Operation Iraqi Freedom: Strategies, Approaches, Results, and Issues for Congress
Prepared for Members and Committees of Congress
Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) was launched on March 20, 2003, with the immediate stated goal
of removing Saddam Hussein’s regime and destroying its ability to use weapons of mass
destruction or to make them available to terrorists. Over time, the focus of OIF shifted from
regime removal to the more open-ended mission of helping the Government of Iraq (GoI)
improve security, establish a system of governance, and foster economic development.
Gradually, an insurgency gained strength in Iraq and violence escalated. In January 2007, the
Bush Administration announced a new strategy, the “new way forward,” which included both a
troop surge and new counter-insurgency approaches that emphasized population security and
reconciliation. The last surge brigade redeployed from Iraq without replacement in July 2008.
Most observers agree that security conditions in Iraq have improved markedly since mid-2007.
On September 9, President Bush, calling the decision a “return on success,” announced that about
The next major development in the campaign is likely to be implementation of two new U.S.-
Iraqi strategic agreements, finalized in late 2008. The documents include a strategic framework
agreement, which outlines principles for bilateral cooperation in multiple areas, and a Status of
Forces-like document that defines the legal basis for the presence of U.S. forces in Iraq and
imposes a number of constraints on U.S. military operations there. Together, the documents
suggest a shift toward greater exercise of Iraqi sovereignty.
Near-term issues that the new Administration, with oversight from the 111th Congress, may
choose to address include determining how best to build on recent security gains in Iraq;
assessing “how much U.S. help is enough” in terms of funding, personnel, and other assistance, to
support the GoI but also to encourage its independence; establishing the criteria for further troop
drawdowns; and continuing to revise the organization and focus of the Iraqi Security Forces
training and advisory mission.
Longer-term Iraq strategy and policy considerations include clarifying long-term U.S. strategic
objectives related to Iraq and shaping a more traditional future bilateral relationship with Iraq;
defining U.S. policy toward Iranian intervention in Iraq; and assessing the implications of OIF
“lessons learned” for the future of U.S. military forces and for U.S. government inter-agency
collaboration in general.
This report is designed to provide an assessment of current OIF developments, in the context of
relevant background, in order to support congressional consideration of these short-term and
long-term strategy and policy issues.
Overvi ew ....................................................................................................................... .................. 1
Backgr ound ............................................................................................................................... 1
Current Situation: Strategic and Operational Dynamics...........................................................2
Operational Dynamics: Transitions.....................................................................................2
Strategic Dynamics: Potential “Spoilers”...........................................................................3
Diminishing U.S. Leverage.................................................................................................4
Revised U.S.-Iraqi Strategic Partnership...................................................................................4
How Much Help Is Enough?...............................................................................................5
Further Troop Drawdowns..................................................................................................6
Future of the Iraqi Security Forces Training Mission.......................................................10
Future of the U.S. Forces Footprint..................................................................................12
Coordination on Operations under the “SOFA”................................................................13
Civil-Military Roles and Responsibilities.........................................................................15
Clarifying and Updating U.S. Strategic Objectives..........................................................16
Applying Strategic Leverage............................................................................................17
Shaping a Long-Term U.S. Presence in Iraq.....................................................................17
Defining U.S. Policy Toward Iranian Intervention in Iraq................................................18
Assessing the Implications of OIF Lessons for the Future of the Force...........................18
Applying OIF Lessons to Interagency Coordination........................................................18
Options Available to Congress................................................................................................19
Structure and Aim of the Report.............................................................................................20
Decision to Go to War in Iraq........................................................................................................21
Antecedents in the 1990s........................................................................................................21
Bush Administration Strategy and Role of the United Nations...............................................22
Ultimatum to Saddam Hussein................................................................................................23
Planning for Major Combat....................................................................................................24
Inter-Agency Post-War Planning......................................................................................28
Military Post-War Planning..............................................................................................30
Major Combat Operations.............................................................................................................32
The Ground Campaign............................................................................................................33
Iraqi Contributions to Major Combat......................................................................................35
End of Major Combat..............................................................................................................36
Post-Major Combat: Basis and Organization................................................................................37
Legal Basis for Coalition Presence.........................................................................................37
Iraqi Request for a Multinational Force............................................................................37
“Status of Forces” Agreement...........................................................................................39
Coalition Command Relationships..........................................................................................39
Post-Major Combat: The Force.....................................................................................................40
Structure and Footprint............................................................................................................40
Provincial Iraqi Control....................................................................................................41
U.S. Forces in Iraq..................................................................................................................42
Coalition Partner Forces..........................................................................................................43
Contributions During Major Combat................................................................................43
Past Drawdown Decisions................................................................................................44
Coalition Forces in 2009...................................................................................................44
Post-Major Combat: Security Situation.........................................................................................45
Major Sources and Forms of Violence....................................................................................45
Nature of Sectarian Violence............................................................................................49
Criminality ........................................................................................................................ 49
Other Security Challenges.......................................................................................................50
Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).......................................................................................50
Mujahedin-e Khalq (MeK)...............................................................................................51
Post-Major Combat: Military Strategy and Operations.................................................................51
Nomenclature: Characterizing the Conflict.............................................................................52
Military Strategy and Operations During Occupation............................................................53
Operation Phantom Fury (Fallujah II).....................................................................................55
Counter-Insurgency in Tal Afar...............................................................................................57
“Clear, Hold, Build”................................................................................................................59
Operation Together Forward...................................................................................................60
New Way Forward..................................................................................................................61
“New Way Forward” National Strategy: Theory of the Case...........................................61
Surge Military Strategy: Theory of the Case....................................................................63
Surge Operations in 2007..................................................................................................65
Military Operations in 2008..............................................................................................67
Special Operations Forces.................................................................................................73
Iraqi Security Forces (ISF)............................................................................................................75
Requirement for New Iraqi Security Forces...........................................................................75
ISF Training Efforts During the Formal Occupation..............................................................76
Unity of Effort: Creation of Multi-National Security Transition Command-Iraq...................77
ISF Training: Theory of the Case............................................................................................78
ISF Training: Organizational Structure and Responsibilities..................................................79
ISF Training: Transition Teams...............................................................................................80
Interior Ministry Transition Teams...................................................................................81
Defense Ministry Transition Teams..................................................................................81
ISF Training: Unit Partnering..................................................................................................83
Iraqi Security Forces: The Numbers.......................................................................................85
Iraqi Security Forces: Evaluating the Results.........................................................................86
Iraqi Security Forces as a Whole......................................................................................86
Iraqi Air Force...................................................................................................................92
Iraqi Special Operations Forces........................................................................................95
Iraqi Police Service...........................................................................................................95
Iraqi National Police.........................................................................................................97
Department of Border Enforcement..................................................................................98
Ministry of the Interior......................................................................................................99
Ministry of Defense........................................................................................................100
Iraqi Population: “Reconciliation”..............................................................................................102
Coalition Outreach to the Disaffected...................................................................................102
Origins of the Awakening Movement in Al Anbar..........................................................104
Spread of the Awakening Movements to the North........................................................105
Spread of the Awakening Movements to the South........................................................106
Security Volunteers and “Sons of Iraq”.................................................................................106
Who the “Sons of Iraq” (SoIs) Are.................................................................................107
Origins of the “Sons of Iraq” Movement........................................................................108
The “Sons of Iraq” System.............................................................................................108
Security Volunteers in Al Anbar: Provincial Security Force...........................................109
Iraqi Government and Other Views of the “Sons of Iraq”..............................................109
“Sons of Iraq” Integration into Permanent Jobs...............................................................110
GoI Assumption of Responsibility for the SoIs...............................................................112
“COIN Inside the Wire” Detainee Program.....................................................................113
Civil/Military Partnership in Governance and Economics...........................................................115
Civil/Military Partnership in Iraq: Background.....................................................................116
Provincial Reconstruction Teams...........................................................................................116
Coordination Between PRTs and Military Units....................................................................118
Military Role in Governance and Economics.......................................................................120
Gove rnance ..................................................................................................................... 120
Economics ...................................................................................................................... . 122
Assessing the Results to Date......................................................................................................124
Security Situation by the Metrics..........................................................................................124
Iraqi Civilian Deaths.......................................................................................................125
Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs)............................................................................126
Explaining the Security Gains...............................................................................................127
Additional CRS Reports..............................................................................................................128
Figure 1.Map of Iraq...................................................................................................................129
Table 1. Iraqi Security Forces as of September, 2008...................................................................85
Author Contact Information........................................................................................................130
Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF)—the U.S.-led coalition military operation in Iraq—is ongoing.
Despite substantial improvements in security conditions in many parts of Iraq since 2007, as of
late 2008, Iraqi leaders and people were still struggling to consolidate those gains and rebuild.
Two new U.S.-Iraqi strategic agreements finalized in late 2008—a strategic framework agreement
and a Status of Forces-like document—suggested a shift toward greater exercise of Iraqi
sovereignty. Key policy issues the new U.S. Administration may choose to address, with th
oversight from the 111 Congress, include identifying which U.S. national interests and strategic
objectives, in Iraq and the region, should guide further U.S. engagement; and determining the
timing, pace, and nature of the transition of the U.S. effort in Iraq from counter-insurgency
operations to a more traditional bilateral relationship.
OIF was launched on March 20, 2003. The immediate goal, as stated by the Bush Administration,
was to remove Saddam Hussein’s regime, including destroying its ability to use weapons of mass
destruction or to make them available to terrorists. The broad, longer-term objective included 1
helping Iraqis build “a new Iraq that is prosperous and free.” In October 2002, Congress had
authorized the President to use force against Iraq, to “defend the national security of the United
States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq,” and to “enforce all relevant United Nations 2
Security Council resolutions regarding Iraq.”
After the initial combat operations, the focus of OIF shifted from regime removal to the more
open-ended mission of helping an emerging new Iraqi leadership improve security, establish a
system of governance, and foster economic development. Over time, challenges to the emerging
Iraqi leadership from homegrown insurgents and some foreign fighters mounted. Sectarian
violence grew, catalyzed by the February 2006 bombing of the Golden Mosque in Samarra.
Accordingly, the character of the war evolved from major combat operations to a multifaceted
counter-insurgency (COIN) and reconstruction effort.
In January 2007, in an attempt to reverse the escalation of violence, President George W. Bush
announced a new strategic approach, the “New Way Forward,” including a “surge” of additional
U.S. forces. The troop surge included five Army brigade combat teams (BCTs), a Marine
Expeditionary Unit (MEU), and two Marine battalions. More importantly, most observers agree,
the surge institutionalized COIN approaches, designed to promote population security, such as
living among the local population at small outposts.
Over the course of the surge, observers generally agreed, security conditions on the ground
improved markedly. In August 2008, then-Commanding General of Multi-National Force-Iraq,
General David Petraeus, agreed that there had been “significant progress” but argued that it was
See “President Bush Address to the Nation, March 17, 2003,” the televised speech that included a 48-hour ultimatum
to Saddam Hussein and his sons, available at http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2003/03/20030317-7.html.
2 See “Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution of 2002,” H.J.Res. 114, Section 3(a), signed
into law on October 16, 2002, (P.L. 107-243). The Senate vote was 77-23, and the House vote 296-133.
“still not self-sustaining.” “We’re not celebrating,” he commented, and there are “no victory 3
dances in the end zone.”
Practitioners and observers identified a number of factors that may have contributed to the
security improvements, including the additional surge forces; new and institutionalized counter-
insurgency approaches concerning population security and reconciliation; the application of high-
end technological capabilities by Special Operations Forces (SOF) and closer integration between
SOF and conventional forces; the accumulated experience of U.S. leaders at all levels after
multiple tours in Iraq; the growing numbers and capabilities of the Iraqi Security Forces; the
ground-up rejection of violence and support for the coalition by many Sunni Arabs; and the
ceasefire declared by Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr and the abandonment of violence by many of
While conventional, force-on-force wars tend to end with the unequivocal defeat of one party, the
parameters for “mission success” in counter-insurgency efforts like OIF tend to be less definitive
and more subject to qualitative interpretation. OIF remains more likely to end with a policy
decision by the U.S. or Iraqi government, or both, than with a decisive military victory on the
From an operational perspective, the year 2008 witnessed several major but uneven transitions.
First, the substantial security improvements achieved over the course of the “surge” further 4
deepened, with some fluctuations during combat operations in specific regions. Second, most
experts believe that the operational capabilities of the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) continued to
grow, reflected in—and catalyzed by—ISF operational experiences in Basra, Sadr City, Amarah,
Mosul, and Diyala. According to U.S. commanders, the March 2008 ISF operations in Basra,
targeting Shi’a militias, were poorly planned and required a strong rescue effort by coalition
forces. The August operations in Diyala, targeting affiliates of Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) were
planned by the Iraqis in advance, but still required coalition forces to provide enablers and to help 5
hold areas once they were cleared. Some U.S. officials suggested that the ultimate success of
these operations, facilitated by the coalition, gave Iraqi political leaders disproportionate 6
confidence in the capabilities of the ISF.
A third transition was that formal Government of Iraq (GoI) responsibility for security grew, as
additional provinces transitioned to “provincial Iraqi control” (PIC). In practice, PIC 7
arrangements vary from province to province. Fourth, as the ISF’s basic capabilities improved,
Rod Nordland, “No Victory Dances,” interview with General David Petraeus, Newsweek, August 21, 2008. On
September 16, 2008, GEN Petraeus relinquished command of MNF-I to Army General Raymond Odierno, a former
Commanding General of Multi-National Corps-Iraq (MNC-I), the operational-level command under MNF-I whose area
of responsibility includes all of Iraq. On October 31, 2008, GEN Petraeus assumed command of U.S. Central
Command, to which MNF-I reports.
4 Interviews with MNF-I officials, August and September 2008.
5 Interviews with MNF-I officials and subordinate commanders, August 2008.
6 Interviews with civilian and military U.S. officials, Baghdad, August 2008.
7 Interviews with commanders serving under MNF-I, August 2008. As of December 2008, 13 of Iraq’s 18 provinces
the coalition’s approaches to training and partnering with the ISF evolved substantially though
unevenly across Iraq. In terms of substance, many embedded “transition teams” shifted their
training focus toward more advanced skills. In terms of organization, the use of unit-to-unit
partnering, complementing the work of transition teams, grew substantially. Fifth, the
geographical focus of U.S. forces in Iraq shifted somewhat from north to south, in part in
anticipation of future challenges, and in part in response to the drawdowns of coalition partner
forces. Sixth and finally, as civilian-led Provincial Reconstruction Teams grew, they increasingly
took the lead in some efforts formerly spearheaded by the U.S. military. Nevertheless, the
military’s extensive presence on the ground at district and local levels, compared with the limited
number of U.S. civilian experts, meant that in practice, the military continued to play a strong
“supporting” role in helping Iraqis develop civil capacity.
