How We Won in Iraq

How We Won in Iraq by General David H. Petraeus, Foreign Policy.

The news out of Iraq is, once again, exceedingly grim. The resurrection of al Qaeda in Iraq -- which was on the ropes at the end of the surge in 2008 -- has led to a substantial increase in ethno-sectarian terrorism in the Land of the Two Rivers. The civil war next door in Syria has complicated matters greatly, aiding the jihadists on both sides of the border and bringing greater Iranian involvement in Mesopotamia. And various actions by the Iraqi government have undermined the reconciliation initiatives of the surge that enabled the sense of Sunni Arab inclusion and contributed to the success of the venture.  Moreover, those Iraqi government actions have also prompted prominent Sunnis to withdraw from the government and led the Sunni population to take to the streets in protest.  As a result of all this, Iraqi politics are now mired in mistrust and dysfunction…

Read on.

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The news out of Iraq is indeed grim. Insurgency violence is greater over the past few months than we have seen in a number of years. I was there in 2005-06 and again in 2008-09 and really felt that we were making a difference for the better, and I still do.

However, I think we've missed the point on insurgencies, in general. In an insurgency, the end state can never be stated as won or lost. Insurgencies, by their very nature, quell when the local population has a "Cause to Live for that is Greater then their Cause to Die for." This is not to say that military force and security are not helpful in advancing to the end-state conditions, but any insurgency where warlords are at the center of the chaos will only be eradicated when the population becomes disenfranchised with the "warlords and power brokers" and demands change. We (the outside world) harm this progress by saying things like, "Al Qaeda in Iraq is growing or foreign fighters are coming in from Syria, or Sunni are striking against Shite...." This only creates an "external locus of control" (The belief that events in one’s life, whether good or bad, are caused by uncontrollable factors such as the outsiders, other people, religious zealots, or a higher power) and redirects the blame to a "boggeyman." In an insurgency this is simply not the case. The insurgents in Iraq are local criminals operating locally out of self-interest and primal motivations--money, power, control but these warlords gain great power when we, the outside world, supports their claims for legitimacy. You see a criminal gains few followers if their activities are seen as criminal, but they can gain many followers if their cause can be made to look like it is "Just"--a Jihad, or a sectarian response to injustice.

If we call the warlords--criminals, thugs, gangsters and thefts then we take away their power and local support. And as a result, peace can move quickly. It usually occurs shortly after a leader or leaders of the warlords (insurgency) are harvested, and when the government strategically and quickly reacts with essential services for life. In essences, provides the "Cause to Live For."

In Iraq, there is still a great deal of unemployment and war age men 18-38 have not been integrated well into the work force yet. Until unemployment drops to below 15%, the environment will be ripe for the insurgency.

What is the answer then? The answer aligns well with the British economist John Maynard Keynes in which he looks at the "productive capacity of society," the full employment output. Keynes would argue that the insurgency continues because neither the population nor businesses have an incentive to spend. After all why should a legitimate company spend money to increase production in this wartorn area, when no one has enough money to pay for their products or services. How can unemployed consumers spend money they don't have. In short, the only way to get the economy functioning and the work force growing is for the government to spend rebuilding their local communities brick by brick and block by block using local labor.... The warlord power in Iraq is growing again but we can help quell it by resisting the urge to call it something that it is not. It is not Al Quaeda, not sectarian, and not a rebellion. It is local and primal in every sense of the word.

professor---this comment is interesting as well as your experience in Iraq especially the period 2005-2006

"The insurgents in Iraq are local criminals operating locally out of self-interest and primal motivations--money, power, control but these warlords gain great power when we, the outside world, supports their claims for legitimacy."

This flies in the face of reality ie the strongest Sunni based insurgent group the Islamic Army in Iraq was formed three days after we crossed the Iraqi border and using RC IEDs against our troop by January 2004 with upwards of 30 cells in Baghdad alone and cells from Basra to Mosul. From a handwritten journal captured in 2006 it appears the IAI might have in fact been active against Saddam since 1993.

AQI called for the Islamic State of Iraq from the steps of the Green Dome in Baqubah/Diyala in early 2004.

The IAI morphed into the JRTN and AQI into ISIL-both groups currently causing all attacks in Iraq from the Sunni side---Shia groups have also reformed but are headed to Syria to support Assad.

To argue that these two Iraqi insurgency groups were common criminals flies in the face of reality on the ground.

Aren't most things multifactorial? Why can't you all be correct, you are just describing one aspect of violence in a theater which, human nature being what it is, is complicated?

From "Madhu's model" (hey, everyone under the sun is pushing his or her model, maybe I should too):

Punjab Insurgency:
1. Diaspora support overseas. - Outlaw 09
2. Internal governance issues (not just poor governance, but exploiting the issue for internal political and monetary gain). - Bob Jones, professor
3. Religion. Outlaw 09
4. Language and other markers of group and ethnicity. Bob, Outlaw, professor
5. Connection to transnational and internal criminal groups. Outlaw, professor (more internal criminal elements for professor)
6. Cross-border support. Outlaw, Madhu
7. Connection of insurgents to other transnational groups. Outlaw
8. Insurgency occurring within background of certain international Cold War and post Cold War state-state relationships. Madhu
9. Connection to overseas governments (Saudi, US, UK) in terms of complicated state-to-state and diaspora relationships. Outlaw, Madhu

And so on. Why is everything on mil sites so black-and-white, so "it's either X or it's Y?" What if it's both? What if its X times Y? What if it's, you know, pi or something?

See what I'm doing? Well, duh, it's obvious. What do you all think?

And the importance of each may vary from time to time or theater to theater and what is important for the US may be only one part of it versus every phenomenon within the larger whole.


