Small Wars Journal

How The U.S. Struggled To Establish Law And Order In Post-Invasion Iraq

How The U.S. Struggled To Establish Law And Order In Post-Invasion Iraq, An Interview With Retired Colonel Ted Spain

by JWing

Musings on Iraq

Retired Colonel Ted Spain is the former commander of the 18th Military Police Brigade. In early 2003, he was deployed to Kuwait from Germany for the impending U.S. invasion of Iraq, and spent a year in the country. I first became aware of him through Tom Ricks’ book Fiasco. I’m currently re-reading it for the first time since it came out in 2006, and that prompted me to get in contact with Colonel Spain. During his time in Iraq, he went through not only the invasion, but the post-war chaos as well. Spain was deployed in Baghdad, which became the center of the looting, insurgency, and general lawlessness that beset the country. While Spain attempted to create a sense of law and order for Iraqis, he ran into a civilian and military leadership that suffered from constant personnel changes, lacked a unified plan, and was caught up in thinking about Iraq in terms of a war, which led them to neglect his work to rebuild the Iraqi police. Below is an interview with Colonel Spain about his experiences in Iraq from 2003-2004, and his general impression of how the U.S. did during that crucial first year.


gian gentile

Mon, 01/02/2012 - 8:54am

What Colonel Spain's interview seems to confirm with me is Iraq expert Reidar Visser's observation a few weeks ago that the war moved on the path that it did due to decisions of strategy and policy, and not on the tactical methods of occupations, the tragedy of Abu Graib, the Surge and so on.

The strategic confusion on the part of the United States during the first few months of the war seemed to be one centered on the question: should we stay or should we go? Now neo-conservative ideologues committed to long term american combat presence in the troubled spots of the world will of course answer in the affirmative as will many people in the army who have come to believe that staying and occupying is an automatic response once we break something militarily. But it seems to me that this question is ultimately one of strategy to answer, and answer strategy did not do during the first months of the iraq war in 2003.

What was left then were units on the ground (I was 1BCT XO, 4ID, in Tikrit) to figure things out as best they could. The book On Point II shows that from the start, and by and large, ground units adapted to the situation they faced. For example, and contrary to the image of 4ID that Tom Ricks provides in his book Fiasco, one of the first briefings the staff gave to then Colonel Don Campbell was how we were going to go about setting up local governance in Tikrit and in Salah Din province, how we were going to employ the former Iraqi Army soldiers, and how we were going to go about establishing a police force in Tikrit and the surrounding areas. This argument that the Army didn’t get nation building and Coin until rescued by 3-24 and the Surge is just hokum and not supported by operational practice on the ground.