Small Wars Journal

The U.S. Army and the Battle for Baghdad Lessons Learned - And Still to Be Learned

Fri, 06/14/2019 - 8:19pm

The U.S. Army and the Battle for Baghdad Lessons Learned - And Still to Be Learned by David E. Johnson, Agnes Gereben Schaefer, Brenna Allen, Raphael S. Cohen, Gian Gentile, James Hoobler, Michael Schwille, Jerry M. Sollinger and Sean M. Zeigler – RAND

The U.S. Army's many adaptations during the Iraq War were remarkable, particularly in the areas of doctrine, organization, training, materiel, personnel, and leader development and education. The Army has already institutionalized some of those adaptations; however, other important lessons have not yet been institutionalized. In an effort to help the U.S. Department of Defense and the Army retain institutional knowledge and capabilities and fully prepare leaders for future conflicts, RAND researchers recount the Army's efforts in the Iraq War, especially in Baghdad, and offer lessons learned and recommendations. For example, if the United States engages in a similar conflict in the future, the Army should prepare to prevent insurgencies; provide robust division, corps, and theater headquarters; and consider making advisement a necessary assignment for career advancement. Instability and insurgency are part of the future, and if history is any guide, the United States will look to the Army to deal with these challenges. Thus, the ultimate goal of this report is to help the Army continue to institutionalize the lessons from the Iraq War and the Battle for Baghdad to minimize the amount of adaptation the Army will have to undergo when it is called to serve in similar circumstances.

Key Findings

The history of the Battle for Baghdad is recounted from prewar planning to withdrawal

  • In this report, the Iraq War and the Battle for Baghdad are divided into the following periods: prewar planning, occupation, GEN George Casey's command, the troop surge, and withdrawal. These periods frame the analysis, and each is mined for lessons. The history recounted in the report focuses on events and actions from the national command level down to tactics and techniques employed by combat brigades. It also includes decisions and actions by both military and civilian leaders, because both had an effect on ground operations.
  • The evidentiary base for the report's history of the war comes from a broad literature review, primary sources, and interviews, including with former senior military commanders and national security officials.

The overarching lessons learned from the Battle for Baghdad could help leaders avoid the same mistakes in future conflicts

  • The Army needs to anticipate and take steps to prevent insurgencies.
  • Capacity and capability matter, and the "whole of government" beyond the military could not provide them in Iraq.
  • Robust and high-quality headquarters are critical.
  • As the Army continues to perform the training and advising mission, developing competent advisers and understanding sustainable outcomes are key.
  • Building and advising foreign armies should enable them to operate without direct U.S. engagement.
  • Military transition teams and advisers are key to developing forces that provide sustainable security.
  • The Battle for Baghdad provides a wealth of information about how to reimagine future urban combat.
  • Army professional military education is critical in preparing Army leaders for the future.


  • The capabilities described in this report are ones that the Army needs to develop to ensure that victory on the battlefield is not subsequently sacrificed by failure to develop the necessary capabilities in host-nation security forces. Tough choices need to be made, and institutional preferences make them even tougher.
  • The Army should prepare to prevent insurgencies; build more capacity for the challenges the Army faces in the future; continue efforts to provide sufficient military government capabilities; provide robust division, corps, and theater Army headquarters; establish an entity to prepare trainers and advisers; when designing efforts to build indigenous security forces, account for the ability of such forces to operate absent large-scale U.S. support; make advisement a necessary assignment for advancement, and continue efforts to structure the Army for the mission of advising; understand and institutionalize lessons from the Army's recent urban warfare experiences; and prepare senior leaders for the strategic and policy realms in which they will operate.

Read the entire study at RAND.