You are absolutely correct, I operated in two separate areas in Iraq and the fights within each area were very distinct from one another. Furthermore there were multiple actors each with their own strategy, and criminal elements who simply exploited the conditions. In earlier discussions on SWJ it was described as a wicked problem due to the three major conflicts (civil war, insurgency/rebellion, and jihadists supporting the global jihadist terrorist movement), but it was actually even more complex than that. I don't disagree with Outlaw's assessment on AQ, but they were far from the only actors in this sandbox.

Bill---you bring up a good point that is often overlooked as most units tended to fight the 100 meter fight instead of the 3000 meter fight.

There were constant morphing coalitions between the various groups including AQI now ILIS depending on both the territory of the fighting, the tribes in the area, strength of the Baath party in the area, nationalist sentiments, what Iraqi security forces were available AND really important just how the US forces reacted in those areas.

But again totally correct in that the fighting in Anbar was different than Salah al Din, Diyala, Baghdad or even Basra---it was like multiple war fronts--the only issue I have is that there was in fact ongoing communications between the various insurgents regardless of location and they were able to mount a tactical campaign tied to a strategy using cell phones, the internet, CDs, and face to face meetings---that we never seemed to understand as the "theory" was that insurgents out of op sec reasons do not communicate with each other---many thought their structure was hierarchal but I had an old guard Iraqi intel office tell me it was more like a spider web and where the spider web touched itself there was an interface capable of communicating with someone.

Once one understood how they communicated and transferred combat knowledge then it was rather easy to see where they were headed. IE they had actually a targeting cycle much as a BCT had and when one understood that cycle one could in fact inject one's self into that cycle surprisingly well.

The BCT that I supported did not believe me until I showed them on a repetitive attack cycle we were seeing that in fact it was the local insurgents going through their graduating field exercise that was occurring every four weeks---was able to position QRF in a way that broke the cycle giving us a two month rest period until one saw a new cycle developing.

BCTs S2 intel officer refused to send up a report to division as he stated "it cannot be that simple--they would not believe us".

Sometimes the old SF training matched exactly what I was seeing on the ground down to cell structure, means of communication, training, funding, and recruiting---it was scary that something one was trained on in 1966 could in fact be exactly true in 2005---thus no one would listen to me nor believe it.

Whoops, I meant to respond more to professor than outlaw in this thread but I wasn't really addressing anyone in particular. It just seems to me that, as you say, the situation was complicated on the ground because once a governing order is overthrown, every element under the sun looks to exploit the situation.

I have been having an interesting conversation with outlaw in this thread:

I'm a little bit intrigued by the idea that there were various criminal and intelligence networks already in place that were exploited after our invasion. I still wonder about the ebb and flow of violence and if the US and coalition really understand our place versus other factors in causing violence. What really happened? I think it's still being worked out by various practitioners and scholars.

I don't think it is possible to determine what really happened, even if we only listened to those who can be more objective than subjective in their assessments, because individuals no matter who they were could only see pieces not the whole. Isn't this the essence of complexity theory? There are so many variables impacting the system with 2d to 11th order effects both intended and not intended that is not possible to determine all the causes and effects? That doesn't mean we couldn't develop a strategy to deal with it, for example the surge (combined with several other factors that the surge enthusiasts tend to dismiss in their assessments)facilitated a reduction in violence. Increased security equates to well increased security and reduction of violence. For example, if we increase police efforts in a particular town or neighborhood it generally (potentially after a short conflict for dominance) results in less crime by pick pockets, drug dealers, gang bangers, etc. The rub in Iraq is O.K. you reduced the violence and you can keep it tamped down as long as you aggressively push out security forces, but it is too expensive to sustain, so what comes next? Hold and build sound nice until you think about it and then you can see why that approach was destined to fail. It was based on false assumptions from the start.

"Rather, for these insurgencies to be quelled one must eliminate or modify the offending policy or policies -- introduced by the government -- which tend to threaten, not only a population's present way of life (and job), but also the values, attitudes and beliefs upon which this way of life and job are based (to wit: the cause both to live and to die for).
If a government cannot, say for reasons of national security, eliminate or modify its way-of-life/job threatening policies (early US examples: westerward expansion - which threatens the "job" and the way of life of the American Indians; outlawing slavery - which threatens the "job" and the way of life of the American Southerners), then it (the government) must be prepared to take more decisive action.
Thus, much as the "harvesting of rebellious leaders" and the "provision of essential services for life" could not quell the rebellions of the American Indians and the American Southerners in earlier times,"

Gentlemen, We could have a seminar on this topic alone but I will try to address Bill, Outlaw and Roberts comments in the paragraphs that follow. First, thank you for the frank feedback. I developed two papers as an officer serving in Iraq-- "The Insurgency Paradigm in Iraq," and "Creating a Sustainable Iraq" which I will glean from as I respond to your comments.
The comments of "removing the offending policies introduced by the government" was not the issue in Iraq and in fact the government of Iraq never "showed up" with anything that provided value to the population-in the early days they had no legitimacy and were not trusted. The decisions made by Paul Bremer to fire the Republican Guard and the Baath party was the genesis of the insurgency in Iraq.

Please allow me to first clarify the definition of insurgents, rebels and terrorists. Within these terms, it is important to identify the inherent tenants and differences between an insurgency, terrorism and revolution. Some experts will quickly say that insurgency and terrorism are inextricably linked. In doing so however, they would fail to recognize the consequence of this liberal association. The two are only loosely connected but often each gains tremendous momentum when the other is used interchangeably by neophytes (especially the media). Therefore, it is critical to choose our terms carefully. In any single day, you will read printed terms such as Al Qaeda, Insurgents, Terrorists, Rebels, Baathists, Taliban, etc. used interchangeably as though there is no difference. This I believe is very harmful to our cause and creates a picture of something more than it truly is. So lets look at some definitions.

