twelve years after "Mission Accomplished" was declared

Yet another “magnificent victory” in Iraq, this time in Tikrit, twelve years after “Mission Accomplished” was declared

W.J. Astore

American reporting on Iraq focuses on the eternal now, such as the rise of ISIS or recent battles in Tikrit.  Rarely is any context given to these events, and rarer still is any accounting of the costs of war (still rising) to the Iraqi people.

Let’s return to 2003 and the U.S. invasion of Iraq.  Before the invasion, the U.S. Army War College accurately predicted what was to come.  A report co-authored by Conrad C. Crane and W. Andrew Terrill warned that U.S. forces would have “to prevent Sunnis from fighting Shiites, secular Iraqis from fighting religious ones, returned Iraqi exiles from fighting non-exiles, Kurds from fighting Turkomans or establishing an independent state, tribes within all these groups from fighting one another, Turkey from invading from the north, Iran from invading from the east, and the defeated Iraqi army–which may be the only national institution that can keep the country from being ripped apart–from dissolving,” as summarized in “After Saddam,” a short article in “Primary Sources” in the Atlantic Monthly in June 2003.*

Read that last bit again: America’s military experts stated the Iraqi army had to be preserved so as to prevent Iraq from devolving into factionalism and chaos.  So what did America’s proconsul for Iraq, L. Paul Bremer III, proceed to do when he took over in 2003?  He dissolved the Iraqi army!  Under the orders of the all-wise Bush Administration.

In a much longer article for the Atlantic Monthly, James Fallows detailed how the Bush Administration went “Blind into Baghdad” (January/February 2004).  Fallows concluded that Bush/Cheney (and Rumsfeld/Wolfowitz) oversaw “a historic failure” in Iraq precisely because they “willfully” disregarded “a vast amount of expert planning.”  Whether this was by design or not is still disputed, but one must recall Cheney’s rosy prediction that Iraqis would welcome U.S. troops as “liberators.”

Hubris is one explanation for such folly.  Other commentators suggest a deliberate policy to destabilize Iraq.  Whatever the case, the big winner of Iraq’s decline and near fall was Iran, followed by various forms of Islamic extremism that arose from the ashes of violence and civil war.

By the spring of 2004, as the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) headed by Bremer prepared to return “sovereignty” to the allegedly newly-democratic Iraq, American officials who hadn’t drunk the kool-aid recognized that civil war was coming.  A friend of mine, an Army major, was at that time serving with the CPA in Baghdad.  He wrote to me at the time that:

“The emperor has no clothes … corruption, private militias, insecurity, and coming civil war [in Iraq] is accepted as given amongst the CPA staff.  The focus is on making some sort of transition on 30 June [2004] to whatever ‘government’ we can get in place by then.  Anything after 30 June is ‘we’ll get to that when we can.’  This whole operation is a train wreck waiting to happen, and the [Bush] administration simply refused to acknowledge it, much less do anything about it.”

Ominously, my friend concluded that “Even the Iraqis who welcomed us after Saddam [fell] have lost patience with us and are pursuing other routes to power and national control.”  This was because the U.S. was throwing its support behind an Iraqi regime “which is seen as completely illegitimate by the people it’s supposed to rule in the name of democracy.”

In short, the CPA and Bush Administration were selling a lie in 2004, and they knew it.  But Bush won reelection later that year, so who really cares if the U.S. lost, in the words of my friend, “serious credibility” in the region as a result?

For informed Americans not suffering from amnesia, the above narrative shouldn’t come as a total surprise.  By its actions and inaction and lies, the Bush Administration brought endless civil war to Iraq.  The U.S. essentially created the conditions for the rise of ISIS and similar extremist groups.  But the U.S. media has cloaked this hard reality in a shroud of myths about the “decisive” Petraeus Surge of 2007 (really a temporary lull in the civil war) or various other “mission accomplished” moments promoted by both Bush and Obama.

Mission accomplished?  A magnificent victory?  Only if the “mission” was the dismantling of Iraq, and “victory” is measured by more and more war.