The operational evolutions outlined above unfolded against a backdrop of several persistent
strategic challenges—potential “spoilers”—that could still disrupt not only security conditions on
the ground but also progress toward a unified and stable Iraq. One major challenge is resolving
the political status of the multi-ethnic and oil-rich city of Kirkuk, together with other “disputed
territories” along the Green Line that divides the Kurdistan Regional Government from the rest of
Iraq. While Kirkuk itself has been relatively calm, coalition and Iraqi officials in Kirkuk noted
with concern in 2008 that outside players with strong vested interests, including ethnically based
Iraqi political parties and supporters of Iraqi Turkmen in Iraq’s neighboring state Turkey, 8
sometimes use inflammatory language to stir up tensions in the city.
A second major challenge concerns how effectively Sunni Arabs, who are concentrated in western
and central Iraq, are incorporated socially, economically, and politically into the Iraqi polity. A
particular concern is the integration of members of the Sons of Iraq (SoI) “community watch”
program. A majority of the SoIs were Sunni Arabs, and some were former insurgents. Key Shi’a
officials in the GoI were long wary of the SoIs, and while some formal mechanisms were
established to help integrate them into permanent security and civilian jobs, the process has been
very slow. On October 1, 2008, the Government of Iraq assumed command responsibility for the
SoI program in Baghdad province, and in November, the GoI began paying the SoIs’ salaries.
During the transition, SoIs generally continued to report to work, and there was no sharp increase
in detentions of SoIs in Baghdad. However, Coalition officials have expressed concerns about the
possible security repercussions if the GoI were to shut down the program, cease paying salaries, 9
or fail to secure alternative employment for the SoIs. The GoI was scheduled to assume
responsibility for SoIs in Diyala province in December 2008, and for all remaining SoIs by mid-
A third major challenge is the potential for violence in “the south,” home to a long-standing and
growing competition for power and resources between well-established Shi’a political factions
had transitioned to PIC.
8 Interviews with MNF-I officials and subordinate commanders, and with the Governor of at Ta’amin province (of
which Kirkuk is the capital), August 2008. U.S. commanders describe a summer 2008 visit to Kirkuk by the Iraqi
Minister of Defense, who was reportedly surprised to discover, in contrast to information he had received, that there
were not “two Kurdish pesh merga divisions” in Kirkuk.
9 Interviews with MNF-I officials and subordinate commanders, August and October 2008.
backed by militias that have sometimes used violence, and also to tribal Shi’a who may be
beginning to find a public voice. Against that volatile backdrop in southern Iraq, both U.S. and
Iraqi officials remain concerned about Iranian interventions—economic, social, and sometimes 10
“military” in the form of munitions and activities by proxies.
Meanwhile, U.S. practitioners in Iraq, both civilian and military, have suggested that the appetite
of GoI officials to be mentored, advised, or guided by U.S. officials—and thus the leverage that
the U.S. government is able to exercise—is diminishing. In 2008, as Iraqi capacity and
capabilities grew, and as Iraqi confidence in those capabilities increased, GoI officials
demonstrated growing assertiveness and less inclination to consult with U.S. officials before 11
taking action. That approach was manifested, for example, in the decision by Prime Minister
Nouri al Maliki to launch military operations in Basra in March 2008, and the GoI’s unilateral
decision to assume full responsibility for Sons of Iraq.
On November 17, 2008, U.S. and Iraqi officials signed two key new agreements, designed to
define the terms of their future partnership at the strategic and operational levels. On November
Presidency Council approved them.
The first document is a broad “strategic framework” agreement, designed to provide a framework
for future cooperation in multiple fields including diplomacy, culture, economics and energy,
health and the environment, information technology, and law enforcement. The agreement was
based broadly on a declaration of principles, signed by President Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister 13
Nouri al-Maliki, on November 27, 2007.
The second document, referenced by the strategic framework agreement, is similar to a status of
forces agreement (“SOFA”). It was the product of a contentious negotiations process that began
in spring 2008. It elaborates the terms of the bilateral security partnership at the operational level,
and provides the legal basis for the U.S. troop presence in Iraq. When approving the two
agreements, the Iraqi parliament made the “SOFA” subject to a popular referendum, scheduled to
be held by July 2009. The agreement is expected to go into effect on January 1, 2009, when the 14
current United Nations mandate expires.
Interviews with U.S. civilian and military officials in Baghdad, Najaf, Diwayniyah, Basra; with UK officials in
Basra; and with Iraqi officials in Najaf, Diwayniyah, Basra.
11 Interviews with U.S. civilian and military officials, Baghdad, August 2008.
12 In the United States, the Bush Administration carried out “consultations” with key Members of Congress on the
operationally-focused draft agreement. The Administration’s stated position was that the document was not a treaty and
therefore did not require formal congressional approval.
13 The formal title of the document is “Strategic Framework Agreement for a Relationship of Friendship and
Cooperation between the United States of America and the Republic of Iraq,” and it is available at the White House
website, http://www.whitehouse.gov/infocus/iraq/SE_SFA.pdf. See also the “Declaration of Principles for a Long-
Term Relationship of Cooperation and Friendship Between the Republic of Iraq and the United States of America,”
November 26, 2007, available at http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2007/11/20071126-11.html.
14 The document, formally entitled, “Agreement Between the United States of America and the Republic of Iraq on the
The “SOFA” underscores both Iraqi sovereignty and the “temporary” nature of the U.S. military
presence, and it imposes a number of constraints on the presence and operations of U.S. forces. It
provides for the withdrawal of all U.S. combat forces from Iraqi cities and towns by June 30, 15
2009, and for the withdrawal of all U.S. forces from Iraq by December 31, 2011. This language
is a stricter version of earlier drafts that reportedly provided for time horizons or target dates.
The “SOFA” provides that the United States shall not use Iraqi land, sea or air as a “launching or 16
transit point for attacks against other countries.” The strategic framework agreement, which
echoes this language, also provides that the United States shall not seek a “permanent military
presence” in Iraq. The negotiations process reportedly considered various formulations regarding
external threats to Iraq’s sovereignty. The agreed language, which appears in the “SOFA,” 17
requires bilateral consultations in case of such a threat, but makes no other actions compulsory.
The “SOFA” requires that U.S. forces coordinate all military operations with Iraqi authorities.18 It
also grants Iraq some legal jurisdiction over U.S. servicemembers and defense civilians—
specifically, in cases of “grave, premeditated felonies” committed off base and “outside duty 19
status.” As senior officials on the ground have underscored, the “SOFA” acknowledges that
many of its provisions will require further interpretation. It establishes a committee structure to 20
provide implementation guidance.
The current debates about the “way forward” in Iraq raise a number of key operational
considerations for U.S. practitioners, policy makers, and Members of Congress.
In late 2008, civilian and military U.S. officials in Baghdad were seriously discussing a
fundamental question: how much U.S. help is enough? During the formal occupation of Iraq,
from 2003 to 2004, the coalition was responsible for all facets of Iraqi public life. In the early
Withdrawal of United States Forces from Iraq and the Organization of their Activities during their Temporary Presence
in Iraq,” is available at http://www.whitehouse.gov/infocus/iraq/SE_SOFA.pdf. The current UN resolution, UN
Security Council Resolution 1790 (2007), December 18, 2007, is available at http://daccessdds.un.org/doc/UNDOC/
15 “SOFA,” Article 24, para.1,2.
16 “SOFA”, Article 27, para.3. See also strategic framework agreement, Section 1, para.4.
17 See “SOFA” Article 27, para 1: “In the event of any external or internal threat or aggression against Iraq that would
violate its sovereignty, political independence, or territorial integrity, waters, airspace, its democratic system or its
elected institutions, and upon request by the Government of Iraq, the Parties shall immediately initiate strategic
deliberations and as may be mutually agreed, the United States shall take appropriate measures, including diplomatic,
economic, or military measures, or any other measure, to deter such a threat.”
18 “SOFA,” Article 4, para.2.
19 “SOFA,” Article 12, para.1.
20 The “SOFA” mandates the formation of a Joint Ministerial Committee tasked to address interpretation and
implementation of the agreement. That body is tasked to appoint a Joint Military Operations Coordination Committee
(JMOCC) to oversee military operations. It is also tasked to appoint a separate Joint Committee—which may in turn
appoint Subcommittees—to oversee issues outside the competence of the JMOCC. See “SOFA” Article 23.
post-occupation days, the coalition’s general approach was to do everything possible to get Iraqi
institutions up and running, limited primarily by resources and personnel available to implement
the efforts. As Iraqi capacity has grown, the role of Iraqi officials and institutions has shifted, to
various degrees, from sharing responsibilities to leading, with some support or back-up from the
A number of U.S. officials, both civilian and military, have argued that, in the words of one
military commander, “it’s time to take the training wheels off,” that it is okay to “let the Iraqis
fail.” Taking a step back, they have argued, is not only a key to reducing the U.S. commitment
over time—it may also be the best way to reduce the risk of Iraqi dependence on U.S. help, and to
encourage Iraqis to assume more responsibility and to learn to solve problems themselves. The
premise might apply to both military capabilities, in the form of independent operations by Iraqi
security forces, and to civil capacity—for example, in the form of independent efforts by
provincial governments to seek the funding they need from the central government and to craft
and execute their own budgets. Other officials have pointed out that the advisability of loosening
the reins may depend on the location and the circumstances. For example, U.S. commanders have
noted, the March 2008 Iraqi-launched military operations in Basra would likely not have been a
success without substantial enablers provided by the coalition. In that case, since the Prime
Minister himself had launched the operation, the political consequences of failure were likely to 21
have been great, so it was important for the coalition not to let the Iraqi effort fail.
Other U.S. officials in Iraq have cautioned that progress to date notwithstanding, it is important
“not to declare victory too soon.” They stress that it is the U.S. presence and support that have
made improvements possible, and while further drawdowns may continue to be possible, that is
different from a full departure. One U.S. military commander observed in August 2008, “If we
left today, it would be a significant problem. If we left ten months from now, it would also be a 22
The likely future trajectory of the U.S. presence in Iraq, following the redeployment of the last
surge brigade in July 2008, includes further troop drawdowns. On September 9, 2008, speaking at
the National Defense University, President Bush announced the planned redeployment from Iraq
without replacement of an additional 8,000 troops, including combat support forces, a Marine
battalion, and an Army brigade combat team. The President described these drawdown decisions
as a “return on success”—while progress on the ground was “still fragile and reversible,” the
gains had achieved a “degree of durability.” He did not name a timeline for decisions concerning
possible further drawdowns, but he added, “If progress in Iraq continues to hold, General
Petraeus and our military leaders believe additional reductions will be possible in the first half of 23
Interviews with U.S. Embassy, MNF-I, and MNC-I officials, and with subordinate commands, Baghdad and Basra,
22 Interviews with MNF-I and MNC-I officials, Baghdad, August 2008.
23 President George W. Bush, Remarks at National Defense University, Washington, D.C., September 9, 2008,
available at http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2008/09/20080909.html. The following day, September 10,
2008, in testimony before the House Armed Services Committee, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, elaborating on
the President’s announcement, called the drawdowns an “acceptable risk” and noted that the U.S. effort in Iraq had
entered the “endgame,” although the situation in Iraq remained “fragile.” See Robert M. Gates, Statement before the
The U.S.-Iraqi “SOFA” mandates that all U.S. forces shall withdraw by the end of 2011.
However, serious debates continue regarding the appropriate timing and nature of further
A number of other considerations—in addition to security conditions and ISF capabilities—may
be germane to the “future drawdowns” debate. First, forthcoming political milestones in Iraq may
shape both U.S. and Iraqi thinking. Iraq is tentatively scheduled to hold both provincial-level and 24
national-level elections in 2009. Some U.S. officials in Iraq, and some outside observers,
suggest that the potential security risks of these events argue for sustaining a sizable U.S. troop 25
presence through the elections. Some GoI officials, too, might have an interest in maintaining
sufficient U.S. forces to help provide security through the elections. Other GoI officials, on the
other hand, might have an interest, for election purposes, in playing the nationalism card and
publicly calling for an early drawdown of U.S. forces.
Second, the drawdown debates may be affected by the redeployment of most coalition partner
troops. The expiration of the UN mandate authorizing a multi-national force in Iraq applies to all
other coalition partner countries, as well as the United States, and the U.S.-Iraqi “SOFA” does not
apply automatically to other coalition members, and most were expected to withdraw from Iraq
rather than face tough negotiations with the GoI about their troop presence.
Third, the high demand for forces for the ongoing commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan has
meant, for many servicemembers, repeated deployments, extended deployments, and/or short
“dwell times” at home between tours. Military Departments, responsible in accordance with Title
10, U.S. Code, for “organizing, manning, training and equipping” the force, are concerned about
the stress these demands have placed on the force. Over time, DOD has introduced a series of
policies designed to manage that stress—for example, limiting active duty Army deployments to
12 months for those deploying after August 1, 2008. Such stress on the force, and the personnel
policies designed to manage it, may help shape future Iraq drawdown decisions.
Fourth, further drawdown decisions may be affected by competing strategic demands, for
example, potential requirements for additional U.S. forces in Afghanistan. Chairman of the Joint
Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen has publicly stated the need for more forces in
Afghanistan and underscored the connection between the ability to meet that need and the troop 26
requirement in Iraq.
House Armed Services Committee, September 10, 2008.
24 In October 2008, Iraq’s Presidency Council passed a long-contentious elections law that provides for provincial
elections to be held by January 31, 2009, in 17 of Iraq’s 18 provinces. The politically contested province of al-Ta’amin,
whose capitol city is Kirkuk, is not scheduled to participate.
25 Interviews with U.S. civilian and military officials, Baghdad, August 2008. See for example Stephen Biddle, Michael
O’Hanlon, Kenneth M. Pollack, “How to Leave a Stable Iraq,” Foreign Affairs, September/October 2008 Vol.87, No.5.
26 See for example DOD News Briefing with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff ADM Michael Mullen, July 2, 2008,
available at http://www.defenselink.mil/transcripts/transcript.aspx?transcriptid=4256. There, ADM Mullen stated, “I’ve
made no secret of my desire to flow more forces, U.S. forces, to Afghanistan just as soon as I can, nor have I been shy
about saying that those forces will not be available unless or until the situation in Iraq permits us to do so.”
Commenting on his request for more U.S. forces for Afghanistan, Commanding General of the International Security
Assistance Force GEN David McKiernan confirmed the linkage: “The availability of the forces that we’ve asked for
Fifth and finally, future withdrawal plans will be shaped in part by several sets of practical
constraints, including available ground and air transportation for withdrawing personnel and
equipment from Iraq, and both the willingness and capacity of neighboring states to provide
access and transit.
Against this backdrop, there are two major schools of thought about the basic logic of further
troop drawdown decisions. One school argues for a “conditions-based” approach, and the other
for a phased withdrawal according to a timeline.