A revolution is a condition in which a large segment of the population revolts against a government or ruling power because of political disagreement and beliefs (US Southern States during the Civil War). This is clearly not the case in Iraq. An insurgency as I define it specifically to Iraq, is a condition in which opportunistic groups spawn and organize to create chaos and disorder within their sphere of influence. Both of these internal struggles may grow because the government will not, or simply cannot provide the necessary governance for life. However, The latter, an insurgency in Iraq, is very much different. This population can be likened to the criminal gang and organized crime elements more then conventional war fighters, rebels and terrorists. They exist because of a simple concept known as “Environmental (resource) Scarcity.” As long as they run unabated they control the goods and services and everyone else, including the government, is marginalized. And, it is chaos they initiate that allows them to run free. The insurgency in Iraq is composed of men 18 to 40. They tend to be decentralized in operations, are local within a small territorial range (>50km range) and recruit their fighters from local talent. When the group gets too large (see Dunbar’s Number), there may be internal violence, mass killings and rival rifts as members compete for power, control and upward mobility. Their “Cause to Die For” is the failure of the government to meet the most basic levels of life and to provide hope. They almost always spawn from decapitated states especially if the level of expected basic services do not improve with time. Their cause is never an ideology or idealistic dogma, and therefore they will have the propensity to ebb and flow based on the need of the day and the targets of opportunity. Because they are not driven by a single ideology, members can quickly apostatize. This fact can be used as an important counter-insurgency weapon.

The insurgents in Iraq are apolitical and primal in their motives as compared to the terrorist or conventional war fighters during war. Insurgency warfare is not politically or religiously motivated. Notice how these statements fly in the face of our conventional paradigm proposed by Clausewitz, “War is the extension of politics by other means.” If words could describe insurgents, it would include self-serving-—power, money, lawlessness, food, freedom from oppression, belonging, survival, etc., and once spawned, their aim is protractedness; it is not about winning. Simply stated, insurgencies are protracted because that provides the most utility to the insurgents; they are not protracted because it is an insurgency. Insurgents don’t have a goal of winning although they would not mind seeing their enemy fail. They win if the struggle continues to gain momentum and they draw others into the fray—bcause that breeds chaos. Finally, insurgency battles are small scale quick engagements that are executed locally within kilometers of their base of operation, usually near their neighborhoods (this is why "T walls" were so effective in reducing IED attacks). As a side note, T walls will probably never be mentioned in history as the game changer but they were so effective in isolating the insurgents on the battle field that in my opinion they were the single most effective weapon in the long run (if you can isolate and restrict the movement of an insurgent in the battle space, you can defeat them). The insurgency in Iraq is acting locally without thinking globally whereas terrorists operating in Iraq (although much smaller in number) are thinking globally without thinking locally.

The terrorist in contrast is based on the terrorist’s ideology and commitment to violence as a small group (usually ranging in group size from few to less than one thousand members) in order to intimidate a population or government to cause their perceived fundamental change. The group size is limited by command and control capabilities. Their cause is ideological and political, based on group-actualization rather than self-serving. It is aimed at the establishment, not at a decapitated state. Terrorism however enjoys the freedom to operate unabated in failed states. Finally, rarely will anyone ever develop a counter-terrorist strategy to change this group’s apostasy. Their beliefs are so deeply held that they appear to the world as radical and extreme. Terrorists are top driven and centralized from the command and control elements.

Contrary to popular belief, insurgencies are not religiously motivated; in as much as “they” want to present the appearance that they are religious in nature because this provides the appearance of legitimacy, and they have a strong need for "cause legitimacy" and local support. They will gravitate to any alignment that causes a divide--religion, race, tribal boundaries etc. In Iraq it looks like it must be based on religious sectarianism--and we, the outside world, with our existing paradigm bought in hook, line and sinker. We fanned the flames and even created religious divides in the parliament.

At the time religious sectarianism all made perfect sense to us because any thing else would be in direct conflict with the traditional paradigm that our war fighter are accustomed (beliefs that wars are based on land boundaries, religion, government injustices, etc. However, when I asked Sunnis and Shiites about the sectarian violence and hatred, their response as they pointed at each other was, "we don't know, in the past we would never even think to ask whether a fellow citizen was Sunni or Shiite," it would be like a christian asking if you are Catholic or Lutheran... It is important to recognize that religion is ideological and the insurgency is not although they want you to believe it is and want to make it look as though it is religious in nature because that gives them legitimacy....

In other words, religion is a catalyst and tactic that the warlords use to garner local support and create the necessary chaos to operate. Contrary to popular belief, insurgencies are not religiously motivated; in as much as “they” want to present the appearance that they are religious in nature. This is in direct conflict with the traditional paradigm that the war fighter is accustomed.

It was not until we realized on the ground that the criminals, powerful and warlords were stealing 100 million dollars per day of refined products from the oil pipelines and refineries in Bayji and ElDora that we began to see that this was well funded and a real threat to all (2004-05). It became clear that the insurgency was not a local Sunni Imam fighting a cross town local Shiite Imam. These were mobsters who controlled whole areas of society.

The needs in Iraq are clearly based on Maslow’s hierarchy and apply at the community level, and not just to individuals. In other words, the low level insurgents placing IEDs or VBIED on the streets are doing so because it provides them the basic utility to meet their primal needs for food, water, shelter, income, power, belonging, esteem, and self-actualization.

A corollary to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs that I deduced is that in as much as Maslow studied the response to human needs, he did not suggest that the converse of his theory is true—that is, when a society fails to meet the basic needs of its people, then its people will self-organize along lines using the lowest common denominator that has the ability to meet those primal needs from lowest to highest. In all cases, humans will organize along alliances that provide the greatest utility for meeting their hierarchical needs. This alliance may be along sectarian lines, tribal ties, gangs or even a nameless criminal power brokers in control.