*The report, dated February 2003, was “Reconstructing Iraq: Insights, Challenges, and Missions for Military Forces in a Post-Conflict Scenario.”

21 thoughts on “The Ongoing Civil War in Iraq: Mission Accomplished?

  1. The facts are very murky in the Tikrit story we are fed by are fact anemic media. Estimates seem to show that ISIS had only 400 fighters in Tikrit who were besieged, according to initial reports, by about 3000 Iraqi army troops and over 20,000 Shia militia advised by Iranian Quds officers who were carrying the main battle. .

    Sometime during the initial phase the battle stalemated and the Iraq Shia government called in American air support. This seemed to piss off the Shia militia when reports came out that American air strikes had killed some of their fighters. The Shia milita then seemed to back away a bit from the fight in protest on America’s entry. It has than taken close to six weeks for who ever is carrying the battle now with probably ten or more times to reach the center of Tikrit. To date I have heard no confirmation that Tikrit is totally liberated other than the claim by the government that they have attained “victory”. ( which is a claim they made two weeks earlier also)

    This tragic tale speaks volumes about the failure of both the Obama and Bush administrations and our military to bring our fatal footsteps in Iraq to a final halt. Tikrit with a Sunni population of less than 150,000 is now at the mercy of the Shia again and it is taking at least eight weeks to achieve partial control. We are now ramping up arming and training the Iraq army to retake Mosul, a city ten times the size of Tikrit . Don’t expect any cries of victory when that happens. .

    • Great point. How do we know what’s really going on there on the ground? So much of what we heard about Iraq in 2003-08 was total BS. Part of the problem is the mainstream media no longer commits assets (reporters and camera crews) to Iraq — or Afghanistan — or Yemen. Too expensive. Too dangerous. Most of all, no desire to question the official establishment narrative — not when you’re cozying up to the powerful in the name of access and relevance and in the cause of careerism.

      Since Easter is approaching, perhaps a Pontius Pilate reference is allowable. Basically, the U.S. has washed its hands of any responsibility for unrest in Iraq, Libya, Yemen, and so on. Wasn’t us.

  2. The establishment American press is different now from perhaps any time in the history of this nation, primarily because historically enormously diverse private outlet ownership is presently reduced to a small number (5? 6?) of corporate entities seemingly invested less in reporting reality than in doing their part trying to make true the doomed-from-the-outset Karl Rove empire dictum somehow come true:

    If today’s media had existed 60 years ago, how likely is it that the Civil Rights movement successes would be part of our national history, or the Pentagon Papers would have been influential in shaping policy, or that any single media outlet would have pursued the Watergate break-in to its conclusion? The Nixon Presidency would be remembered completely differently if current WaPo ownership held the reins back then. Hell, how much ozone layer would still remain at this point?

  3. Many years ago, when it became evident that Islam was the fastest-growing religion on the planet, I read The Koran to be familiar with it. I also read “Among The Believers,” by V.S. Naipaul. I don’t recall a word from the latter referring to the Sunni-Shia schism. Thus the intense hatred between these two branches of Islam came as a shock to me when conflicts between them erupted post-2003 US invasion. Given that Saddam had a military that “couldn’t shoot straight” when it came to defending Iraqi territory, it’s amazing in retrospect that somehow he had kept a lid on this homicidal argument over who inherited “the True Islam.” The MSM have expressed concern over the (allegedly) triumphant militia forces in Tikrit erupting into armed conflict among themselves. Doesn’t sound like a road to stability, does it? I wonder what percentage of Tikrit was physically destroyed in this operation and how long the supposed good guys can actually hold that turf? (“We had to destroy the city in order to save it.”) BTW, I would say that far from “washing its hands” of the whole mess, the Obama administration continues to pretend it can fix the mess by “scalpel-like” application of air power here and there. The fewer US boots on the ground, the better for domestic politics. We shall see what becomes of that doctrine.

    • Yes, you have to wonder about those “scalpel” applications of airpower. Even Obama’s advisers are not stupid enough to believe that airpower can be decisive. So why? Perhaps the main targets of those bombs, figuratively speaking, are Republicans. With bombs, Obama can claim he’s doing something while refusing to commit ground troops in any significant way.