The conditions-based approach calls for carrying out continual assessments of the situation on the
ground, and initiating further troop drawdowns as conditions allow, bearing in mind the final
withdrawal date of 2011. The relevant “conditions” might include security conditions on the 27
ground, ISF capabilities, and the capacity of Iraqi governing institutions at all levels.
This approach is generally favored by commanders on the ground, and it was also supported by
the Bush Administration. Speaking at the Pentagon in March 2008, on the fifth anniversary of the
start of Operation Iraqi Freedom, President Bush indicated that further drawdowns of the “surge”
brigades would be conditions-based: “Any further drawdown will be based on conditions on the
ground and the recommendations of our commanders—and they must not jeopardize the hard-28
fought gains our troops and civilians have made over the past year.” In his September 9, 2008,
announcement of further troop drawdowns, President Bush made clear that the reductions were a
response to improved conditions on the ground, and that further reductions would depend on 29
future conditions—whether “progress in Iraq continues to hold.”
The conditions-based approach is highly dynamic. MNF-I expects a continued progression over
time in its relationships with ISF partners—from “leadership” to “partnership” to tactical and then
operational “overwatch,” with the caveats that the progression is unlikely to be steady, and that it 30
will vary from area to area, and even within areas. A December 2007 description of the
approach by out-going Commander of Multi-National Division-Baghdad still applies:
here—that’s directly connected to force flow in Iraq,” see Tom Vanden Brook, “A ‘Tough Fight’ Seen for Afghan War
in ‘09,” USA Today, December 8, 2008.
27 In April 2008 testimony to the House Armed Services Committee, GEN Petraeus noted that the criteria included
“security and local governance conditions, the enemy situation, the ability of Iraqi security forces to take on more of a
load ... the ability...of the local authorities to carry on and perform tasks that in some cases we were helping perform.”
See transcript, House Armed Services Committee, “House Armed Services Committee Holds Hearing on the
Crocker/Petraeus Iraq Report,” April 9, 2008. The Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2008, §9204(c)(1)(G), extending
an existing reporting requirement on stability and security in Iraq for another fiscal year, required the Secretary of
Defense to report, inter alia, on “the criteria the Administration will use to determine when it is safe to begin
withdrawing United States forces from Iraq.”
28 See “President Bush Discusses Global War on Terror,” March 19, 2008, available at http://www.whitehouse.gov/
29 President George W. Bush, Remarks at National Defense University, Washington, D.C., September 9, 2008,
available at http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2008/09/20080909.html.
30 Interviews with MNF-I and MNC-I officials, and subordinate commanders, August 2008. See also General David
Petraeus, Report to Congress on the Situation in Iraq, House Foreign Affairs Committee website,
The plan that we believe makes the most sense at this point, and that we’re embarking upon,
is one of simply thinning the ranks, if you will, in areas that are going well, retaining some
coalition presence there to continue to work with the Iraqi security forces and these security
volunteers ... so that there’s tactical overwatch or operational overwatch, if you will, and 31
retaining [U.S. troop] strength in the areas where we’re still working hard.
Some proponents argue that this approach supports well-informed decision-making, and that it is
more responsive than other approaches to changing circumstances on the ground, since decisions
are made close to the time of execution rather than a long time in advance. As three key observers
who support this approach wrote, “Any schedule for withdrawal will be subject to the inherent 32
uncertainty of a conflict as complex as the one in Iraq.” Others argue that, in the words of some
commanders, the approach would help avoid the danger of “going too quickly.” In this view, a
too-hasty withdrawal, unguided by conditions on the ground, could allow AQI affiliates or Shi’a
renegade militias to reassert themselves and attempt to regain lost ground, before Iraqi security
forces have sufficient capabilities to counter such efforts, and before Iraqi governing institutions
have sufficient capacity to orchestrate and lead such responses.
The primary charge against this approach, by those who oppose it, is that a “conditions-based”
approach is inherently open-ended. It does not provide leverage, they charge, for pressing Iraqi
leaders to assume greater responsibility. Further, its inherent uncertainty makes it difficult for the
U.S. military to plan to meet other global security requirements.
The other major school of thought, the phased troop withdrawal approach, calls for establishing a
fixed timeline as the basis for further drawdowns. Advocates of this approach might call, for
example, for the withdrawal of one brigade combat team per month. Alternatively, they might
start by naming a date, earlier than December 2011, by which all U.S. combat forces—or all U.S.
forces—must be withdrawn from Iraq and, working backwards from that date, propose periodic
For some proponents of this school of thought, the primary objective is simply to end the U.S.
commitment in Iraq, on the grounds that the mission simply should not be a top U.S. national
priority. A timetable approach meets that objective by definition.
Other proponents of a scheduled withdrawal stress that the U.S. troop and dollar commitments in
Iraq are detracting from the United States’ ability to prepare to meet other security challenges.
Some point in particular to stress on the ground forces—the Army and the Marine Corps—and
argue that a near-term drawdown would relieve that stress, help guarantee the availability of
forces for Afghanistan and other contingencies, and make it easier for the Services to recruit and 33
See Department of Defense News Briefing, Major General Joseph Fil, December 17, 2007,
32Stephen Biddle, Michael O’Hanlon, Kenneth M. Pollack, “How to Leave a Stable Iraq,” Foreign Affairs,
September/October 2008 Vol.87, No.5, p.57.
33 For example, in a December 2007 assessment, retired General Barry McCaffrey, who advocated not a complete
withdrawal but rather drawing down to 12 brigade combat teams (BCTs) by January 2009, commented that “The Army
is starting to unravel,” pointing to current recruiting campaigns that are bringing on board “those who should not be in
uniform” due e.g. to drug use or criminality; to the loss of mid-career officers and NCOs; and to the “stretched and
under-resourced” Reserve Component. See General Barry R. McCaffrey, “After Action Report, Visit Iraq and Kuwait
5-11 December 2007,” December 18, 2007, submitted as a Statement for the Record for the HASC O&I Subcommittee
hearing on January 16, 2008.
And some other timetable proponents base their support at least in part on the view that the U.S.
troop presence in Iraq—and the antipathy that may be generated among the Iraqi population by
the presence of a de facto occupier—could be hindering further progress. They suggest in turn
that announced troop withdrawal plans could spur progress by encouraging Iraqi leaders to
accelerate their own efforts to assume more responsibility and make progress toward 34
reconciliation, and by urging international partners to increase their constructive involvement.
One practical advantage of the timetable option is the clarity and certainty it would provide
concerning costs, timelines, and requirements. U.S. military planners could plan each step with
reasonable fidelity, U.S. diplomats could work well in advance with neighboring countries on
access needed to support the withdrawal, and Iraqi leaders and security forces could plan in detail
how to adjust.
Some opponents of this option suggest that its deliberateness could prove advantageous to various
adversaries in Iraq, who might take advantage of the predictability to target U.S. forces as they
redeploy. Alternatively, such adversaries might simply choose to lie low until U.S. forces
redeploy, making them more difficult to target and leaving the bulk of the challenge for Iraqis to
face on their own. Other opponents of this option argue that its primary strategic drawback is that
if executed too precipitately, it could consign the Iraq mission itself to failure—that Iraqi
institutions are simply not all ready to assume full responsibility, and so a too-early withdrawal of
U.S. forces from Iraq could prove destabilizing and could place Iraq’s future in jeopardy.
Supporting the development of the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) is a critical focus of U.S. military
operations in Iraq. Together with security, and helping build civil capacity, it is one of the three
lines of operation of Multi-National Corps-Iraq (MNC-I), the operational-level command under
MNF-I with geographic responsibility for all of Iraq. The coalition’s efforts to train, equip, and
mentor the ISF have always varied across the “battle space” of Iraq, in terms of organization and
focus, depending on the conditions on the ground, the level of development of the locally based
ISF, and the availability of coalition forces for training missions. In 2008, several discernible
transitions in the training mission were underway, if unevenly, across Iraq. A key operational
consideration is the future direction of the ISF training mission, including its focus, its
organization, and its relative share of the overall U.S. effort.
The “standard” approach to training the ISF has been the use of embedded “transition teams” that
typically live and work with their host unit. A key point of variation over time has been the size of
these teams. Transition teams working with the Iraqi Army, for example, have typically included
between 11 and 15 members, depending on the size of the Iraqi unit they embed with. In practice,
however, the numbers have varied—for example, in western Anbar province, Multi-National
Force-West (MNF-W), led by U.S. Marines, consistently used larger teams, with between 30 and 35
40 members. One key development over time, in the view of coalition leaders on the ground and
See for example Kevin Benson, “Shift the Debate on Iraq from ‘When’ to ‘How,’” Atlanta Journal-Constitution,
August 12, 2007. Colonel Benson was the lead OIF planner for CFLCC.
35 Interviews with MNC-I, MNSTC-I, and MNF-I subordinate commands including MNF-W, August 2008.
many experts, has been an overall improvement in the quality and effectiveness of the transition
teams—in part a reflection of standardization and improvements in the training “pipelines” used 36
by the Military Departments to produce the trainers.
In 2008, as the basic operational capabilities of the ISF grew, the use of embedded transition
teams shifted toward higher-level ISF headquarters, including brigades and divisions. The
substantive efforts of the teams also shifted, from basic skills like patrolling to leadership and
enablers. For example, teams working with the Iraqi Army increased their focus on staff functions
and logistics, and teams working with the Iraqi Police increased the emphasis on specialized
skills like forensics. While logistics experts in the U.S. military are well-placed to share that
expertise with Iraqi Army counterparts, U.S. Military Police (MPs) generally do not have the
requisite specialized policing skills and have thus relied on collaboration with civilian
International Police Advisors, who are in short supply.
In 2008, in addition to transition teams, coalition forces throughout Iraq made increasing use of
various forms of “unit partnering,” in which coalition maneuver units work side-by-side with
Iraqi units of equal or larger size. Commanders on the ground stressed the value of unit
partnership as an effective way to “show” rather than just “tell” ISF unit leaders how they might 37
most effectively organize their headquarters, lead their troops, and manage staff functions.
Where conditions permitted, commanders extended unit partnering beyond the Iraqi Army to
Ministry of the Interior (MoI) forces, including the Iraqi Police and the Department of Border
Enforcement. That outreach to the MoI was more common in Multi-National Division-Center,
south of Baghdad, and in Multi-National Force-West in Anbar, than in Multi-National Division-
North, which was still actively engaged in combat operations, together with ISF counterparts, in
Diyala and Ninewah provinces.
Unit partnership was not envisaged as a permanent arrangement—any individual unit partnership
was designed to be temporary, a catalyst to the development of that Iraqi unit. Should
circumstances allow, commanders notee that “unit partnership” could still be constructively used
for some time, since some ISF units were still at early stages of maturity, and the Government of
Iraq was still in the process of adding new units to its total force.
Throughout 2008, coalition forces also provided substantial support to the “capacity-building” of
the key security institutions of the Government of Iraq—the Ministry of Defense, the Ministry of
the Interior, and the Counter-Terrorism Bureau. This support, led by the Multi-National Security
Transition Command-Iraq (MNSTC-I), part of MNF-I, included mentoring Iraqi senior leaders in
leadership and management skills, as well as providing technical assistance to ministry personnel.
Interviews with MNF-I and MNC-I officials, and subordinate commands, August 2008. In the view of many experts,
one issue shaping the quality of the transition teams has been individual incentive to serve on such teams, based on the
degree to which promotion boards favorably regard such service. Some DOD officials note that the incentives, based
on personnel rules, are improving, while some practitioners note anecdotally that training missions tend not to be as
highly regarded as more traditional combat assignments.
37 Interviews with MNC-I officials, and subordinate commanders, August 2008.
Coalition officials stressed the growing importance of maximizing such capacity-building efforts
while Iraqis were still receptive to receiving such training. With appropriate leadership skills, they
argued, Iraqi senior leaders in the security sector could make substantially greater and more
effective contributions to the development of the ISF, gradually reducing the need for U.S. advice
and support. Coalition commanders also underscored the importance of utilizing the right
personnel for the mission, including senior “mentors” with enough leadership experience and 38
stature to carry weight with their Iraqi counterparts.
Some key observers have argued that the overall focus of the U.S. effort in Iraq should shift away
from combat and toward training and advising Iraqi forces and the ministries that govern them. In
December 2007, for example, retired General Barry McCaffrey proposed strengthening the
emphasis on ISF training and “massively resourcing the creating of an adequate Iraqi Security 39
Force.” In September 2008, Iraq watchers John Nagl, Colin Kahl, and Shawn Brimley called for
a reorientation of the military mission toward advising, in which “embedded military advisers
would provide just enough help to give Iraqis what they need on the battlefield, but not so much 40
that it stymies their development and perpetuates a view of Western occupation.”
In theory, improvements in security conditions, and a corresponding decline in requirements for
combat operations, could continue to make more U.S. forces available to play training and
advisory roles for the ISF, even in the context of further U.S. troop drawdowns. One key
consideration would be making sure that those U.S. forces tasked with training and advisory
missions would have adequate resources to draw on, with fewer U.S. combat forces close by. The
U.S. maneuver units that partner with Iraqi units in the “unit partnering” model are self-
sustaining, but further troop drawdowns would reduce the units available for such missions. In the
various transition team models, in turn, the teams depend on nearby maneuver units for key
logistics and life support. They also rely on outside support to provide Intelligence, Surveillance
and Reconnaissance (ISR), as well as Close Air Support (CAS) during operations by their partner
The new “SOFA” includes the requirement that all U.S. combat forces withdraw from Iraqi
“cities, villages, and localities” no later than the time when ISF assume security responsibility in
the relevant province, but no later than June 30, 2009. Such withdrawals are expected to mean
consolidating combat troops at large Forward Operating Bases outside urban areas. The key
operational issue is what form these changes are likely to take, and what impact they are likely to
have on security conditions on the ground.
Top U.S. commanders in Iraq have long argued that “living where we work” is what has made the
counter-insurgency effort a success to date. This phrase refers to establishing a security presence
Interviews with MNF-I and MNSTC-I officials, August 2008. For example, some argue, a U.S. Army Colonel
simply has not held high enough leadership positions within his own Department of Defense to be an appropriate
advisor to an Iraqi Minister.
39 See General Barry R. McCaffrey, “After Action Report, Visit Iraq and Kuwait 5-11 December 2007,” December 18,
2007, submitted as a Statement for the Record for the HASC O&I Subcommittee hearing on January 16, 2008.
40 John Nagl, Colin Kahl, Shawn Brimley, “How to Exit Iraq,” New York Times, September 5, 2008.
in cities and towns, including small command outposts of U.S. forces, and Joint Security Stations
that include both U.S. and various Iraqi forces. That presence, commanders have noted, allows
ongoing collaboration between U.S. and Iraqi forces, making those partnerships more effective,
and frequent interaction with the local population, building trust and confidence. In mid-2008,
U.S. commanders favored “thinning” the ranks in cities and towns, that is, using a progressively
lighter but still dispersed U.S. footprint, as ISF gradually assumed responsibility for providing the
“presence” in each area. In December 2008, Major General Mark Hertling, Commanding General
of Multi-National Division-North, noted that most U.S. forces in his area had already moved
outside cities, with some exceptions, for example the city of Mosul, “where they have combat
outposts throughout the city because there is still a significant fight against al Qaeda in that 41
city.” Also in December 2008, Commanding General of Multi-National Force-Iraq (MNF-I),
General Raymond Odierno, noted that some U.S. forces are likely to remain inside cities and 42
towns after June 2009, in order to continue to train and mentor Iraqi security forces.