It is not unusual for a nameless group to identify with an infamous group or to take on a name like Islamic Brotherhood because they need followers and legitimacy. No one will follow me if I say I am a criminal, a warlord or power broker. I must reach out to their issues and give the appearance that we are big, united and capable in order to garner local support.


The following items, in quotes, are from the second paragraph of the your Nov 17, 4:34 am reply above:

First you note that:

"... removing the offending policies introduced by the government was not the issue in Iraq ..."

Almost immediately thereafter, however, you acknowledge that:

"The decisions made by Paul Bremer to fire the Republican Guard and the Baath party was the genesis of the insurgency in Iraq."

What must be understood is that it is the United States (et al) -- at this point in time -- who, for all intents and purposes, is the govenor/government of Iraq and who, as you note, issue these and other offending policies; policies which essentially eliminate the way of life -- and jobs -- of important segments of the Iraqi population.

The die is now cast.

Thus much as the offending policies of the United States, in earlier times, eliminate the way of life and jobs of the American Indians and the American Southerners,

Likewise did the offending policies of the United States (et al) in Iraq eliminate the way of life and jobs of significant segments of the population in Iraq.

In each of these instances, the result is conflict.

Another perspective:

a. All the "essential services for life" were present in the American West before the United States issues policies which effectively eliminate these essential services for the American Indians.

b. All the "essential services for life" were present in the American South before the United States issues policies which look like they will eliminate these essential services for the American Southerners.

c. Likewise all the "essential services for life" were present in Iraq before the United States (et al) issue policies which effectively eliminate these essential services for some, if not all, the Iraqi people.

Thereafter, and in each of these instances of the United States government issuing such offending policies, conflict, sadness, chaos and death, for some time, will reign.

Thus understanding HOW a population decides to fight back against offending policies of government (insurgency, terrorism, rebellion, etc.); this, it would seem, needs to take a back seat to undertanding WHY a population decides to fight back.

In the cases of the American Indians, the American Southerners and significant segments of the Iraqi population, this reason as to WHY the population fought/fights back has, I believe, been accurately described above.

professor---I would not tend to pack the Salifi and Takfri Sunni groups into the trash can called "apolitical" as Islam has in fact a political aspect (near and far enemies) that the other two other major religions ditched after the 100 years wars in Europe.

Many of the normal Sunni insurgents were not Salafists nor Takfri---they were lucky enough if they could give you a good explanation of a common Koranic saying vs say a deep discussion on the "far enemy" as pushed by AQ as espoused by say a FF.

A comment ---we knew we were hurting the insurgency when the costs of their supporting their effort became to expensive even for them---expensive money wise---the normal cost for dropping a mortar round on us in early 2005 was 300 USD per round thus 900 USD for the standard three rounds and run tactic.

When the Paladins started returning fire within 2 minutes after the first round landed the cost of dropping a single mortar round went to 1500 USD---thus 4500 USD per attack.

So to argue that employment opportunities would have reduced say the Iraqi insurgency might be a tad off as even the 4500 USDs did not have many takers

Surprisingly we had many really long periods of no indirect fire.

First of all, while I was not there and frankly know little about much of later Iraq, I recall a Marine Intel Colonel claiming in 2006 that Anbar was lost. Even if General Casey solicited the study that came up with the idea for Joint Security Stations and COPs, it was Generals Odierno and Petraeus that made it happen. The same argument can be made in Vietnam where Abrams was the one who made COIN-like techniques and Phoenix work even if Westmoreland was in on the ground floor (using Abrams).

Second, the flaw in professor's argument about unemployment, Maslow's hierarchy of needs, and apolitical, non-extremist local insurgents is that youth unemployment is extremely high in the U.S. and Europe, yet there is no insurgency. The following article cites 56% in Spain for those 24 and younger, 57% in Greece, 40% in Italy, 37% in Portugal, and 28% in Ireland with those 25-30 at one half to 2/3 of that level.

If the link doesn't work, google the recent NYT article: "Young and Educated in Europe, but Desperate for Jobs." There are lots of Muslims in Europe as well, a number of whom become foreign fighters, and I highly doubt they were going to Iraq then or now or currently to Syria, Mali, and Libya looking for jobs or a better way of life than Europe.

Finally, Outlaw cites mortar attacks by insurgents. I doubt there were many Paladins shooting back at mortars near Sadr City, a Shia enclave. The T-barrier citation by professor is spot on and probably one of the things now missing since Malaki tore many down. T-barriers, ground forces from light to armored, and UAS were primary sources of the victory in the Battle of Sadr City to push back the mortars. That is one reason that recent articles about a return to urban combat are so relevant. The Iraqis learned that we will take extraordinary measures to avoid collateral damage to civilians and urban infrastructure. Other countries no doubt noted.

That is a primary flaw in the AirSea Battle concepts because the PLA and Second Artillery Corps are not going to be dumb enough to put troops and missile launchers out in the open to be found and targeted with ease. They likely will be intermingled with civilians and well hidden in cities, woods, and tunnels. If they make it to Taiwan, they will mix with Taiwanese to make air targeting alone difficult.

Of course if U.S. guerillas and JTACs are on the ground and attack/assault helicopter raids bring firepower, troops and supplies in and out, small arms, 30mm and Hellfire rounds would result in less collateral damage. Small groups of ground troops easily could hide near key Straits to be picked up by helicopters to board and stop civilian ships. A2/AD missiles would have great difficulty finding and targeting dispersed and hidden ground elements far from China's shores, or well-hidden in Taiwan's central mountain range.