      Cynical, yes. But Obama knows he’d be crucified by Republicans if he refused to drop those bombs. Put differently, Obama is not confident enough to play Pontius Pilate and just walk away from a no-win scenario.

      The result? A policy that is fated to fail because it’s pusillanimous and false.

  4. You toss the word lie around quite freely; it damages your credibility. Especially when a “lie” above could essentially be a difference of opinion or tactics. In a recent article you posted about “the big lie of WMD”. And yet there are daily articles about troops being treated for having come into contact with chemical weapons stashes (WMD) in Iraq. By destroying the WMD without proper precautions (chem suits etc.) they are now sick. I was flying over Iraq in the mid 90’s when Saddam was using them on the Kurds. I saw the INTEL photos. So the question wasn’t “if” but “where”. As in where did they go. Some look at Syria, and quite obviously some remained in Iraq.

    Half of the facts of a story being listed to me is the same as a lie. It also proves the presenter has an agenda IMO. You never mention the Sunni Awakening. My son was in the Sunni Triangle with the 10th Mountain, when we effectively won the war in the mid 2000’s.

    Backing an incompetent and corrupt regime was indeed a big mistake. However the biggest was pulling our troops out allowing Iraq to plunge into chaos. We still have troops in Korea and Europe, why? To preserve the peace other generations fought for.

    Whether you agree or not with going into Iraq, only someone with an agenda would not discuss abandoning Iraq (leaving it to the incompetent and corrupt regime) as a causal factor to the mess it now is.

    • Thanks for your comment. The “lie” in question was the Bush Administration’s selling of the CPA’s return of sovereignty to an Iraqi government that was “democratic” and “ready to rule.” Of course, that government was both illegitimate in the eyes of most Iraqis and unready to assume authority in 2004. The result was the civil war in Iraq that we’re still witnessing today. Such a result was eminently predictable, and indeed it was predicted at the time by many, especially American troops who worked in Baghdad. As my friend said, it was obvious the Emperor had no clothes — that Iraq was descending into chaos.

      The question of WMD is complicated. The WMD you reference is the “old” chemical weapons that Saddam Hussein used against Iran in the 1980s and against the Kurds after Desert Storm. But this was not the WMD feared by the Bush Administration prior to the invasion in 2003. The Bush Administration said that Saddam had an active WMD program, producing new chemical weapons (remember those mobile labs that Colin Powell spoke about before the UN?), and that Saddam was working on drones that could spray WMD. But there were no mobile chem labs and no drones. My opinion is that Bush/Cheney did not “lie” about this WMD; rather, they exaggerated the threat so as to justify the invasion in 2003.

      The Sunni Awakening in 2007 was a genuine accomplishment, and I’m sure the contribution of your son was praiseworthy. But the “awakening” was due more to Sunni outrage at the tactics and methods of Al Qaeda in Iraq, as well as the Sunni desire to end widespread killing. It was, effectively, a lull in a civil war. It was not decisive in ending tribal warfare or Sunni-Shia tensions, which are still playing out.

      You mention an “incompetent and corrupt regime” in Iraq. But this is precisely what we served to create in 2004. And the U.S. has never left Iraq. Even when we pulled out most of our troops, we still left behind our enormous embassy in Baghdad, guarded by privatized mercenaries, even as we continued to train the Iraqi military (which failed miserably last year, despite all the money and effort we threw at it).

      Are Korea and Europe the best analogies to Iraq? I’m not so sure. Look at what happened in Vietnam. We pulled out in 1975 and now have peaceful trade relations with the Vietnamese people, even though they’re “commie bastards” in the lingo of the 1960s. Should we have kept an enormous number of troops in South Vietnam to “save” their corrupt regime? Should we continue to intervene in Iraq with bombs and bullets in the name of providing stability? We’ve spent more than a trillion dollars on wars in Iraq, with lots of US troops being killed and wounded, and for what, exactly?

      • WMD is WMD whether new or old. The press narrative was that there was none. Which in fact was untrue. The Sunni awakening was more about tribal leaders cutting a deal and going on the USA dole than any outrage.