The new U.S.-Iraqi “SOFA” requires the coordination of all U.S. military operations - including
ground operations, air operations, and detainee operations - with Afghan authorities. U.S.
commanders on the ground have suggested that the agreement’s provisions would require some 43
additional clarification in implementing agreements or arrangements. In a December 2008 letter
to the force, regarding the new “SOFA,” GEN Odierno noted that the environment will “require a
subtle shift in how we plan, coordinate, and execute missions throughout Iraq,” and that new rules 44
of engagement will be issued. A key issue is the impact that such measures will have on U.S.
In practice, according to commanders on the ground, the vast majority of U.S. operations are
already closely coordinated with the GoI. Further, most of those operations are already
“combined” with Iraqi forces. The Provincial Iraqi Control (PIC) process has facilitated a
transition in the way U.S. forces do business, since PIC arrangements—which may vary by
province—generally require coordination on U.S. operations. In addition, in some cases, the GoI
has agreed in advance that U.S. forces may carry out certain categories of activities, or may take
action against certain targets. The greatest challenge, in a post-“SOFA” environment, may be
securing Iraqi approval for some time-sensitive missions by Special Operations Forces.
Looking ahead, the premise for U.S. operations, according to MNC-I, is to “figure out how to get 45
it done through Iraqis.” The counterinsurgency guidance issued by GEN Odierno on September
16, 2008, emphasized that as the ISF stand up, coalition forces will increasingly “enable from
Concerning the use of Iraqi air space, the “SOFA” states: “Surveillance and control over Iraqi
airspace shall transfer to Iraqi authority immediately upon entry into force of this Agreement”. It
Major General Mark Hertling, DOD News Briefing, December 8, 2008.
42 Sudarsan Raghavan and Qais Mizher, “Troops Will Remain in Iraqi Cities After June, Odierno Says,” Washington
Post, December 14, 2008.
43 Interviews with MNF-I officials and subordinate commanders, August 2008.
44 GEN Raymond Odierno, letter dated December 4 2008, available at https://www.mnf-iraq.com/images/
45 Interviews with MNC-I officials, August 2008.
adds a caveat: “Iraq may request from the United States forces temporary support for the Iraqi 46
authorities in the mission of surveillance and control of Iraqi air space.” The caveat is important
because the capabilities of the Iraqi Air Force are still in the very early stages of development and
training. . In addition, that training has focused, first of all, on skills relevant to the ongoing
counter-insurgency (COIN) fight, such as moving troops and supplies, and providing some ISR.
Iraqi officials and commanders on the ground, aware that they still lack key COIN capabilities
such as sufficient ISR and CAS, and that they do not yet have the ability to defend Iraqi airspace,
are reportedly eager to retain the support of U.S. air assets, and U.S. officials have suggested that 47
it should be possible to reach agreements on shared use of air space.
The “SOFA” does not address a parallel concern related to operational coordination: Iraqi
coordination with U.S. forces concerning ISF operations. U.S. commanders on the ground report
that the ISF sometimes have informed U.S. forces only after they have carried out local
operations; some commanders add that these are positive developments in terms of growing ISF 48
capabilities and initiative. At the same time, it could be helpful for U.S. forces to know in
advance about significant ISF operations, for two reasons: first, the ISF might call on U.S. forces
suddenly, during such operations, to provide key enablers; second, such operations could have an
impact on U.S. force protection.
Article 22 of the “SOFA” describes provisions for detainee operations. One set of provisions
places tight new constraints on the circumstances under which U.S. forces may take Iraqis into 49
physical custody. Another set of provisions, of even more concern to U.S. commanders on the
ground, specifies how the cases of those detainees currently held by coalition forces will be
further adjudicated. Specifically, when the “SOFA” enters into force, U.S. forces are required to
provide information about all detainees held. Then Iraq authorities will “issue arrest warrants for
persons who are wanted by them.” U.S. forces will turn over custody of all “wanted” detainees, 50
and then release all remaining detainees “in a safe and orderly manner.”
In anticipation of a more stringent new detention regime, throughout 2008, MNF-I carried out a
detainee release program, releasing detainees to their homes and communities whenever possible.
As of late November 2008, U.S. forces held approximately 15,800 detainees in theater internment 51
facilities, after releasing more than 17,500 during 2008. But commanders have expressed
concerns about the remaining “legacy” population. In many cases, the coalition lacks releasable
evidence with legal sufficiency in Iraqi courts. Scrupulous collection of evidence—such as
photographs, diagrams, eye-witness accounts—common in civilian law enforcement, was not
always an integral part of coalition combat operations in Iraq. Such legacy detainees could pose
real security threats to the Iraqi population, or to the coalition. Some coalition officials and
outside observers have also expressed concerns that the GoI adjudication of legacy detainee
“SOFA”, Article 9, para.4-5.
47 Interviews with MNF-I officials and subordinate commanders, August 2008.
48 Interviews with MNC-I and subordinate commands, August 2008.
49 “No detention or arrest may be carried out by the United States Forces (except with respect to detention or arrest of
members of the United States Forces and of the civilian component) except through an Iraqi decision issued in
accordance with Iraqi law and pursuant to Article 4.” If U.S. forces do detain Iraqis, “such persons much be handed
over to competent Iraqi authorities within 24 hours.” “SOFA,” Article 22, para.1-2.
50 “SOFA,” Article 22, para.4.
51 MNF-I press release, November 30, 2008.
cases, whether or not legally sufficient evidence exists, may evince a sectarian bias—in particular, 52
a tendency to treat Shi’a Arabs more leniently than Sunni Arabs.
Over the course of Operation Iraqi Freedom, the balance of U.S. civilian and military roles and
responsibilities has shifted. As a rule, the military has played the preponderant role, including in
non-traditional fields such as governance and reconstruction, although civilian contributions have
grown over time. Looking forward, a key operational question is the most effective future balance
of U.S. civilian and military effort in Iraq.
As security conditions on the ground in Iraq have improved, civilian and military officials all
point to increased opportunities for civilian assistance initiatives, particularly capacity-building at
all levels. As one U.S. commander argued, “Embassy people should be out more every day now, 53
like we are.” Some provincial Iraqi officials, for their part, appear eager to welcome additional 54
U.S. civilian expertise.
One future option, as U.S. troops draw down, would be to increase the U.S. civilian effort in Iraq
in terms of personnel and resources, to support civil capacity building at the national, provincial,
and local levels. The primary constraint on a possible “civilian surge,” to follow the military
surge, may be the limited capacity of the Department of State, the U.S. Agency for International
Development, and other civilian agencies to deploy significant numbers of personnel.
One consideration would be how well Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) are able to
function without a substantial nearby coalition military presence. Good test cases for this scenario
already exist. In May 2008, the personnel of the PRTs for Najaf and Karbala provinces, who had
been operating from a remote base in Hillah, in Babil province, relocated to their respective areas
of operation. Najaf and Karbala are both PIC provinces, with limited U.S. military presence. In
Najaf, for example, the PRT, including a small U.S. military team that provides them with
movement, is based at a small Forward Operating Base (FOB), together with a U.S. Army
transition team that works with the local Iraqi Army battalion and a small U.S. military “mayor’s 55
cell” that manages the installation. A team of private security contractors from Triple Canopy
provides static security.
Some key steps have been taken to amplify civilian assistance efforts at the provincial level,
including the addition of 66 civilian subject matter experts, in technical fields including 56
agriculture and business development, to work with the PRTs. However, U.S. Embassy officials
note that it is likely that peak PRT staffing levels in Iraq have already been reached. The
Embassy—in response to direction from Congress—is working on “PRT strategic drawdown” 57
Interviews with MNF-I officials and subordinate commanders, August 2008.
53 Interview with Multi-National Division commander, August 2008.
54 Interviews with the Governor of Najaf, the Governor of Basra, August 2008.
55 Interviews with U.S. civilian and military officials at the Najaf FOB.
56 Interview with the Office of Provincial Affairs (OPA), U.S. Embassy, August 2008. When PRT leaders were asked
how many subject matter experts they would like to receive, they reportedly requested a total of 170.
57 Interviews with U.S. Embassy officials, August 2008.
Meanwhile, the U.S. military remains the de facto default option, though military officers are 58
usually the first to note that they lack the requisite expertise. One key role of the U.S. military in
Iraq is supporting civilian-led efforts to provide Iraqis with governance mentorship, and in
particular, to build linkages among the national, regional, and local levels. As MNC-I officials
noted, “Our job at Corps is to establish the connective tissue between the center and the 59
provinces.” In many instances, while PRTs focus on governance at the provincial level, military
units, with far more boots on the ground, work regularly to foster governance at the district and 60
local levels, including linkages with higher levels of Iraqi government. The U.S. military
continues to provide some support for small-scale reconstruction initiatives, though unevenly
across Iraq. Some commanders continue to facilitate the reopening of small business—and to use
the number of reopened businesses as a metric of economic progress—while others have decided
to “give back,” that is, “not spend,” their Commanders Emergency Response Program (CERP) 61
funds, in order to encourage Iraqis to budget and spend their own money.
OIF experience to date, and the current debates about the “way forward” in Iraq, suggest several
broader strategic considerations for U.S. practitioners, policy makers, and Members of Congress.
As Iraq’s de facto exercise of sovereignty grows, as the role of the United States evolves
correspondingly, and as further U.S. troop drawdowns are contemplated, it might be useful to
confirm or update the short list of critical U.S. national interests regarding Iraq, and the key
strategic objectives that, at a minimum, it is important for the United States to achieve in Iraq.
Such broad objectives might address both Iraq itself and the region, and might include the
• U.S. interests in Iraq’s domestic political arrangements. Some might argue
that a democratic or broadly representative and inclusive Iraqi polity is essential
as a key to Iraq’s stability, while others might argue that the nature of Iraq’s
domestic political arrangements is much less important than simply a unified and
• U.S. interests in Iraq’s role in the fight against global terrorist networks.
Some might argue that the most important goal is simply ensuring that Iraq does
not serve as a safe haven for terrorists. Others might stress the importance of
active intelligence-sharing with the United States. Still others might argue that it
is in U.S. interests that Iraq couple the counter-terrorism skills it is currently
developing as part of its domestic counter-insurgency effort, with expeditionary
capabilities, so that it could participate in future regional counter-terrorist
Interviews with Multi-National Division commanders, August 2008. As one noted, “What you see is the U.S.
military, but we don’t have the expertise.”
59 Interviews with MNC-I officials, August 2008.
60 Interviews with U.S. military officials and PRT members, August 2008.
61 Interviews with Multi-National Division commanders and subordinate commanders, August 2008.
• U.S. interests in the regional balance of power. Some might argue that Iraq’s
strength, relative to that of its neighbors, is important. Others might simply stress
the importance of an absence of conflict—that is, as a long-stated U.S. goal puts
it, an “Iraq at peace with its neighbors.”
• U.S. interests in Iraq compared with those in Afghanistan. Some observers
argue that the U.S. efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan face a zero-sum competition
for resources and personnel, as well as time and attention of senior leaders. They
add that hard choices about the relative priority of the two missions may continue
to be necessary.
As the Iraqi appetite for accepting guidance and advice from international partners continues to
wane, U.S. policy makers may wish to reassess how the U.S. government might most effectively
apply political, economic, and security “levers” to help shape Iraq’s transformation into a stable
and prosperous state. One challenge is an apparent mismatch in Iraq between those who are most
susceptible to leverage and those making key decisions. Iraqi warfighting commanders, as a rule,
recognize the extent to which they rely on U.S. military enablers, and remain eager for a
continuation of U.S. support. At the same time, Iraqi political leaders—those who make the
decisions—tend toward overconfidence in the capabilities of Iraqi security forces, and a less
urgent sense of the need for close partnership with U.S. forces.
Another strategic consideration, in addition to U.S. strategic objectives, concerns the kind of
long-term relationship the United States wants to have with Iraq, and the kind of U.S. presence in
Iraq that would be required to support such a relationship. On September 10, 2008, in testimony
before the House Armed Services Committee, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates argued that “...
we should expect to be involved in Iraq for many years to come, although in changing and 62
increasingly limited ways.” Issues for the Congress regarding a future U.S. military presence in
Iraq could include costs, and policy oversight of integrated efforts by Department of State and the
Department of Defense personnel.
In theory, one option would be establishing permanent U.S. military bases in Iraq, to support
broader U.S. policy in the region, possibly on the model of those in Japan, South Korea,
Germany, and Italy. This option does not appear to enjoy support from the Bush Administration,
Members of Congress, or from the Government of Iraq.
Another option would be a particularly robust Office of Security Cooperation (OSC), responsible
for training and mentoring Iraqi security forces and building the capacity of Iraqi security
ministries. Following the usual pattern, the OSC would be responsible to both the U.S.
Ambassador to Iraq and to the Commander of U.S. Central Command. One possible model might
be the U.S. Military Training Mission to Saudi Arabia, which operates on the basis of a bilateral
Memorandum of Understanding and serves to train, advise and assist the Saudi Arabian Armed
Robert M. Gates, Statement before the House Armed Services Committee, September 10, 2008.
It is not clear to what extent U.S. “Iran policy” factors in current and potential Iranian activities in
southern Iraq. In the context of growing potential for U.S. military confrontations with Iranian
proxies in southern Iraq, it may be important to consider scenarios in which tactical-level
developments might escalate into strategic-level concerns.
According to U.S. and Iraqi officials, Iraq, particularly in the south, continues to face a potential 63
threat from Special Groups trained by Iran’s Quds forces. Meanwhile, Multi-National Corps-
Iraq (MNC-I) is in the process of shifting its focus somewhat from north to south in Iraq,
including increasing the U.S. troop presence in southern Iraq as coalition partner troops withdraw
or draw down. According to commanders on the ground, the growing U.S. footprint in southern 64
Iraq is not likely to be lost on Iran. In this context, the U.S. may find itself increasingly engaged
in “shadow-boxing” with Iranian proxies at the tactical level in southern Iraq.
How Military Departments fulfill their Title 10 responsibilities to organize, man, train, and
equip—how they make decisions about endstrength and capabilities required—may depend in
part on lessons drawn from OIF, and on how applicable those lessons are deemed to be to
potential future engagements. For example, lessons might be drawn from OIF concerning how to
most effectively train foreign security forces and to prepare U.S. forces for that mission; how
increasing the intelligence assets available to commanders on the ground affects their ability to
identify and pursue targets; how “dwell time” policies for the Active and Reserve Components
can best be implemented; and how closer operational integration between Special Operations
Forces and conventional forces might affect their requirements.