Finally, systems like the F-35 could make it from farther away outside the short range missile envelope using aerial refueling en route and continually fly over Taiwan to target PLA resupply and ground forces with small diameter bombs. If Chinese fighters attacked them they could defend themselves. They could withstand attacks by PLA and PLAN air defenses. Try that with an A-10C, F-15E, F/A-18E/F, or high-flying MV-22 or C-130. The Army and Marines need to demand a stealthy version of the Long Range Strike-Bomber for aerial refueling, SOF, and Airborne force uses to include precision airdrop. The USAF claims they do not want single role aircraft (like a bomber). Here is their chance to prove they mean it.

As should be painfully obvious today, the capture or killing of insurgency leaders and the provision of often -- not more -- but simply different jobs, these actions do not quell insurgencies. Just the opposite.

Rather, for these insurgencies to be quelled one must eliminate or modify the offending policy or policies -- introduced by the government -- which tend to threaten, not only a population's present way of life (and job), but also the values, attitudes and beliefs upon which this way of life and job are based (to wit: the cause both to live and to die for).

If a government cannot, say for reasons of national security, eliminate or modify its way-of-life/job threatening policies (early US examples: westerward expansion - which threatens the "job" and the way of life of the American Indians; outlawing slavery - which threatens the "job" and the way of life of the American Southerners), then it (the government) must be prepared to take more decisive action.

Thus, much as the "harvesting of rebellious leaders" and the "provision of essential services for life" could not quell the rebellions of the American Indians and the American Southerners in earlier times,

Likewise are these such actions unlikely to quell the rebellions of the populations of states and societies today; those whose job and way of life -- and the values, attitudes and beliefs upon which these jobs and way of life are based -- are being threatened, not only by their own governments, but also by those of foreign nations.

The quelling of these type of insurgencies (those in which the jobs and way of life of population segments -- across the globe -- are being threatened by both internal and external forces) will require, as the examples above would seem to illustrate, more decisive action.

Either that, or the offending governments (foreign and domestic) must reconsider whether, for national security or other reasons, the jobs and way-of-life ending/replacing actions they seek to undertake must, in all truth, be achieved and, if so, sooner rather than later.

COL Jones, below, more generically discusses the "breach in the social contract" which governments typically initiate. Hopefully, my efforts here have put some more historical and contemporary "meat on the bones" of this excellent illustration and, thereby, have shown how (1) governments throughout the world yesterday and today (2) for national security or other reasons (3) institute policies which seek to eliminate and replace the jobs and way of life of -- not only their own citizens -- but also those of other states and societies; this leading, then as now, to (4) a massive (and today worldwide) "parade" of dissidents who are ripe for utilization/exploitation by various parties, leaders and causes.


Question - is it any wiser or more helpful to blame insurgency on the insurgent leaders internal to a system of governance (government,army, people in Clausewitzian terms) than it is to blame those external to the system who come to exploit the conditions of insurgency (latent or active, violent or nonviolent) for their own purposes?

. You seem to presume that the insurgent leader is first to the party. I suspect he is typically 3rd or 4th. Most are like Mao: "l saw a parade and jumped in front."

. I believe the first material breach of the social contract is typically by government. Second to the party is the population that breach is with. Only then does the energy or conditions for a "parade" of insurgency such as described by Mao allow these natural leaders to jump in front. Some will be a Hitler ranting in a beer garden; others will be a Washington showing up at a war meeting of the Continental Congress wearing his uniform as a Colonel of Virginia Militia.

. These men do not start insurgency, but they exist within every society, and be it out of a sense of duty or opportunity, they will emerge.

This is an interesting comment made by an SOF operator on Tom Rick's blog site that even applies to Iraq and is something Gen. P can comment on because we were seeing much of the same things in 2006 through 2010.

As much as I hate to admit this, the parallels between the Vietnam conflict and this war are killing me:

Leadership micromanagement from the TOC vs. the same in Vietnam, just better tech now. UAVs vs. Helos and Blue Force Trackers vs. Radio Check in or in addition to Check ins, etc...
Lack of sharing of burden by that same leadership.
Lack of a consistent long-term strategy.
Lack of holding officers accountable at the senior level.
Rotations in and out of theater instead of consistent presence.
Restrictive ROEs (not just CAS).
Misuse of SOF.
Media driven.
Lack of will by any administration to be honest with the public on how long and why how long a commitment would be.
And of course, blatant fibbing by the brass to the guys on the ground, apparently VSO and our efforts have already worked, despite it being a 10-year program, must have missed the memo on that. I think the Afghans missed it too.

My experience in Baghdad from 2005 through the summer of '06 in Baghdad is that units, at least at the battalion level, were asking to construct COPs and live closer to the population. The "commute to work" took too much time out of each day, too much information (and arguably intelligence) was being missed, the population was clearly oppressed by the tit-for-tat killings taking place, and we had the resources to construct facilities in the AO.

For whatever reason, we seemed to need permission from some level to do that and we weren't recieving the permission, at least through the summer of '06 in my old AO.

Edit: This was supposed to be a response to Yaderne's comment, below.

Whether we needed permission or not we just did it in Tal Afar during the summer of 2005. That includes some of the outlying towns surrounding Tal Afar.

Should we consider the issues of strategy, COIN, "victory," etc., in these terms:

" ... remove a despotic dictator as part of a broader plan to create a regional environment more conducive to stable democracies and open societies."

" ... regime change in Baghdad as part of a plan to spread democracy around the region and isolate those states resistant to fundamental political change ... "

" ... the last three years in the Middle East indicate that the United States is in the midst of redefining its strategic objectives in the region. It is no longer satisfied with the status quo and preserving historical relationships based primarily on access to energy and stability in world oil markets."

" ... Embracing the idea of using force to spur political transformation also means accepting the idea that ‘stability’ per se in not necessarily a pre-eminent strategic objective."