        Vietnam and the Communist over running South East Asia is hardly a victory for anyone except of course Vietnam. I would remind you the conflict started with Vietnam invading neighbors, specifically Laos. What happened in Cambodia with the power vacuum we left behind didn’t go so well for the Cambodians. To compare that to the relative peace of Korea and Europe just doesn’t pass the sniff test. The “lull” in the Iraqi civil war lasted until we pulled out our troops. A direct correlation.

        “For what, exactly?” 911, to keep the fighting over there was the strategy. Whether you agree or not with the strategy it has been fairly effective. And we are discussing the aftermath of the war not the reason(s) for getting into it. Like Vietnam a bloodbath has filled the void. The difference is the Vietnamese Communists had the goal of local conquest (to the point their former benefactor, China, had enough and warred), the Islamists clearly want to attack the West and our way of life.

        The Neocons had two fatal flaws in their strategy a. they thought Democracy would work in Iraq and b. they assumed the new Iraqi leaders wanted peace. “Democracy for the wolves is slaughter for the sheep.” And they had a total lack of understanding of the Muslim world. The solution was easy IMO; split Iraq into Kurdish, Sunni and Shiite regions. It was a colonial construct to begin with. The former Yugoslavia is now peaceful because they were forced to be. And have remained peaceful because they have their own regions and the threat of NATO to enforce them. The present administration just left Iraq by contrast, that guaranteed a civil war.

        The absolute biggest mistake was pulling COMBAT troops out of the field. Staffers and a few Contractors guarding “the palace” is not a military presence. If you want to know what is really going on, you ask the foot soldier in the bush. Staffs, like politicians, often have agendas.

        The bigger problem foisted on the world by the abdication of power is what is coming. A Muslim World War, Sunni vs. Shiite’ vs. Radicals from both sides. It has already started in Yemen, Syria and Iraq as Saudi Arabia/Egypt and Iran face off through surrogates and directly.

        Would it have been worth it to leave 30,000 troops to prevent all this?

      • If more than 100,000 U.S. troops couldn’t stop civil war in Iraq, how could 30,000? Recall that General Shinseki advocated for an occupation force of at least 250,000 U.S. troops before the invasion of 2003, only to be shot down by Cheney and Rumsfeld.

        WMD: The issue in 2002 was not whether Iraq had old stocks of chemical and nerve agents (some of which we helped him to procure in his war against Iran). The issue in 2002 was whether Iraq had an active WMD program with the capability of deploying it regionally, perhaps against Israel, hence the reports (which were false) of Iraqi WMD drones that appeared in the US media prior to the invasion.

        That old stocks of WMD were found was not a surprise to anyone. Indeed, what was shocking was how unprepared the U.S. military was to dispose of these chemical agents, and how preventable injuries to US troops were covered up by the Pentagon.

        US troops will always be a foreign presence in Iraq, unwelcome to large segments of the Iraqi people. They’ll never win the peace there. That’s up to the Iraqi people.

      • CIA’s final report: No WMD Found in Iraq

        AP Article from 4/25/2005
        “WASHINGTON — In his final word, the CIA’s top weapons inspector in Iraq said Monday that the hunt for weapons of mass destruction has “gone as far as feasible” and has found nothing, closing an investigation into the purported programs of Saddam Hussein that were used to justify the 2003 invasion.”

        The narrative was until recently, that there was no WMD in Iraq. No mention of “old stockpiled” or a few “abandoned” chemical weapons or an expectation to find any. That is the new narrative. The press and CIA said NONE, Zero, zilch. A simple google verifies that.

        We now know there were 5,000 in fact, deliverable by artillery and SCUD Missiles. So, they could and had threatened the area. And used them on Iran and their own people. The fact that Saddam chose not to use them was a political/tactical decision. The fact remains he had the ability. Anyone of those SCUDs that fell on Israel could have contained a chemical war head. The Israelis certainly prepared for it.

        And of course they were abandoned, the Iraqi Army had dissolved “abandoning” stock piles of all kinds of weapons, aircraft, tanks, everything.