For the Department of Defense as a whole, in turn, OIF experiences may be used to help frame
future discussions about the Department’s force planning construct—a shorthand description of
the major contingencies the Department must be prepared to execute simultaneously—which is
used to shape the total force. Analytical challenges include deciding what kind of contingency
OIF represents, how likely it is to be representative of future contingencies, and which
chronological “slice” of OIF requirements (given the great variation in troop strength and 65
equipment) to use to represent the effort.
A further strategic consideration concerns how lessons are drawn from OIF regarding U.S.
government coordination in complex contingencies, including both decision-making and
Interviews with U.S. civilian and military officials, Baghdad, August 2008, and with Iraqi civilian and military
officials, August 2008.
64 Interviews with MNF-I and MNC-I officials, August 2008. Furthermore, it is conceivable that the planned increase in
U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan, across Iran’s eastern border, may magnify the sense of uneasiness of some Iranian
65 Both DOD Directive 3000.07 “Irregular Warfare IW” issued on December 1, 2008, which stated that “it is DoD
policy to recognize that IW is as strategically important as traditional warfare,” and the 2008 National Defense
Strategy, suggested a relatively strong future DOD emphasis on capabilities required for complex contigencies like Iraq
execution. Just as the executive branch’s responsibilities in this area are divided among different
agencies, congressional oversight responsibilities are divided among different committees of
jurisdiction, such that achieving full integration can be a challenge for both branches of
One set of questions prompted by OIF experience concerns the decision-making process about
whether to go to war and if so, how to do so. Key issues include the rigor of the inter-agency
debates, the effectiveness of the provision of “best military advice” to key decision-makers, and
the thoroughness of congressional input concerning the use of force and the exercise of
congressional oversight in general.
Another set of questions raised by OIF concerns the balance of roles, responsibilities, resources,
and authorities among U.S. government agencies to support implementation of activities such as 66
security forces training, local governance work, and economic reconstruction. In security forces
training, OIF experiences from the formal occupation to the present have included several
different patterns for the distribution of responsibilities between the Departments of Defense and
State. In governance and economic reconstruction work, OIF also provides at least two
potentially instructive organizational models—Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs), and 67
cooperation between PRTs and partner military units.
A number of tools are available to Congress to help shape U.S. government policy toward Iraq, 68
and the execution of that policy. One tool is limiting or prohibiting funding for certain activities.
For example, the Duncan Hunter National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2009 stated
that no funding appropriated pursuant to authorizations in the Act could be used “to establish any
military installation or base for the purpose of providing for the permanent stationing of United 69
States Armed Forces in Iraq,” or “to exercise United States control of the oil resources of Iraq.”
On interagency reform, see CRS Report RL34455, Organizing the U.S. Government for National Security: Overview
of the Interagency Reform Debates, by Catherine Dale, Nina M. Serafino, and Pat Towell. On the role of DOD in
foreign assistance activities, including security forces training and reconstruction activities, see CRS Report RL34639,
The Department of Defense Role in Foreign Assistance: Background, Major Issues, and Options for Congress, by Nina
M. Serafino et al. On the capabilities of U.S. government civilian agencies, see CRS Report RL32862,
Peacekeeping/Stabilization and Conflict Transitions: Background and Congressional Action on the Civilian
Response/Reserve Corps and other Civilian Stabilization and Reconstruction Capabilities, by Nina M. Serafino and
Martin A. Weiss.
67 The Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations of the House Armed Services Committee has hosted a series of
hearings about PRTs in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the potential implications for future U.S. inter-agency coordination
and organization. The Army’s Center for Army Lessons Learned, at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, has conducted
interviews with PRT participants and published initial observations. See “PRT Playbook: Tactics, Techniques and
Procedures,” Center for Army Lessons Learned, No. 07-34, September 2007.
68 On options available to the Congress, their constitutionality, and their possible impact, see CRS Report RL33837,
Congressional Authority to Limit U.S. Military Operations in Iraq, by Jennifer K. Elsea, Michael John Garcia, and
Thomas J. Nicola. For examples of tools available to Congress in general for shaping U.S. military operations, see CRS
Report RL33803, Congressional Restrictions on U.S. Military Operations in Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Somalia, and
Kosovo: Funding and Non-Funding Approaches, by Amy Belasco et al.
69 Duncan Hunter National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2009, P.L. 110-417, October 14, 2008, §1211.
This section repeated language from the FY2008 NDAA.
Congress may also make some funding contingent on achievement of certain milestones. For
example, in the Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2008 (P.L. 110-252), Congress required that
funding under Chapter 4 of the Act, “Department of State and Foreign Operations,” be made
available for assistance to Iraq “only to the extent that the Government of Iraq matches such 70
assistance on a dollar-for-dollar basis.” More broadly, in the U.S. Troop Readiness, Veterans’
Care, Katrina Recovery, and Iraq Accountability Appropriations Act of 2007, Congress
established 18 benchmarks for the performance of the Government of Iraq, and provided that
further U.S. strategy in Iraq would be conditioned on the Iraqi government’s meeting those 71
Another tool is holding oversight hearings, to ask Administration officials to account for the
progress and results to date of policy implementation. For example, on September 10, 2008, the
House Armed Services Committee invited Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Chairman of
the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen to testify at a hearing entitled “Security and
Stability in Afghanistan and Iraq: Developments in U.S. Strategy and Operations and the Way
Ahead.” On September 23, 2008, the Senate Armed Services Committee held a hearing on the
situation in Iraq and Afghanistan, with Secretary Gates and General James Cartwright, Vice
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Congress may also shape policy by establishing reporting requirements. For example, in the
Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2008 (P.L. 110-252), Congress required the Secretary of
Defense to provide to Congress, every 90 days beginning not later than December 5, 2008, until
the end of FY2009, a “comprehensive set of performance indicators and measures for progress
toward military and political stability in Iraq.” The Act lists detailed reporting requirements in
two areas, stability and security in Iraq, and the training and performance of Iraqi security forces,
and also required an assessment of “United States military requirements, including planned force 72
rotations, through the end of calendar year 2009.”
This report is designed to support congressional consideration of future policy options for Iraq by
analyzing strategies pursued and outcomes achieved to date, by characterizing current dynamics
on the ground in Iraq, and by identifying and analyzing key strategic and operational
considerations going forward. The report will be updated as events warrant. Major topics
addressed include the following:
• Analysis of future strategic and operational considerations.
• OIF war planning, including stated objectives, key debates in the major
combat and post-major combat planning efforts, and the impact of apparent
short-comings in the planning efforts on post-war developments.
Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2008, P.L. 110-252, June 30, 2008, §1402(e).
71 See U.S. Troop Readiness, Veterans’ Care, Katrina Recovery, and Iraq Accountability Appropriations Act of 2007,
P.L. 110-28, May 25, 2007, §1314(b)(1)(A), which lists the 18 benchmarks. In §1314(c)(1), the Act specified that no
funding appropriated for Iraq might be obligated or expended unless and until the President certified that Iraqi is
making progress on each of the benchmarks.
72 Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2008, P.L. 110-252, June 30, 2008, §9204. The requirement was a continuation of
a requirement from Fiscal Year 2008, articulated in the Consolidated Appropriations Act, P.L. 110-161, December 26,
• Major combat operations, including both successes and challenges
• Post-major combat military activities—combat operations, Iraqi security
forces training, and an array of “reconciliation,” governance, and economic
reconstruction efforts—including analysis of evolutions over time in strategy and
• Assessments of the results of strategy and operations to date.
The Administration’s decision to launch Operation Iraqi Freedom had antecedents stretching back
to the 1991 Gulf War and its aftermath.
In the 1990’s, the United States shared with other countries a concern with the Iraqi government’s
weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programs. Iraq had demonstrated a willingness to use
WMD against its neighbors during the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war, and against its own citizens, as it
did, for example, against Iraqi Kurds in Halabja in 1988. U.S. policy after the Gulf War supported
the United Nations-led weapons inspection regime and the economic sanctions imposed to
encourage Iraq’s compliance with that regime. Before they were withdrawn in 1998, U.N.
weapons inspectors located and destroyed sizable quantities of WMD in Iraq.
U.S. post-Gulf War policy also included containment initiatives—“no fly” zones—imposed by
the United States together with the United Kingdom and, initially, France. The northern “no fly”
zone, Operation Northern Watch was designed to protect the Iraqi Kurdish population in northern
Iraq and international humanitarian relief efforts there. Operation Southern Watch was designed
to protect the Shi’a Arab population in southern Iraq.
These containment measures were periodically marked by Iraqi provocations, including troop
build-ups and attempts to shoot down allied aircraft, and by allied responses including attacks on 73
targets inside Iraq. In December 1998, the United States and the United Kingdom launched
Operation Desert Fox, whose stated purpose was to degrade Iraq’s ability to manufacture or use
Also during the late 1990s, a policy climate more conducive to aggressive action against the Iraqi
regime began to take shape in Washington, D.C., as some policy experts began to advocate 74
actively fostering Iraqi resistance, in order to encourage regime change. In 1998, Congress
Overall, some 300,000 sorties were flown. In 2002 for example, Iraqi forces fired on coalition aircraft 500 times,
prompting 90 coalition air strikes against Iraqi targets. See Suzann Chapman, “The War Before the War,” Air Force
Magazine, February 2004. Chapman cites Air Force General John Jumper as noting in March 2003 that between June
2002 and March 2003, the U.S. Air Force flew about 4,000 sorties against Iraq’s air defense system, surface-to-air
missiles, and command and control.
74 See the December 1, 1997, issue of the Weekly Standard, with a series of articles, under the heading “Saddam Must
Go,” including “Overthrow Him,” by Zalmay Khalilzad and Paul Wolfowitz.
passed the Iraq Liberation Act, authorizing support to Iraqi opposition organizations.75 Some
supporters of this policy approach gained greater access, and in some cases office, under the Bush
Administration after the 2000 presidential elections.
For many U.S. policy makers, the September 11, 2001, attacks catalyzed or heightened general
concerns that WMD might fall into the hands of terrorists. Reflecting those concerns, the first
National Security Strategy issued by the Bush Administration, in September 2002, highlighted the
policy of preemptive, or anticipatory, action, to forestall hostile acts by adversaries, “even if 76
uncertainty remains as to the time and place of the enemy’s attack.”
Throughout 2002, the stated position of the Administration was to aggressively seek Iraqi
compliance with U.N. Security Council Resolutions concerning the inspections regime, while 77
holding out the possibility of U.N Chapter VII action if Iraq did not comply. In September 2002,
addressing the U.N. General Assembly, President Bush stated: “The Security Council Resolutions
will be enforced ... or action will be unavoidable.” On that occasion, President Bush also
articulated a list of conditions that Iraq must meet if it wanted to avoid retaliatory action: give up
or destroy all WMD and long-range missiles; end all support to terrorism; cease persecution of its
civilian population; account for all missing Gulf War personnel and accept liability for losses; and 78
end all illicit trade outside the oil-for-food program.
On November 8, 2002, following intensive negotiations among its “Permanent 5” members,79 the
U.N. Security Council issued Resolution 1441. In it, the Council decided that Iraq remained in
“material breach” of its obligations; that the Council would afford Iraq “a final opportunity to
comply”; that failure to comply would “constitute a further material breach”; and that in that case, 80
Iraq would “face serious consequences.”
This language, though strong by U.N. standards, was not considered by most observers to imply
“automaticity”—that is, that Iraqi non-compliance would automatically trigger a U.N.-authorized
response under Chapter VII.
While the Iraqi government eventually provided a large quantity of written materials, the
Administration deemed Iraqi compliance to be insufficient. The Administration chose not to seek
The Iraq Liberation Act, P.L. 105-338, October 31, 1998, authorized support to “Iraqi democratic opposition
organizations”and included provisions concerning how to identify such organizations.
76 The National Security Strategy of the United States of America, September 2002, p.15, available at
77 Chapter VII of the Charter of the United Nations authorizes the U.N. Security Council to “determine the existence of
any threat to the peace, breach of the peace, or act of aggression” (Article 39), and should the Council consider other
specified measures inadequate, to “take such action by air, sea, or land forces as may be necessary to maintain or
restore international peace and security” (Article 42), see Charter of the United Nations, available at http://www.un.org/
78 President Bush’s Address to the United Nations General Assembly, September 12, 2002, New York, NY, available at
the White House website http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2002/09/20020912-1.html.
79 China, France, Russian Federation, United Kingdom, United States. Each of the 15 Council members has one vote.
Procedural matters are made by an affirmative vote of at least 9 of the 15. Substantive matters require nine votes,
including concurring votes from the 5 permanent members. See http://www.un.org/sc/members.asp.
80 United Nations Security Council Resolution 1441, 8 November 2002, paragraphs 1, 2, 4, and 13.
an additional U.N. Resolution explicitly authorizing military action under Chapter VII, reportedly
due to concerns that some Permanent Members of the Council were prepared to veto it.
The Administration’s intent to take military action against Iraq was formally made public on
March 17, 2003, when President Bush issued an ultimatum to Saddam Hussein and his sons to 81
leave Iraq within 48 hours. “Their refusal to do so,” he said, would “result in military conflict.”
As the Prussian military theorist Karl von Clausewitz wrote, war planning includes articulation of 82
both intended goals and how they will be achieved. In the case of Operation Iraqi Freedom,
Administration goals included both short-term military objectives and longer-term strategic goals.
To meet that intent, the Administration planned—though apparently in unequal measure—for
both combat operations and the broader range of operations that would be required on “the day
after” regime removal.
The Administration’s short-term goal for OIF was regime removal. As President Bush stated in
his March 17, 2003, Address to the Nation, “It is too late for Saddam Hussein to remain in
power.” In that speech, he promised Iraqis, “We will tear down the apparatus of terror ... the 83
tyrant will soon be gone.”
In his March 2003 speech, President Bush declared that in the longer term, the United States
would help Iraqis build “a new Iraq that is prosperous and free.” It would be an Iraq, as he
described it, that would not be at war with its neighbors, and that would not abuse its own 84
citizens. Those were the basic “endstate” elements typically used by war planners. The U.S.
Central Command (CENTCOM) OIF campaign plan, for example, described the strategic
objective this way: “A stable Iraq, with its territorial integrity intact and a broad-based
government that renounces WMD development and use and no longer supports terrorism or 85
threatens its neighbors.”
President Bush Address to the Nation, March 17, 2003, available at http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2003/
82 Clausewitz made the point more forcefully: “No one starts a war, or rather, no one in his senses ought to do so,
without first being clear in his mind what he intends to achieve by that war and how he intends to conduct it.” Carl von
Clausewitz, On War, Michael Howard and Peter Paret, eds., Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press, 1976.