(These selected excerpts taken from the following 2005 paper):

Thus in rendering our verdicts, are these the parameters that GEN Petraeus might say we need to consider, understand, acknowledge and focus on, to wit:

a. That the intent of our national leaders was/is to destroy -- not preserve -- the status quo.

b. That our national leaders accepted that, in doing this, they would knowingly and willingly sacrifice the degree of "stability" that had been provided by the status quo.

c. That our national leaders had determined that these measures, risks and losses of stability were necessary to achieve our new political objective, which was/is (1) to create a regional environment more conducive to stable democracies and open societies and (2) to isolate those states resistant to fundamental political change. And

d. That regime change and follow-on measures -- in Iraq and Afghanistan -- would ultimately come to be undertaken by our national leaders, through their various agents and agencies, with this new political objective and these new understandings in mind.

Thus, these matters (those noted at "a" - "d" immediately above) providing the framework -- the parameters -- within which we, like GEN Petraeus, must discuss such things as strategy, COIN, the Surge, "victory," etc.?

General Petraeus reiterates some factual assertions in this article that I have started to question. These assertions are integral to the accuracy of the history of “the Surge” and its interpretation.

In this article, Petraeus asserts that the most important aspect of the Surge was the “surge of ideas,” the most important of which was the need to shift from handing off responsibility for security to the Iraqis and focus on protecting the Iraqi people. He takes credit for changing this priority:

“[I]mproved security could be achieved only by moving our forces into urban neighborhoods and rural population centers. In the first two weeks, therefore, I changed the mission statement in the existing campaign plan to reflect this imperative. As I explained in that statement and the guidance I issued shortly after taking command, we had to "live with the people" in order to secure them. This meant reversing the consolidation of our forces on large bases that had been taking place since the spring of 2004.”

He asserts that “this change in approach necessitated the establishment of more than 100 small outposts and joint security stations, three quarters of them in Baghdad alone.”

He assigns credit for the joint security stations to “then -- Lt. Gen. Ray Odierno, commander of the Multi-National Corps-Iraq, and his staff developed and oversaw the execution of these and the other operational concepts brilliantly. Indeed, in anticipation of the new approach, he ordered establishment of the initial joint security stations in the weeks before I arrived.”

The problem with this lies in the account of planning the Baghdad Security Plan provided by General George Casey in his de-facto memoir, Strategic Reflections, published by National Defense University in 2012.
Casey credited the idea for the joint security stations to the Iraqis. On or about 15 November 2006, Casey ordered then MNC-I commander LTG Peter Chiarelli and the incoming MND-B commander, MG Joseph Fil, to work with the Iraqis to develop a new plan to secure Baghdad in the wake of the failure of Operation Together Forward II that autumn. (pp. 129-130)

According to Casey, during these planning sessions, ”The Iraqis also perceived a need for more joint operations—coalition, army, police—as a means of building trust between the Iraqi army and police forces and suppressing the likelihood that any Iraqi forces would succumb to sectarian influences. They suggested joint security stations across Baghdad, located in selected local police stations, where coalition, Iraqi army, and police forces would be based and operate out of to bring security to the surrounding areas.” (p. 131)

This planning resulted in a concept called the Baghdad Security Plan, which “called for five additional brigades to be moved to Baghdad (three Iraqi and two coalition) and the execution of a phased effort to establish long-term security. In the first phase, 35 joint security stations would be established and occupied by Iraqi and coalition forces. This was a significant logistical and construction effort that we estimated would take around 6 weeks to complete. Inplace Iraqi and coalition forces would continue their security efforts to sustain pressure on the extremists during this phase. Then areas would be cleared, expanded, and held by the joint forces, and, over time as violence lessened, the ISF would assume full responsibility for the security of their capital.” (p. 132)

This plan was briefed to and approved by Prime Minister Maliki on 23-24 December 2006. (p. 133)

LTG Odierno did not take command of MNC-I until 14 December and GEN Petraeus did not replace Casey at MNF-I until February 2007. Casey oversaw the initial implementation of the Baghdad Security Plan.

Of course, the Baghdad Security Plan was not the only operation in the Surge, and Odierno did oversee the doubling of the number of joint security stations from the original 35. (However, Casey did state that 35 stations were planned initially, implying that more would be constructed later.) But a simple examination of the timelines suggests that Petraeus and Odierno are being credited with ideas and plans developed under Casey. Casey may be exaggerating his role and the ideas he is claiming credit for, but that should be easily substantiated or refuted by his staff and subordinates and by the documentary record. If Casey is accurate, however, it would seem at the least that there is a lot more continuity between his tenure and that of Petraeus’s, as has been argued by several people, including COL Gentile. And that should raise questions about the veracity of GEN Petraeus’s account of the Surge.

Fair assessment. My recollection at the time (2/1 ID in Baghdad OIF 06-08) was that the BSP was in fact planned and executed as you state.

Once upon a time, Iraq was a firm and independent buffer sitting on the key terrain between the Turkish, Syrian, Iranian and Saudi spheres of influence. We did not like their leader, and there was no AQ there.

Then we took out that leader, destroyed that buffer, and opened the door to AQ's massive UW operation in support of the Sunni resistance, bringing all manner of material support and foreign fighters recruited from communities with suppressed insurgencies across the greater Middle East.

Effective CT efforts suppressed AQ and their Foreign Fighters. Giving the Kurds some lesser form of sovereign control over their lives caused them to give up their resistance. Giving the long suppressed Shia population effective control over Iraqi governance caused them to give up their revolution. Buying off Sunni tribal leaders and promising them a place in the future of this new Shia dominated Iraq convinced them to give up their resistance as well.

The surge and the military operations of "protecting the population" were never more than a supporting effort; a highly visible, politicized and publicized side show given credit for effects it did not create.