        You are countering your own point, 100,000 troops DID stop the civil war, the “lull” you called it. To deny that is a disservice to the men and women who did it. 30,000 COMBAT troops (they come with a long support tail/troops) could have maintained the “lull”. The fighting was over, certainly terrorist type bombings continued, but the ground war was over.

        Again back to point. Of all the mistakes made before, during and after the Iraq war, none was more catastrophic to Iraq and world peace than abandoning the country.

      • You seem to be saying that only the sustained presence of 30,000 U.S. combat troops could have kept the peace in Iraq. First of all, Iraq is slightly larger than California in size. You can’t police an area that large with only 30,000 troops. How many US casualties would we be prepared to tolerate for an indefinite occupation? At what cost? Keeping a force that large in Iraq would cost $50 billion or more per year if they were engaged in combat operations.

        Second, I didn’t say that 100,000 US troops “stopped” the civil war in Iraq. Indeed, those same troops in a sense started the civil war after the overthrow of Saddam in 2003. The civil war did come to burn itself out for a short time, aided in part by the Anbar Awakening, but the lull was just that — a lull, a temporary dropoff in violence, which Petraeus himself feared would be both “fragile” and “reversible.” And so it has proved.

        US troops did the best they could in an impossible situation. You can’t win someone else’s civil war. Imagine the British committing 30,000 combat troops to the U.S. in 1862 in an attempt to stop the U.S. Civil War. Is there any chance they could have succeeded?

        Finally, we’re talking past each other with the WMD question. What I’m saying is this: Before going to war in 2003, the Bush Administration argued that Saddam Hussein had an active chemical weapons program, using mobile chemical labs in trucks, and that Iraq was experimenting with drones to deploy those weapons against its regional enemies. None of that “intelligence” proved to be true.

      • This discussion continues to wander off point. Lets establish facts.

        First, there was WMD and a means to deliver it. As I pointed out in the CIA Report/AP article from 2005 nobody was concerned with type/means/delivery source until recently when it was disclosed 5,000 Weapons were found. And the way you deploy it, whether drone or SCUD doesn’t matter to whom its deployed on.

        The troops had stopped the civil war and the fighting had gone from a peak in 2007 while cleaning up AQ to comparative peace. Casualties went from 904 down to 54, 2007-2011. Four years, and 2011 was a full year. We pulled out 18 DEC. Again what you say couldn’t be done was. It was not burned out it was stopped. Like in the former Yugoslavia, like in Korea.

        Petraeus did indeed warn of “fragile” and “reversible” peace, not a lull for a short period, four years. He warned in reference to a withdrawal.

        Another fact, Bush warned and predicted pretty much EXACTLY what would happen with a pull out.

        The Iraqi Army had not been politicized until after we pulled our influence and troops. Of course the Baghdad Regime didn’t want a status of forces agreement. It allowed them to do what they did once we left. The present Administration used that as cover to flee and keep a political promise.

        Again, the civil war returned after we left, another fact.

        The incompetence of the present administration is further evidenced in Libya and Yemen. And it knows no bounds, even as Yemen plunged into anarchy, our Embassy and SF/CIA forced to flee the administration claimed it was an example of success of their policy. They have set the stage for a massive war that can and probably will plunge the entire region into a religious war.

        And it all was precipitated by our abandonment of Iraq.

      • So you want to reset the timeline, eh? Everything was dandy under Dick Cheney and company’s brilliant guiding hands, then Obama got elected and started messing things up. My own condemnation of the present administration is precisely that it has extended Cheney policies abroad. That makes the creation of the mess in Yemen a success, one might say. Intervene in other states’ affairs, create a royal mess and then use that resulting situation as an excuse for further meddling. Thus ignoring the fundamental problem: claiming American “exceptionalism” and the “right” to conduct these interventions. Leland Shanle, your post is dripping with your rightwing perspective. I can’t take it seriously.

      • Ah yes, the Great Right Wing Conspiracy. I find when an argument weakens name calling follows. Sorry to disappoint, I’m a Libertarian and have been for 15 plus years.