83 President Bush Address to the Nation, March 17, 2003, available at http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2003/
85 Information from CENTCOM, CFLCC and V Corps planners, 2002 and 2003. From July 2002 to July 2004, the
author served as the Political Advisor (POLAD) to the Commanding General (CG) of U.S. Army V Corps. That service
included deploying with V Corps in early 2003 to Kuwait and then Iraq. In Iraq, the author served as POLAD to the CG
of the Combined Joint Task Force-7 (CJTF-7), and then the Multi-National Force-Iraq (MNF-I).
Over time, the Administration’s longer-term strategic objectives were fine-tuned. In the
November 2005 National Strategy for Victory in Iraq, the Administration stated the long-term
goal for Iraq this way: “Iraq is peaceful, united, stable, and secure, well-integrated into the 86
international community, and a full partner in the global war on terrorism.”
In January 2007, at the time the “surge” was announced, the White House released an unclassified
version of the results of its late 2006 internal review of Iraq policy. That document states: “Our
strategic goal in Iraq remains the same: a unified, democratic, federal Iraq that can govern itself, 87
defend itself, and sustain itself, and is an ally in the war on terror.”
And in September 2008, in its regular quarterly update to the Congress, the Department of
Defense used the same language almost verbatim: “The strategic goal of the United States in Iraq
remains a unified, democratic and federal Iraq that can govern, defend and sustain itself and is an 88
ally in the war on terror.”
To support the stated U.S. strategic objectives, CENTCOM, as it planned military operations in
Iraq, defined the OIF military objectives this way: “destabilize, isolate, and overthrow the Iraqi
regime and provide support to a new, broad-based government; destroy Iraqi WMD capability
and infrastructure; protect allies and supporters from Iraqi threats and attacks; destroy terrorist
networks in Iraq, gather intelligence on global terrorism, detain terrorists and war criminals, and
free individuals unjustly detained under the Iraqi regime; and support international efforts to set 89
conditions for long-term stability in Iraq and the region.”
From a military perspective, there are theoretically many different possible ways to remove a
regime—using different capabilities, in different combinations, over different timelines. The 1991
Gulf War, for example, had highlighted the initial use of air power in targeting key regime
infrastructure. The more recent war in Afghanistan had showcased a joint effort, as Special
Operations Forces on the ground called in air strikes on key targets. Key debates in OIF major
combat planning concerned the size of the force, the timelines for action, and the synchronization
of ground and air power.
According to participants, throughout the planning process, Secretary of Defense Donald
Rumsfeld played an active role, consistently urging the use of a streamlined force and a quick 90
timeline. Secretary Rumsfeld reportedly came into office with a vision of defense
National Strategy for Victory in Iraq, November 30, 2005, available at http://www.whitehouse.gov/infocus/iraq/
87 “Highlights of the Iraq Strategy Review” slides, National Security Council, January 2007, available at
88 Department of Defense, “Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq,” September 2008, submitted in accordance with
Section 9010, Department of Defense Appropriations Act 2007, P.L. 109-289, as amended by Section 1308 of P.L.
89 Information from CENTCOM, CFLCC and V Corps planners, 2002, 2003, and 2008.
90 Interviews with planners who participated in the process, 2002 and 2003. Bob Woodward cites Secretary Rumsfeld
as saying, at a December 4, 2001, planning session, “I’m not sure that that much force is needed, given what we’ve
transformation, both operational and institutional.91 A basic premise of that vision, captured in the
changed, and so must our force.” In general, that meant transitioning from a military “structured
to deter massive Cold War-era armies,” to a leaner and more agile force. At issue in the OIF
planning debates was not only how to fight the war in Iraq, but also—implicitly—how to
organize, man, train and equip the force for the future.
For military planners, the guidance to use a streamlined force reflected a fundamental shift away
from the Powell Doctrine, named after the former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, which 93
stressed that force, if used, should be overwhelming.
The planning effort started early. Just before Thanksgiving, 2001, President Bush asked Secretary
Rumsfeld to develop a plan for regime removal in Iraq, and Secretary Rumsfeld immediately
gave that assignment to the commander of U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), General 94
The planning effort for combat operations was initially very “close hold,” involving only a few
key leaders and small groups of trusted planners at each level. As the effort progressed, the
number of people involved grew, but key elements of the plans remained compartmentalized, 95
such that few people had visibility on all elements of the plans.
The starting point for the planning effort was the existing, “on the shelf” Iraq war plan, known as
1003-98, which had been developed and then refined during the 1990’s. That plan called for a
force of between 400,000 and 500,000 U.S. troops, including three Corps (or Corps equivalents),
with a long timeline for the deployment and build-up of forces beforehand. When General Franks
briefed Secretary Rumsfeld on these plans in late November 2001, Secretary Rumsfeld reportedly 96
asked for a completely new version—with fewer troops and a faster deployment timeline.
In early 2002, General Franks briefed Secretary Rumsfeld on the “Generated Start” plan. That
plan called for very early infiltration by CIA teams, to build relationships and gain intelligence,
and then the introduction of Special Operations Forces, particularly in northern Iraq and in Al
Anbar province in the west. The main conventional forces effort would begin with near-
learned coming out of Afghanistan.” Bob Woodward, Plan of Attack, New York: Simon and Schuster, 2004.
91 Conversations with Office of the Secretary of Defense officials, 2005 and 2006.
92 The National Security Strategy of the United States of America, September 2002, p.29, available at
93 The “Powell Doctrine,” generally acknowledged as the basis for the first Gulf War, was a collection of ideas, not a
written document. Other key elements included force should only be used as a last resort, when there is a clear threat;
there must be strong public support for the use of force; there must be a clear exit strategy. The Powell Doctrine
derived in part from the Weinberger Doctrine, named after former Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger, Powell’s
one-time boss, which had been based on some Vietnam “lessons learned.”
94 Interviews with planners, 2002 and 2003. See also Bob Woodward, Plan of Attack, New York: Simon and Schuster,
95 Information from CENTCOM and CFLCC planners, and Office of the Secretary of Defense officials, 2002 and 2003.
96 Interviews with planners, 2002 and 2003. See also Michael R. Gordon and General Bernard E. Trainor, Cobra II:
The Inside Story and the Invasion and Occupation of Iraq, New York: Vintage Books, 2006; and Bob Woodward, Plan
of Attack, New York: Simon and Schuster, 2004.
simultaneous air and ground attacks. The force would continue to grow up to about 275,000 97
CENTCOM’s air component—the Combined Force Air Component Command (CFACC)—
reportedly urged modifying the plan to include a 10- to 14-day air campaign at the start, to target
and hit Iraq’s missile, radar, command and control, and other leadership sites, on the model of the 98
Gulf War. But the early introduction of ground forces—rather than an extended exclusively air 99
campaign—was apparently intended to take Iraqi forces by surprise.
Later in the spring of 2002, CENTCOM and subordinate planners developed an alternative plan
called “Running Start,” which addressed the possibility that the Iraqi regime might choose the
war’s start time through some provocation, such as the use of WMD. “Running start” called for a
smaller overall force and a shorter timeline. It would still begin with infiltration by CIA teams,
followed by the introduction of SOF. Air attacks would go first, and as ground forces flowed into
theater, the ground attacks could begin any time after the first 25 days of air attacks. The ground 100
war might begin with as few as 18,000 ground forces entering Iraq.
In the summer of 2002, planners developed a so-called “hybrid” version of these two plans,101
which echoed key elements of the “Running Start” plan—beginning with an air campaign, and
launching the ground war while other ground forces still flowed into theater. Specifically, the plan
called for: Presidential notification 5 days in advance; 11 days to flow forces; 16 days for the air
campaign; the start of the ground campaign as ground forces continued to flow into theater; and a
total campaign that would last up to 125 days. This plan, approved for action, continued to be 102
known as the “5-11-16-125” plan even after the numbers of days had changed.
By January 2003, at the CENTCOM Component Commanders Conference hosted by General
Franks in Tampa, the plans had coalesced around a modified version of “Generated Start.” They
featured a very short initial air campaign, including bombs and missiles—a couple of days, rather
than a couple of weeks. The ground campaign would begin with two three-star-led
headquarters—U.S. Army V Corps, and the I Marine Expeditionary Force—and some of their
forces crossing the line of departure from Kuwait into Iraq, while additional forces continued to th
flow into theater. Meanwhile, the 4 Infantry Division would open a northern front by entering
Iraq from Turkey.
Interviews with planners and slide review, 2002 and 2003. See “Top Secret Polo Step” collection, “Compartmented
Planning Effort, 15 August 2002” CENTCOM brief, obtained through the Freedom of Information Act and posted by
the National Security Archive, The George Washington University, available at http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/
98 Gordon and Trainor note that this issue was debated at the March 2002 CENTCOM Component Commanders
Conference. Michael R. Gordon and General Bernard E. Trainor, Cobra II: The Inside Story and the Invasion and
Occupation of Iraq, New York: Vintage Books, 2006.
99 Information from planners, 2002, 2003, and 2008.
100 Interviews with planners and slide review, 2002 and 2003. See “Top Secret Polo Step” collection, “Compartmented
Planning Effort, 15 August 2002” CENTCOM brief, obtained through the Freedom of Information Act and posted by
the National Security Archive, The George Washington University, available at http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/
NSAEBB/NSAEBB214/index.htm. See also Michael R. Gordon and General Bernard E. Trainor, Cobra II: The Inside
Story and the Invasion and Occupation of Iraq, New York: Vintage Books, 2006.
101 “Hybrid” simply referred descriptively to the plan—it was not the formal name of a plan—although some senior
leaders later seemed to use “Hybrid” as a proper noun.
102 Interviews with planners and slide review, 2002, 2003 and 2008; “Compartmented Planning Effort”; and Gordon
and Trainor, Cobra II.
The number of forces that would start the ground campaign continued to be adjusted, generally
downward, in succeeding days. On January 29, 2003, Army commanders learned that they would
enter Iraq with just two Divisions—less than their plans to that point had reflected. At that time, V
Corps and its subordinate commands were at a training site in Grafenwoehr, Germany, rehearsing
the opening of the tactical-level ground campaign at an exercise called “Victory Scrimmage.”
During that exercise, commanders and staff concluded that should they be required to “secure” 103
cities in southern Iraq, they would have insufficient forces to do so.
The V Corps Commander at the time, then-Lieutenant General William Scott Wallace, reflected
after the end of major combat in Iraq: “I guess that as summer [arrived] I wasn’t real comfortable 104
with the troop levels.”
Most observers agree that the Administration’s planning for “post-war” Iraq—for all the activities
and resources that would be required on “the day after,” to help bring about the strategic
objective, a “free and prosperous Iraq”—was not nearly as thorough as the planning for combat
For the U.S. military, the stakes of the post-war planning efforts were very high. In theory,
civilian agencies would have the responsibility for using political, diplomatic, and economic tools
to help achieve the desired political endstate for Iraq, while the Department of Defense and its
military forces would play only a supporting role after the end of major combat operations. But
by far the greatest number of coalition personnel on the ground in Iraq at the end of major combat
would be U.S. military forces, and the U.S. military was very likely to become the default option
for any unfilled roles and any unanticipated responsibilities.
A number of participants and observers have argued that the Administration should have sent a
larger number of U.S. troops to Iraq, to provide security in the post-major combat period.
Ambassador L. Paul Bremer, who served as the Administrator of the Coalition Provisional
Authority (CPA) throughout the formal occupation of Iraq, leveled this criticism after departing
Iraq. Asked what he would have changed about the occupation, he replied: “The single most
important change—the one thing that would have improved the situation—would have been 105
having more troops in Iraq at the beginning and throughout.”
A logical fallacy in the number-of-troops critique is that “How many troops do you need?” is not
an especially meaningful question, unless what those troops will be expected to do is clarified. By
many accounts, the OIF post-war planning process did not provide commanders, before the start
of combat operations, with a clear picture of the extent of their assigned post-war 106
Information from V Corps leaders and staff, 2003.
104 William S. Wallace, Interview, Frontline, Public Broadcasting System, February 26, 2004, available at
http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/invasion/interviews/Wallace.html. He quickly added, “But I was
comfortable with the degree of training of those forces that were available to us.”
105 See Robin Wright and Tom Ricks, “Bremer Criticizes Troop Levels,” Washington Post, October 5, 2004.
Ambassador Bremer’s remarks were quoted from a nominally off-the-record talk he gave at DePauw University on
September 17, 2004.
106 Information from CENTCOM, CFLCC, V Corps, and Division Commanders, 2003, 2004 and 2008, and from Office
A primary focus of the interagency post-war-planning debates was who would be in charge in
Iraq, on “the day after.” For the military, decisions by the Administration about who would do
what would help clarify the military’s own roles and responsibilities. Before making such
decisions—in particular, what responsibilities would be carried out by Iraqis—the Administration
cultivated Iraqi contacts.
Based on months of negotiations, in conjunction with the government of the United Kingdom, the
Administration helped sponsor a series of conferences of Iraqi oppositionists, including
expatriates and some Iraqis—notably Iraqi Kurds—who could come and go from their homes.
The events included a major conference in London in December 2002, and a follow-on event in 107
Salahuddin, Iraq, in February 2003. At these events, Iraqi oppositionists agreed on a political
statement and self-nominated a “leadership council,” but the events did not directly produce U.S. 108
policy decisions about post-war roles and responsibilities.
During the same time frame, the Departments of State and Defense were locked in debate about
post-war political plans for Iraq. The State Department supported a deliberate political process,
including slowly building new political institutions, based on the rule of law, while, in the
meantime, Iraqis would serve only in advisory capacities. Through the second half of 2002, the
State Department’s “Future of Iraq” project brought together Iraqi oppositionists and experts, in a
series of working groups, to consider an array of potential post-war challenges. While a tacit goal
of the project was to identify some Iraqis who might serve in future leadership positions, it was 109
not designed to produce a slate of leaders-in-waiting. The project was also not designed to
produce formal plans. However, some of the ideas it generated did reportedly help operational-
level military planners refine their efforts, and the project might have had a greater impact had 110
more of its output reached the planners.
The Department of Defense (DOD)—more specifically and accurately the Office of the Secretary
of Defense (OSD)—favored putting Iraqis in charge of Iraq, in some form, as soon as possible,
based loosely on the model of Afghanistan. A “real” Iraqi leadership with real power, some
officials believed, might find favor with the Iraqi people and with neighboring states, and might 111
shorten the length of the U.S. commitment in Iraq. As Secretary Rumsfeld reportedly told
of the Secretary of Defense officials, 2003 and 2004.
107 Interviews with event organizers, 2002 and 2003. See Michael Howard, “Conference Delegates Vie for Political
Role in New Iraq,” The Guardian, December 16, 2002; and Judith Miller, “Ending Conference, Iraqi Dissidents Insist
on Self-Government,” The New York Times, March 3, 2003.
108 Information from Department of State and Office of the Secretary of Defense officials, 2002 and 2003.
109 Interviews with State officials responsible for the project, 2002 and 2003, and participation in some project sessions.