The primary winner in Iraq was Iran. With the buffer to access to this traditional center of Iranian influence Iran moved quickly to extend their influence across Iraq and through Syria to the Med. The door was now wide open to implementation of the revitalization of Iranian influence and the containment of their existential Sunni threats - primarily to the south in the Arabian Peninsula, but also to the north in Turkey. This is not of necessity a bad thing, but it is certainly not the thing we either wanted or intended, and it certainly in those terms was not "winning."

Now that Sunni Iraqis realize the big lie of what they were promised, or at least the inability of the Americans to deliver on that promise, and now that the money the tribal leaders were paid has been spent, the result is both natural and predictable. The outbreak of revolutionary insurgency against the Shia dominated government by Sunni Iraqis, and the return and revitalization of AQ to conduct UW in support of that insurgency. AQ hopes certainly to stem the expansion of Shia influence, but as importantly they seek to advance their own interests.

With strong bases of support in both Iraq and Yemen, AQ has the Saudis in a vice. Ironically, Iran sees a similar opportunity. Shared enemies make for strange foxhole mates.

The Saudis feeling secure in their ability to effectively suppress internal insurgency are also partnering with AQ in Syria to attempt to block Iran's containment operation. A Hitler-Stalinesqe relationship to be sure. Once Syria resolves these two will be back at it with gusto, and I frankly would not be surprised if the KSA fires their current security partner and hires a far more predictable (and equally far away) partner in China. Won't that make policy heads spin.

Meanwhile Israel and Jordan sit in the midst of this, and I suspect are none too happy at what their great Ally, the US, has stirred up for them. If they play this smart (and both are smarter at this than we are) they should be ok, but it is a dangerous game.

It is all very interesting to watch, but if this is "winning" I am not sure we can sustain too many more such victories. The miltary did not open Pandora's box, but neither did they discourage the opening. The military did not "win" the conflicts this has unleashed either. The game is afoot, and it is a much larger game than a little "Clear-Hold-Build" in Anbar.


Rob H:

Fair points, and overall I agree with you that the explanation for America's problems in Iraq rest with strategy and policy. I don't blame Coin for that, but what I do argue is that a hyper-focus on tactics and operations--aka the surge triumph narrative, of which Gen Petraeus in this piece conforms perfectly to--prevents us from seeing the larger picture.

Or in other words, why has so much ink been spent touting the so called accomplishments of Petraeus and the Surge if in the end they didn't work (and by work I mean achieving strategic and policy ends at a reasonable cost in blood and treasure)?


Sir, you are presupposing that Petraeus was given a directed end-state that included long term stability for the country. If he was given that mission you then have to ask whether he was given the necessary resources (matching Ways and Means) to achieve the directed end.

From my foxhole I don't think he was given that sort of guidance and I can't speak to whether he was given all the resources he needed (I'm going to guess he wasn't).

My recollection of events (I was with the greatest Brigade Combat Team EVER FORMED at the time; 2/1 ID) and the atmosphere at the time was that our politicians wanted to set conditions for withdrawal. In this respect the General was successful. In the long term much greater blood and treasure would have been needed to stabilize Iraq for the long run. Given the political climate it was clear it was time to cut sling load on that theater and save face as best we could.

Complete and utter strategic failure. The blood is on the hands of our politicians for that, not General Petraeus. There are many other reasons to be pissed with him and we all know what those are.

On a side note, I think you are also alluding to the fact that we shouldn't transform our Army in such a way that COIN becomes the dominate character of the force. I agree with you in that respect. We need a flexible force capable of the full range of military operations.

What we need even more, is a national security strategy that equally uses all the tools of our national power, and I don't think we have that. I blame our national security enterprise as constructed via the national security act. It is old and out of date. The structure perpetuates a cold war bias for using the military to solve all our problems.

Final point. Why has so much ink been spent? Because Petraeus is worried about his legacy. Another explanation is that we fought god damn hard to give the politicians an out and that shouldn't be forgotten.

Rob H---you are correct he is fighting for his place in history as a commander-but to take credit for winning a surge that in fact did not understand the background on ie how many units fully understood the infighting between AQI and the other major Sunni insurgent groups in 2006?

Everyone says it was the Awakening that gave us a chance to inhale-but from my view on the ground in Diyala the creation home of AQI (2004 in front of the Green Dome)we never did really "get it".

If one analyses the multiple battle videos being released almost daily by the insurgency-many refused to view them as they felt it was propaganda---we did not catch the subtle shifts in both their tactics, weapons and their internal struggles. Heck almost every video store front in Diyala carried insurgency CDs under the counter and if asked they would give you a CD---but they never offered as we would arrest them for having propaganda.

BUT how does anyone from the military who tries to redefine the events on the ground as a win or even we were lucky to just hold ground respond to the recent public comments out of that period who said we were really in Iraq "just to kick someone's butt".

I did not in that particular article see the individual even attempt an apology for the losses both in manpower and tax payers money just to kick someone's butt. We have hundreds living with PTSD for their actions for the rest of their life and this person evidently sleeps well at night

That is the core problem not how we did or did not perform and who was leading us and or what strategy "won".

Maybe the next time around it should be the national command authority who actually leads the way forward into an engagement.

I keep going back to practicing the concept of speaking truth to power.

I will take a particular argument one step farther---and it is one that has not been answered by Gen. P or for that matter anyone else who served in senior leader positions in Iraq.

When we arrived in Baghdad in 2003---we were in fact in the midst of a typical Mao phase two guerrilla war if we use the traditional definitions used by Mao.

There was captured in the middle of 2006 the handwritten 400 page journal of the Islamic Army of Iraq--Baathist driven and many of their cells were led by Iraqi ISI officers which described in exhaustive detail the day to day activities from the second day we crossed into Iraq, with our arrival in Baghdad and up to early 2006.