        I would not have sent my son to the Sunni Triangle to spill his blood. In fact I would not have sent so many troops to Afghanistan either. I would have reinforced the SF with 101/82 Airborne and the 10th Mountain, pushed Bin Laden, AQ and Taliban into Tora Bora, Sealed the Pakistan escape routes and dropped bombs for a week. And been gone within another.

        Perhaps it has slipped your mind but THEY attacked us on 911.

        However, this discussion was about why Iraq is a Goat-F**k now. Blaming Cheney, while fashionable in your cocktail circle is a lame excuse. He has been gone for 6 years. The decision to abandon Iraq, was not his. And that is the direct causal factor it is in melt down now. All the facts in the world won’t change your mind. Your agenda is clear.

      • Well, Leland, there are facts and there are “facts” (the latter a specialty of Fox “News”–are you a fan, perhaps?). You have repeatedly whipped the dead horse of Saddam having had some form of WMD at some point, so that justified the US invasion. The attacks of 9/11 were, apparently, the acts of a criminal gang. There was NEVER, I repeat, NEVER a justification to launch wars on the soils of Iraq or Afghanistan in response. Those were acts of illegal aggression, acts of war, against sovereign nations (to extent Afghanistan, land of skirmishing warlords, can be deemed a nation). Totally illegal under international law, but of course when you’re the biggest kid on the planet with the biggest arsenal of military toys you disregard such inconveniences as international law. American exceptionalism, indeed. BTW, I don’t participate in any “cocktail circle.” I am a working class guy living in poverty in retirement. I never brought up the word “conspiracy,” please note. And I have sussed out what “Libertarians” are all about. You are correct, though: we both are clear in our agendas. And what is my agenda? To continue to fight for a more just and equitable world. What’s your agenda, Mr. Libertarian??

      • Acts of a criminal gang? Delusional. I justified nothing as far as entering Iraq and WMD, I merely pointed out that it was indeed there. In fact, I clearly stated I would not have gone into Iraq. I never set policy, I carried it out whether stupid or not, often with one hand tied behind our back. The article was about what lead to the present instability of Iraq. The facts clearly show that the “present instability” can be directly tied to pulling out and leaving a vacuum behind. If you want the root cause you need to go a lot further back than 2003.

      • Leland: This will be my final response to you, since neither of us is about to cave in to the other and I prefer to channel my energy into positive activities. Your denial that the attacks on US soil of 9/11 were the acts of a criminal gang (“al-Qaeda”) IMPLIES that they were…? The only other explanation I can think of is that they must have been sponsored by a specific state, a government (or several, in collusion). Note that I’m not excluding ASSISTANCE from governments to the smallish gang involved; I’m looking for the fundamental planners and perpetrators. Since you apparently believe you possess all the FACTS in the world, kindly enlighten us all as to exactly who sponsored those events.

      • So you’ve missed the world wide movement that has involved millions and killed hundreds of thousands? It currently rages through out the middle east. Syria, Libya, Yemen, Iraq and to a lesser extend Afghanistan. It has now morphed into a religious civil war pulling in all the regions players, most notably Iran vs. Saudi Arabia. It is also raging through most of sub-Saharan Africa, Somalia, Kenya, Nigeria etc. It has spilled into Europe, China, India, Canada and the USA.

        It’s roots? Wahhabism, started by the Saudi Throne to legitimize their rule. Sponsors? Follow the money, there are many: Iran, some in Saudi Arabia (they created it and it turned on them). There are many others. It has now morphed into the self-sustained (through oil) ISIS and a declared Caliphate.

        Is that the “smallish gang” you refer to?

      • The Iraq War of 2003 was not only unnecessary — it was a foreign policy disaster. And the cost to the Iraqi people has been horrendous. My intent in this article was to remind us all of the events of 2003-04 and how they led to the seemingly permanent instability of Iraq since then.

        Cheney had it right after Desert Storm in 1991. When they asked him then, Why didn’t you push on and take Baghdad after liberating Kuwait, he argued that such a move would have destabilized Iraq, leading to civil war. Which is exactly what happened after “Iraqi Freedom” in 2003

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