110 Information from CFLCC planners, 2003 and 2008.
111 Ahmed Chalabi, leader of the Iraqi opposition umbrella group Iraqi National Congress, was one key figure with
whom OSD maintained contact, and some practitioners and observers have maintained that OSD sought primarily to
“crown Chalabi.” However, according to OSD officials, the “theory of the case,” that is, introducing a new Iraqi
leadership as soon as possible, was more important part of the argument than individual personalities. Information from
the Office of the Secretary of Defense, Joint Staff, and Department of State officials, 2002 and 2003.
President Bush in August 2002, “We will want to get Iraqis in charge of Iraq as soon as 112
In the fall of 2002, no clear decision emerged about the role of Iraqis in immediate post-war Iraq.
Discussions among senior leaders apparently focused on the concept of a U.S.-led “transitional
civil administration” that would govern, or help govern, Iraq. However, no agreement was
reached at that time about what authority such a body would have, what its responsibilities would 113
be, how long it would last, or which Iraqis would be involved.
In January 2003, Administration thinking coalesced around a broad post-war political process for
Iraq, captured in what was universally known at the time as the “mega-brief.” The approach
favored the State Department’s preference for a deliberate process that would give Iraqi post-
Saddam political life a chance to develop organically, but it also acknowledged DOD’s concern to
provide a visible Iraqi leadership—though very weakly empowered—as soon as possible. The
“mega-brief” process would include creating a senior-level Iraqi Consultative Council (ICC) to
serve in an advisory capacity; dismissing top Iraqi leaders from the Saddam era but welcoming
most lower-ranking officials to continue to serve; creating an Iraqi judicial council; holding a
national census; conducting municipal elections; holding elections to a constitutional convention
that would draft a constitution; carrying out a constitutional referendum; and then holding 114
national elections. It was envisaged that the process would take years to complete.
The “mega-brief” approach—which gained currency just as U.S. troops were conducting final
rehearsals for the war—implied that many governance tasks would need to be performed by 115
coalition (non-Iraqi) personnel, whether civilian or military, for some time to come.
Tommy Franks, American Soldier, New York: Regan Books, 2004, p.393. Franks reports that the remarks were
made at a 5 August 2002 session of the National Security Council.
113 Interviews with officials from the NSC, State Department, Office of the Secretary of Defense, and the Joint Staff,
2002 and 2003.
114 Information from NSC staff, and Department of State and Office of the Secretary of Defense officials, 2003 and
2008. In testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, on February 11, 2003, then-Under Secretary of
Defense for Policy Doug Feith, who favored “putting Iraqis in charge,” describing the possible post-Saddam political
process, named the key elements of the “mega-brief,” including the Iraqi Consultative Council, the judicial council, the
drafting of a constitution followed by a referendum, and early local elections. See Douglas J. Feith, War and Decision:
Inside the Pentagon at the Dawn of the War on Terrorism. New York: Harper, 2008, p.369.
115 During the spring of 2003, while combat operations commenced and U.S. commanders on the ground were wholly
occupied with the fight, inter-agency wrangling concerning post-Saddam governance apparently continued. Former
Under Secretary of Defense Doug Feith writes that in March 2003, his office, OSD (Policy), drafted a concept that
called for the early appointment of an Iraqi Interim Authority (IIA) that would share leadership responsibilities with the
coalition—that is, it would be less than an interim government, but more than a merely consultative body. Feith writes
that the IIA concept was approved by President Bush at a session of the National Security Council on March 10, 2003.
(See Douglas J. Feith, War and Decision: Inside the Pentagon at the Dawn of the War on Terrorism. New York:
Harper, 2008, p.408.) During his brief tenure in Iraq, with a view to identifying Iraqis to play interim roles, Jay Garner,
leader of the Organization for Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance (ORHA) hosted two “big-tent” meetings of
Iraqi expats and community leaders, on April 15, 2003, in Nasariyah, and on April 28, 2003, in Baghdad. In early May
2003, just before President Bush announced that a new Coalition Provisional Authority, led by Ambassador L. Paul
“Jerry” Bremer would supercede ORHA, Garner stated publicly that a “nucleus” of a “temporary” Iraqi leadership
would emerge by later that month. After his arrival, Bremer slowed the process and, in July 2003, created the Iraqi
Governing Council—an interim body like both the ICC and IIA concepts, with relatively little authority. Bremer has
argued that at the time of his own appointment to head CPA in early May, the President’s direction to him was not to
hurry, but to “take the time necessary to create a stable political environment.” See L. Paul Bremer III, “Facts for Feith:
CPA History,” National Review Online, March 19, 2008. It is possible that despite some broad presidential direction,
key senior practitioners failed to reach a single, shared understanding of the role that an interim Iraqi body would play
Military commanders and planners typically base operational plans on policy assumptions and
clearly specify those assumptions at the beginning of any plans briefing. For OIF planners, the
critical policy assumptions concerned who would have which post-war roles and responsibilities.
OIF preparations reversed the usual sequence, in that military planning began long before the key
policy debates, let alone policy conclusions.
During their planning process, military commanders apparently sought to elicit the policy 116
guidance they needed by briefing their policy assumptions and hoping for a response. In
December 2001, in his first OIF brief to President Bush, General Franks included as one element
of the mission: “establish a provisional Iraqi government,” but this measure was neither
confirmed nor rejected. General Franks wrote later that as he briefed this to the President, he had 117
in mind the Bonn Conference for Afghanistan. In August 2002, still without a policy decision
about post-war responsibilities, CENTCOM included in its war plans briefing the assumption:
“DoS [Department of State] will promote creation of a broad-based, credible provisional 118
government prior to D-Day.”
Unable to determine what Iraqi civilian structure they would be asked to support, the military
sought to elicit guidance about the coalition’s own post-war architecture and responsibilities.
According to General Franks, the CENTCOM war plans slides briefed to President Bush and the
National Security Council on August 5, 2002, included the intentionally provocative phrase, 119
“military administration,” but no decision about post-war architecture was made at that time.
Two months later, the OIF plans slides included, for the first time, a full wiring diagram of the
coalition’s post-war structure, describing post-war responsibilities in a “military administration.”
A “Joint Task Force” would be responsible for security, a civilian “High Commissioner” would be
responsible for all other functions; and both would report to CENTCOM. This chart still failed to
prompt a decision, although Office of the Secretary of Defense staff reportedly spent the ensuing 120
weeks considering “High Commissioner” candidates, just in case.
By late 2002, in the absence of detailed policy guidance, military commanders at several levels
had launched “Phase IV” planning efforts, to identify and begin to prepare for potential post-war
requirements. In January 2003, based on a recommendation that came out of the “Internal Look”
exercise conducted in Kuwait in December 2002, Brigadier General Steve Hawkins was named to
lead a new “Task Force IV.” TFIV, an ad hoc organization, was tasked to conduct post-war
planning, and to prepare to deploy to Baghdad as the nucleus of a post-war headquarters. TFIV
was dispatched immediately to Kuwait, to work under the operational control of the Combined
and the authority it would exercise.
116 Information from CENTCOM planners, 2003 and 2006.
117 Tommy Franks, American Soldier, New York: Regan Books, 2004.
118 “Compartmented Planning Effort, 15 August 2002” brief, part of “Top Secret Polo Step” collection, obtained
through the Freedom of Information Act and posted by the National Security Archive, The George Washington
University, available at http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB214/Tab%20I.pdf.
119 Tommy Franks, American Soldier, New York: Regan Books, 2004.
120 Interviews with officials from the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff, the Department of State, and
the NSC staff, 2002 and 2003.
Forces Land Component Command (CFLCC)—the ground forces component of CENTCOM—121
and its commanding general, Lieutenant General David McKiernan. TFIV thus provided skilled
labor, but no connectivity to the still on-going Washington policy debates about the post-war
division of responsibilities.
In March 2003, CFLCC launched a dedicated post-war planning effort of its own, led by Major
General Albert Whitley (UK), who was part of the CFLCC leadership. His more comprehensive
effort—known as Eclipse II—benefitted from close connectivity with its sister-effort, CFLCC’s
combat operations planning, but lacked direct access to the broader Washington policy debates.
In addition to lacking policy guidance about post-war roles and responsibilities, these operational-
level planning efforts lacked insight into key aspects of the current state of affairs in Iraq. For
example, planning assumed that Iraqis, in particular law enforcement personnel, would be
available and willing to resume some civic duties on the “day after.” Also, plans did not recognize
the deeply degraded status of Iraqi infrastructure, such as electricity grids.
On January 20, 2003, by National Security Presidential Directive 24, the President created the
Organization for Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance (ORHA), to serve first as the post-
war planning office in the Pentagon, and then to deploy to Iraq. Throughout, ORHA would report
to the Department of Defense. Retired Army Lieutenant General Jay Garner, who had led
Operation Provide Comfort in northern Iraq after the Gulf War, was appointed to lead ORHA. He
quickly brought on board a team of other retired Army general officers to serve in key leadership 122
ORHA held its founding conference on February 20 and 21, 2003, at the National Defense
University. Participants included the fledgling ORHA staff, representatives of civilian agencies
that would contribute to the effort, and representatives of the military commands—long since
deployed to Kuwait—that would become ORHA’s partners.
As briefed at NDU, ORHA would be responsible for three pillars of activity in post-war Iraq—
Civil Affairs, Humanitarian Affairs, and Reconstruction—while the military would be responsible
for security. Those ORHA efforts would commence in each area as soon as major combat
operations ended. The most important constraint was time—the civilian agencies were not
organized or resourced to be able to provide substantial resources or personnel by the start of
major combat operations.
ORHA’s command relationships with other Department of Defense bodies were initially a topic
of dispute. During ORHA’s “post-war planning office” days inside the Pentagon, General Garner
reported directly to Secretary Rumsfeld. It was generally agreed that, once in the field, ORHA
Interviews with TFIV leaders and members, and with CFLCC staff, 2003. See also Michael R. Gordon and General
Bernard E. Trainor, Cobra II: The Inside Story and the Invasion and Occupation of Iraq, New York: Vintage Books,
122 They included Lieutenant General Ron Adams, Lieutenant General Jerry Bates, Major General Bruce Moore, and
Brigadier General Buck Walters. The initial leadership team also included one senior leader from the Department of
State, Ambassador Barbara Bodine, a noted Arabist and regional expert.
would fall under CENTCOM. CFLCC insisted that ORHA would also fall under CFLCC, but 123
ORHA resisted that arrangement.
Shortly after the founding conference at NDU, ORHA deployed to Kuwait with a skeleton staff
and limited resources, and set up its headquarters at the Kuwait Hilton.
Major combat operations in Iraq, launched in March 2003, roughly followed the course that had
been outlined at the CENTCOM Component Commanders Conference in January that year. The
coalition force was both joint—with representatives from all the U.S. military services—and 124
combined—with participants from coalition partner countries.
As long planned, the effort had actually begun before the full-scale launch, with early infiltration
into Iraq by the CIA, including the so-called Northern and Southern Iraq Liaison Elements (NILE
and SILE), whose task was to gather intelligence, form relationships, and lay the groundwork for 125
the early entry of Special Operations Forces (SOF).
SOF, in turn, had also entered Iraq before the formal launch. Among other missions, SOF secured
bases in Al Anbar province in western Iraq, secured suspected WMD sites, pursued some of the
designated “high-value targets,” and worked closely with Iraqi Kurdish forces in northern Iraq—
the pesh merga—to attack a key stronghold of the designated Foreign Terrorist Organization, 126
Ansar al-Islam. Special operations forces in OIF, like the conventional forces, were both joint
and combined—including contingents from the United Kingdom, Australia and Poland. Defense
expert Andrew Krepinevich estimated that “nearly 10,000” SOF took part in OIF major 127
The visible public launch of OIF took place on March 20, 2003, shortly after the expiration of
President Bush’s 48-hour ultimatum to Saddam Hussein and his sons (see above, “Ultimatum to
Information from ORHA senior leaders, and CENTCOM and CFLCC staff, 2003.
124 The U.S. Coast Guard, the only military service that reports to the Department of Homeland Security rather than the
Department of Defense, contributed personnel to conduct maritime-interception operations and to conduct coastal
125 See Bob Woodward, Plan of Attack, New York: Simon and Schuster, 2004, pp.208-212; Michael R. Gordon and
General Bernard E. Trainor, Cobra II: The Inside Story and the Invasion and Occupation of Iraq, New York: Vintage
Books, 2006, pp.156-157, 188-189, 388; and “Top Secret Polo Step” collection, “Compartmented Planning Effort, 15
August 2002” CENTCOM brief, obtained through the Freedom of Information Act and posted by the National Security
Archive, The George Washington University, available at http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB214/
126 Information from CENTCOM, CFLCC and V Corps planners, 2003. See also Andrew Krepinevich, “Operation
Iraqi Freedom: A First-Blush Assessment,” Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, 2003.
127 Andrew Krepinevich, “Operation Iraqi Freedom: A First-Blush Assessment,” Center for Strategic and Budgetary
Saddam Hussein”).128 After months of debate about the sequencing of the air and ground
campaigns, the planned sequence shifted in two major ways at the last minute.
By early 2003, the plans called for beginning with a short air-only campaign, followed by the
ground invasion. However, late-breaking evidence gave rise to stronger concerns that the Iraqi
regime would deliberately destroy its southern oil wells, so the timing of the ground forces launch
was moved up, ahead of the scheduled air campaign launch.
Then, even closer to launch time, the CIA obtained what seemed to be compelling information
about Saddam Hussein’s location—at Dora Farms near Baghdad. In the early hours of March 20,
just as the ultimatum expired, a pair of F-117 fighters targeted the site. That attack narrowly
followed a barrage of Tomahawk missiles, launched from ships at key leadership sites in
That night, coalition ground forces crossed the line of departure from the Kuwaiti desert into
southern Iraq. The following day, March 21, 2003, brought the larger-scale “shock and awe”
attacks on Iraqi command and control and other sites, from both Air Force and Navy assets. Early
Iraqi responses included setting a few oil wells on fire, and firing a few poorly directed missiles 129
into Kuwait, most of which were successfully intercepted by Patriot missiles.
The ground campaign was led by Army Lieutenant General David McKiernan, the Commanding
General of the Combined Forces Land Component Command (CFLCC), the ground component
of CENTCOM. The strategy was a quick, two-pronged push from Kuwait up through southern
Iraq to Baghdad.
Under CFLCC, the ground “main effort” was led by U.S. Army V Corps, under Lieutenant
General William Scott Wallace. V Corps was assigned the western route up to Baghdad, west of 130st
the Euphrates River. Meanwhile, the 1 Marine Expeditionary Force (IMEF), led by Lieutenant
General James Conway, was assigned the eastern route, closer to the border with Iran. From a
tactical perspective, for both the Army and the Marines this was a very long projection of force—
over 600 kilometers from Kuwait up to Baghdad, and more for those units that pushed further
north to Tikrit or to Mosul. Those long distances reportedly strained capabilities including
logistics and communications.