That journal has never been published---would be interested in seeing what Gen. P would say after reading it.

Secondly, while there is much discussion around the Sunni Awakening we were being hit harder by the Shia groups with their EFPs after 2007 up to the actual withdrawal.

I would also argue that it was when AQI themselves that caused the US to be successful if that is a good term in the surge phase---by a deliberate forking of the insurgency it allowed the other Sunni groups the time necessary to figure out which side they wanted to be on---I do remember intently the physical infighting between the two groupings in 2006.

Thirdly, Gen. P and his followers of COIN have never directly addressed the green crescent containment policy as preached and practiced by Iran up to this day.

Once the Shia and Iran felt they had us hanging on and looking for a way out the EFP campaign would either pickup or slack off on intensity depending on our actual movements both militarily and politically in Iraq.

Once Iran was certain we were in fact pulling out the Shia insurgent commanders who sidestepped us by easing into Iran slowly returned to Iraq---almost to the minute as we were going through the staged withdrawals.

Lastly I would argue that what the Army was practicing on the battlefield in Iraq up through about 2008 was not COIN---it was the policy of simply hanging on in their individual AORs and trying to dampen down the ethnic cleansing practiced by both the Sunni and Shia but COIN it was not and to survive numerous complex swarm attacks that AQI/IAI was throwing at them.

What is also not being discussed is the intense IED fight that we were losing and how that IED fight did in fact drive and shape our thinking as we looked for ways out of Iraq.

If the Army is ever to be reflective on Iraq it really must learn how to discuss the actual events with no emotion.

Right now there seems to be groupings pushing their own agendas to define their own historical importance.

I just wish there would be some intellectual honesty about speaking truth to power.

1. How does Gen. P adjust his comments on the statement recently attributed to an advisor close to President Bush who stated we simply wanted to kick someone's butt. Over 7K in KIAs in both events and literally thousands wounded---and it was all about kicking someone's butt?

2. Gen P should thank the AQI/ISIS for giving him the surge but he and others need to really look at why the AQI surge went first followed by ours ---in fact AQI and the other leading Sunni insurgent groups namely IAI were "winning" by their definition.

I really do think that the staff actions taken by Gen. Casey in 2006 were setting the stage for a Army drawdown-especially around the reshifted BCT AORs that allowed for the trimming of one to two BNs per deployed BCT.

AQI was not the dumb learners we thought them to be--they were really astute in their observation skill sets---they had observed these shifts and rightly assumed the drawdown was coming and they counter effort was to freeze us in place to have an opponent for their fight so they could declare victory over the greatest field power in the ME.

If one looks at why the AQI forked the Sunni insurgency and pushed ethnic violence---it in fact did freeze us in place.

I really wish that in the face of all the costs both in manpower and to US taxpayers we could see some truth to power being spoken by Gen. P and others.

Petraeus was not in charge of developing the national strategy for Iraq. He was given a mission - buy time and space for a politically acceptable withdrawal - and executed this mission effectively.

Again, I think it is disingenuous to lay the blame at the feet of the Generals who were in charge of the operational aspects of the war simply so a 'big Army' agenda can be pushed in the transformation debate. The problem was not COIN, it was our grand strategy for the country and region.

I'm confident that if the politicians wanted complete victory that included a modernized Iraq, Petraeus and the Dod would have provided options to achieve this (if this is even in the realm of the possible). However, that wasn't the case.

I'm not sure an assessment of win/lose can be made without knowing what the directed end state of the national command authority or the CJCS was. While I understand the Gentile/Petraeus arguments, it is difficult to make an assessment of what sort of strategy is required when the dear civilian leadership fails to provide clear objectives.

Laying the blame at the feet of COIN and petraeus is disingenuous. The failure was strategic and a result of poorly framed national strategy. Operationally the surge achieve its limited objectives given its limited resource and poor strategic guidance.

Iraq was a strategic failure that started at the very top. Not sure why we continue to blame COIN; the anger is misplaced.

More broadly the national security enterprises failure to effectively defeat Islamist Extremism is a result of a failure in strategy that see's the U.S. continue to attack the operational COG(the actual terrorist) and not the strategic COG (the legitimacy of the ideology).

The people at the top continue to push a big "M" approach to national security as opposed to a more nuanced strategy that uses all the tools of national power.

The National Security Act is screaming for reform. The current NSA was developed during a time when the strategic environment was significantly different than what it is today. Our existing NSA biases strategy to the use of the big M. This bias is a result of Cold War cultural artifacts as well as failures in policy and appropriations (focus on DoD and not DoS) all driven by our archaic NSA.

Agree with Outlaw. Considering that close to 450,000 Iraqis were killed during the 8.8 years of American occupation, the General's assertion that we "won" is, to put it mildly, fantastic.

I wonder if the Iraqi people would agree that the General and his surge "won."

Moreover, this piece is one more perfect summation of the counterinsurgency narrative from the pen of David Petraeus.

Not so sure we "won"---if won is defined as a way to ease out of the country and having not to fight our way out then it was "won".

If one defines "won" as meaning AQI/ISIS was defeated to the point that regardless of how the current Shia government badly messes up AQI/ISI is ineffective then we lost badly.

The win was nothing more or less a way to withdraw and declare victory---but what was left was in fact the seeds for a total failure and those seeds are now blooming. In fact had we declared victory upon arriving in Baghdad in 2003 and then immediately withdrawn ---the same results would have also occurred as they are today.

We did not see the Sunni/Shia conflict through the eyes of the Iranian green crescent Silk Road containment wall.

Iraq is now at a point not seen since 2008 and the complexity of the AQI/ISIS attacks exceeds anything BCTs saw up through their withdrawal and all the new helicopters and F16s Iraq wants will not change the current AQI/ISIS ground fight.

A victory it was not regardless on how we spin it.