Small Wars Journal

The War in Iraq Was Won

The War in Iraq Was Won by Brandon Scott, Fair Observer.

The 10th Anniversary of the Iraq War was marked this week with the usual commentary of defeatism. It seems like no matter where one reads, the same underlying statement is made: The United States lost the war in Iraq. I strongly disagree with this argument.

Unlike in Vietnam, US soldiers, spooks (intelligence officers), and statesmen did not leave Iraq in a rush. The Mahdi Army or the al-Qaeda inspired Islamic State of Iraq, unlike the North Vietnamese Army in Saigon, did not roll down the streets of Baghdad tearing down all the political, security, and social arrangements that the US had built. Many critics state that the Iraq War was a failure because the country’s insurgency started after President George W. Bush infamously declared “Mission Accomplished!” or because the reconstruction efforts for Iraq continued painfully and fitfully...



Fri, 03/22/2013 - 9:56pm

In reply to by Ned McDonnell III

What evidence or reasoning would you present to support the contention that there is a "strong probability that this régime-change, explicitly in favor of a democracy, started the Arab Spring of rebellion against despots"?

It seems to me a fairly questionable proposition.

Ned McDonnell III

Fri, 03/22/2013 - 4:04pm

Personally, I am delighted to see someone have the courage to buck the popular view in arguing for a victory in Iraq. The final verdict is still a generation or two away, especially in view of civilian casualties in Iraq. That cost alone was ghastly and far worse than I could have imagined prior to the invasion, which I supported. On the other hand, the U.S.-led coalition achieved its immediate goals and won a decisive victory in the field in 2009.

Most criticisms seem to confuse U.S. military outcomes with host-country behavior and seem to assume that Arab Shi'ites see themselves as Shi'ites first and Arabs second. People may overlook the strong probability that this régime-change, explicitly in favor of a democracy, started the Arab Spring of rebellion against despots.

Whether this painful transformation will lead to a favorable and sustainable outcome friendly to U.S. interests is really up to the host-country nationals themselves. We have done our part and, I believe, we have done it well, on balance.


Fri, 03/22/2013 - 9:58pm

In reply to by Mark Pyruz

Victory, defeat or a place on the spectrum between can only be assessed by that extent to which the goals of the conflict were achieved. Of course if the goals were poorly selected in the first place you can win and still lose, but that has to be laid at the doorstep of those who selected the goals.

Mark Pyruz

Fri, 03/22/2013 - 2:05am

From the point of view of Iran and the empowered Shia of Iraq, OIF was a resounding victory but not for the U.S.

Nearly all of Iran's and their Shia allies' war aims during the Imposed War (1980-88) were attained by the unintended consequences of OIF (all of the crucial ones):

1) the removal of Saddam Hussayn from power.

2) the complete stripping away of the Baathist political structure.

3) the political, military and religious interfacing of Iraq with Iran.

4) access to the holy cities of Iraq for Iranian pilgrims.

5) Shia religious relevancy in Iraqi political, social and judicial affairs.

It should be pointed out that for the Islamic Republic of Iran, following the ceasefire of 1988, this was all accomplished for next to nothing; with the tab inadvertently picked up by the United States to a tally of tens of thousands battle casualties as well as trillions of dollars treasure expended and counting.

A colossal foreign policy miscalculation if ever there was. But for folks like Scott, all good, right?


Fri, 03/22/2013 - 10:01pm

In reply to by jholm

I have nothing against "Mission Accomplished" statements, as long as it's clear that "Mission Accomplished" does not mean "War Won". A war involves many missions. Accomplishing one is a good thing and is worthy of praise, but you still have to accomplish the next one, and the one after, etc. That seems to get forgotten at times.

1 May 2003 was too early for a "Mission Accomplished" moment, as is 21 March 2013.

The author makes a painfully weak argument. The US was not militarily defeated in Iraq. Whether or not we were strategically defeated remains to be seen. Here are some important points that the author under-appreciates, dismisses, or ignores:

- While exact number will never be known, over 100,000 Iraqis were killed during OIF, most in rampant sectarian violence that raged while the US was "in control" of the country. Many others were killed by US bombs and bullets. The fact that a female American can speak at a TEDx Youth conference in Baghdad is little compensation to those families. Most Iraqis I've known do not blame the US (though some do), but the trade-off of over 100,000 dead vs. more Saddam is a wash at best. There is no national sense of gratitude from the Iraqis to the US as evidenced by several recent comments from their administration. There is, however, plenty of propaganda for anti-US terrorist recruiters.

- War is not about battefield wins and losses or host-nation GDP or student exchanges. War is about national interests. It is unclear what the next 20-50 years will hold for the new Iraq but, with respect to our national interests, it is hard to see how we are better off. The elected quasi-dictatorship is now oppressing the Sunni minority (payback for Saddam's treatment of the Shi'ites and Kurds). There was no al Qaida franchise in Iraq under Saddam, now there is. Iran is losing an ally in Syria but gaining a much stronger one in Iraq. The US racked up incredible debt to wage this war and the seemingly imminent age of austerity (due largely to domestic programs but the war cost is too significant to be ignored) will likely further weaken us militarily, diplomatically, and domestically. Many people from many countries died to convert Iraq from a Sunni-dominated, Shia- and Kurd-oppressing, anti-US, anti-Iran dictatorship into a Shia-dominated, Sunni-oppressing, semi-anti-US, pro-Iran quasi-dictatorship. There is more freedom (if you're Shia), there is more business opportunity, there is more opportunity. Those are good things for the Iraqis. But we don't go to war for the interests of others, we do it for our own national interests.

- Let's not even discuss opportunity costs at the expense of efforts in Afghanistan/Pakistan, domestic debt reduction, or domestic investment.

In the coming years Iraq may seek a more inclusive, less sectarian government, it may distance itself from Iran or use its relationship with Iran in a positive way, it may defeat AQI. Maybe, maybe if it does those things and more we could consider the war in Iraq a victory. Maybe. Until then, it is hard to see the Iraq War as anything other than a strategic failure.