Some discrepancies in contemporary press coverage and later accounts are due to the eight-hour time difference
between Washington D.C., where President Bush issued the 48-hour ultimatum on the evening of March 17; and
Baghdad, where that ultimatum expired in the early morning of March 20. The timeline of operations, described here, is
based on the time in Baghdad.
129 Information from V Corps leaders and staff, 2003. The basic facts of the case, during the initial days of OIF, were
extremely well-documented by the international press. For one clear account, see Romesh Ratnesar, “Awestruck,”
Time, March 23, 2003. See also Michael R. Gordon and General Bernard E. Trainor, Cobra II: The Inside Story and the
Invasion and Occupation of Iraq, New York: Vintage Books, 2006.
130 For an in-depth description from the tactical level of the Army’s role in OIF through major combat operations,
commissioned by the Army and written by participants, see Gregory Fontenot, E.J. Degen, and David Tohn, On Point:
The United States Army in Operation Iraqi Freedom, Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2005.
The Marines were assigned the eastern route up to Baghdad—with more urban areas than the
Army’s western route. The basic strategy still called for a quick drive to Baghdad. Just across the
border into Iraq, IMEF took the far southern port city of Umm Qasr.
The UK First Armored Division, which fell under IMEF, was tasked to take Basra, Iraq’s second
largest city. The UK Division faced resistance from members of the paramilitary force Saddam
Fedayeen and others still loyal to the Ba’ath Party. To limit casualties in the large urban area,
rather than enter the city immediately in full force, the Division used a more methodical
elimination of opponents, combined with outreach to the population to explain their intentions.
IMEF supported the Division’s use of a slow and deliberate tempo. After several weeks of gradual
attrition, the Division pushed into Basra on April 6, 2003.
The main IMEF force encountered some resistance as they pushed north, in particular at the town
of Nassiriyah, a geographical choke-point. At Nassiriyah, “there were a number of things that
seemed to hit us all about the same time, that dented our momentum,” LtGen Conway later noted.
There, the Marines suffered casualties from a friendly fire incident with Apaches. As widely th
reported, the Army’s 507 Maintenance Company lost its way in the area and stumbled into an
ambush, in which some personnel were killed and others, including PFC Jessica Lynch, were
taken hostage. The area was blanketed by fierce desert sandstorms. And the Saddam Fedayeen put
up a determined resistance—“not a shock, but a surprise,” as LtGen Conway later reflected.
Evidence suggested that additional Iraqi fighters, inspired by the ambush carried out by the 131
Fedayeen, came from Baghdad to Nassiriyah to join the fight. After the defeating the resistance
at Nassiriyah, the Marines pushed up to Baghdad along their eastern route.
In the west, the Army faced a longer distance but a less-populated terrain. V Corps began combat
operations with two divisions under its command, the Third Infantry Division (3ID), under Major stst
General Buford Blount, and the 101 Airborne Division (101), under Major General David
The 3ID rapidly led the western charge to Baghdad, moving speedily through the south and
reaching Saddam International Airport on April 4. The division launched its first “thunder run”—
a fast, armored strike—into Baghdad on April 5, and the second on April 7. The purpose of the
first, according to the Brigade Commander in charge, Colonel David Perkins, was “to create as
much confusion as I can inside the city.” The purpose of the second was “to make sure, in no 132
uncertain terms, that people knew the city had fallen and we were in charge of it.”
The 101st followed the 3ID up the western route through southern Iraq, clearing resistance in st
southern cities and allowing the 3ID to move as quickly as possible. Soldiers from the 101 faced
fighting in key urban areas—Hillah, Najaf, Karbala. Just after mid-April, the division arrived and 133
set up its headquarters in Mosul, in northern Iraq.
Interviews with participants, 2003. See also PBS Frontline, “Interview: Lt.Gen. James Conway,” February 26, 2004,
at http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/invasion/interviews/conway. html#marines.
132 PBS Frontline, “Interview: COL David Perkins,” February 26, 2004, at http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/
133 See Press Conference with Major General David Petraeus, May 13, 2003, at http://www.defenselink.mil/transcripts/
transcript.aspx?transcriptid=2601. For an account from the perspective of a battalion commander in the 101st Airborne
Division, see Christopher Hughes, War on Two Fronts: An Infantry Commander’s War in Iraq and the Pentagon,
Drexel Hill, PA: Casemate, 2007.
Like the Marines, the Army was somewhat surprised by the resistance they encountered from the
Saddam Fedayeen. LTG Wallace apparently caused some consternation at higher headquarters
levels with his candid remarks to the press in late March: “The enemy we’re fighting is different
from the one we’d war-gamed against.” He explained, “The attacks we’re seeing are bizarre—134
technical vehicles with .50 calibers and every kind of weapon charging tanks and Bradleys.”
Coupled with major sand storms, these attacks posed challenges to the ground forces’ long supply
lines—“lines of communication”—running up from Kuwait over hundreds of miles through 135
In the north, on March 26, 2003, about 1,000 soldiers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade, part of the
Army’s Southern European Task Force based in Italy, parachuted into northern Iraq. They began
their mission by securing an airfield so that cargo planes carrying tanks and Bradleys could land. rd
Once on the ground, the 173, working closely with air and ground Special Operating Forces and
with Kurdish pesh merga forces, expanded the northern front of OIF.
Initial coalition plans had called for the heavy 4th Infantry Division (4ID) to open the northern
front by crossing into Iraq from Turkey. The intended primary mission was challenging Iraqi
regular army forces based above Baghdad. A more subtle secondary mission was to place limits
on possible Kurdish ambitions to control more territory in northern Iraq, thus providing some
reassurance to the Government of Turkey and discouraging it from sending Turkish forces into
Iraq to restrain the Kurds.
By early 2003, 4ID equipment was sitting on ships circling in the eastern Mediterranean Sea,
waiting for an outcome of the ongoing negotiations with the Turkish government. But on March
1, 2003, the Turkish parliament rejected a proposal that would have allowed the 4ID to use
Iraqi opposition fighters made a very limited contribution to coalition major combat efforts.
Before the war, the Office of the Secretary of Defense had launched an ambitious program to
recruit and train up to 3,000 Iraqi expats, to be known as the “Free Iraqi Forces.” Training, by
U.S. forces, took place in Taszar, Hungary. Ultimately, the number of recruits and graduates was
much lower than originally projected. Most graduates did deploy to Iraq, where they served with
U.S. forces primarily as interpreters or working with local communities on civil affairs 136
Meanwhile, in late March 2003, Iraqi expatriate oppositionist Ahmed Chalabi contacted U.S.
officials with a request to send a group of his own fighters from northern to southern Iraq to join
the fight. After some discussion, agreement was reached and a U.S. military flight was arranged.
In early April, Chalabi and 600 fighters stepped off the plane at Tallil air base in southern Iraq.
Rick Atkinson, “General: A Longer War Likely,” Washington Post, March 28, 2003. Asked whether this suggested
the likelihood of a much longer war than forecast, LTG Wallace replied, “It’s beginning to look that way.” Asked later
that day for his reaction to these comments, Secretary Rumsfeld noted, “Well, I didn’t read the article—I saw the
headline.” See DOD Press Briefing with Secretary Rumsfeld, March 28, 2003, available at http://www.defenselink.mil/
135 Information from V Corps staff, 2003.
136 Information from Office of the Secretary of Defense officials, and CFLCC and CJTF-7 officials, 2003.
The forces were neither equipped nor well-organized. Accounts from many observers, in 137
succeeding months, suggested that some members of the group engaged in lawless behavior.
On April 9, 2003, the statue of Saddam Hussein in Firdos square in Baghdad was toppled. Two
days after the second 3ID “thunder run,” this event signaled for many observers, inside and
outside Iraq, that the old Iraqi regime had ended.
Consistent with the war plans from “Generated Start” onward, U.S. forces continued to flow into th
Iraq. The 4 Infantry Division (4ID), diverted from its original northern front plans, had re-routed st
its troops and equipment to Kuwait. 4ID forces began entering Iraq on April 12, 2003. The 1 st
Armored Division (1AD) also began arriving in April 2003. According to the planning, the 1
Cavalry Division (1CD) was scheduled to be next in line. However, in April 2003, Secretary
Rumsfeld, in coordination with General Franks, made the decision that 1CD was not needed in
Iraq at that time—a decision that apparently caused consternation for some ground 138
As soon as it became apparent that the old regime was no longer exercising control, widespread
looting took place in Baghdad and elsewhere. Targets included government buildings, and the
former houses of regime leaders, but also some private businesses and cultural institutions.
Leaders of the Iraqi National Museum in Baghdad reported, for example, that “looters had taken 139
or destroyed 170,000 items of antiquity dating back thousands of years.” Looters and vandals 140
also targeted unguarded weapons stockpiles largely abandoned by former Iraqi security forces.
Some observers and coalition participants suggested that the coalition simply did not have enough 141
troops to stop all the unlawful behavior.
Meanwhile, U.S. senior leadership attention had turned to Iraq’s political future. In April, the
President’s “Special Envoy for Free Iraqis,” Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, chaired two “big
tent” meetings of Iraqis. The first was held on April 15, 2003, at the ancient city of Ur, near Tallil
air base, and the second was held on April 28, at the Baghdad Convention Center. Participants
include expatriate opposition leaders and Iraqi Kurds, together with a number of in-country
community leaders who had been identified by the CIA and other sources. The sessions focused
Information from CENTCOM and V Corps officials, 2003. Curiously, Chalabi and the fighters, apparently viewing
themselves as a stronger incarnation of the Taszar training program, adopted the name “Free Iraqi Forces.” To
distinguish them from the Taszar-trained Iraqis, the Department of Defense called them the “Free Iraqi Fighting Force.”
138 See Michael Gordon and Bernard Trainor, “Dash to Baghdad left top U.S. Generals Divided,” The New York Times,
March 13, 2006.
139 “Looters ransack Baghdad museum,” BBC News, April 12, 2003. See also John Burns, “A Nation at War: The
Iraqis, Looting and a Suicide Attack as Chaos Grows in Baghdad,” The New York Times, April 11, 2003. Secretary of
Defense Donald Rumsfeld described the dynamic as “untidiness,” and a manifestation of “pent-up feelings that may
result from decades of repression” directed against the old regime. See Department of Defense News Briefing,
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, April 11, 2003, available at http://www.defenselink.mil/transcripts/
140 See an assessment by an OIF participant: Colonel Mark Klingelhoefer, “Captured Enemy Ammunition in Operation
Iraqi Freedom and its Strategic Importance in Post-Conflict Operations,” U.S. Army War College, March 18, 2005,
available at http://www.strategicstudiesinstitute.army.mil/pdffiles/ksil72.pdf.
141 See John Burns, “A Nation at War: The Iraqis, Looting and a Suicide Attack as Chaos Grows in Baghdad,” The New
York Times, April 11, 2003, who quotes a Marine on guard in Baghdad as saying, “we just don’t have enough troops.”
on discussion of broad principles for Iraq’s future, rather than specific decisions about Iraqi 142
On May 1, 2003, President Bush, standing aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln, declared an end to
major combat operations in Iraq. He stated, “In the battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies 143
have prevailed.” At that point, the old Iraqi regime, though not completely dismantled, was no
longer able to exercise control over Iraq’s territory, resources, or population. Saddam Hussein was
captured later, on December 13, 2003, by units of 4ID, outside his hometown Tikrit.
This Report uses the term “post-major combat” to refer to the period from the President’s
announcement of the end of major combat, on May 1, 2003, to the present. This period has not
been monolithic—it has included evolutions in national and military strategy, and in the specific
“ways and means” used to pursue those strategies on the ground, as described below. From a
political and legal perspective, the major marker after May 1, 2003, was the June 28, 2004,
transition of executive authority from the occupying powers back to Iraqis. From a military
perspective, the period after May 1, 2003, has included a continuation of combat operations as
well as the introduction of many new missions.
From the time of regime removal until June 28, 2004, the coalition was formally an occupying
force. Shortly after the end of major combat, in May 2003, the United Nations Security Council
recognized the United States and the United Kingdom as “occupying powers,” together with all
the “authorities, responsibilities, and obligations under international law” that this designation 144
entails. Somewhat belatedly, in October 2003, the United Nations authorized a “multi-national
force under unified command to take all necessary measures to contribute to the maintenance of 145
security and stability in Iraq.” That language referred to the coalition military command in Iraq
at the time—the Combined Joint Task Force-7 (“CJTF-7”).
As the deadline for the “transfer of sovereignty”—June 30, 2004—approached, U.S. and new
interim Iraqi officials negotiated the terms for the presence and activities in Iraq, after that date,
of the newly re-organized multi-national force, now called the Multi-National Force-Iraq (“MNF-
Information from Department of State, Office of the Secretary of Defense and CENTCOM officials, and participant
143 “President Bush Announces Major Combat Operations in Iraq Have Ended,” May 1, 2003, at
144 United Nations Security Council Resolution 1483 (2003), 22 May 2003, Preambular Section.
145 United Nations Security Council Resolution 1511 (2003), 16 October 2003.
Agreement was reached to reflect the terms of that presence in the unusual form of parallel
letters, one from U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, and one from Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad
Allawi, to the President of the UN Security Council. Those letters were appended to U.N. 146
Security Council Resolution 1546, issued on June 8, 2004.
That U.N. Resolution reaffirmed the authorization for the multi-national force and extended it to
the post-occupation period—on the grounds that it was “at the request of the incoming Interim 147
Government of Iraq.” It repeated the authorization language used in the October 2003
Resolution, with an important qualifier: the force was now authorized to “take all necessary
measures to contribute to the maintenance of security and stability in Iraq in accordance with the 148
letters annexed to this resolution.”
The U.S. letter spelled out the tasks the multi-national force would undertake, including combat
operations, internment, securing of weapons, training and equipping Iraqi security forces, and
participating in providing humanitarian assistance, civil affairs support, and relief and
Some of the early U.S.-Iraqi discussions had considered the possibility that Iraqi forces might, in 149
some cases, fall under the command of the multinational force. However, the U.N. Resolution
and the appended letters made clear that the command-and-control relationship between the Iraqi
government and the multi-national force would be strictly one of coordination, not command. The
Resolution called the relationship a “security partnership between the sovereign Government of 150
Iraq and the multinational force.”
Both letters described coordination modalities to help ensure unity of effort. Both stated the
intention to make use of “coordination bodies at the national, regional, and local levels,” and
noted that multi-national force and Iraqi officials would “keep each other informed of their
Further parameters of the MNF-I presence in Iraq were spelled out in a revised version of Order
17 of the Coalition Provisional Authority, issued on June 27, 2004. The document addressed
issues including legal immunities, communications, transportation, customs, entry and departure,
for government civilians and contractors as well as military forces. Issued by the legal executive
authority of Iraq at the time, the Order was to remain in force “for the duration of U.N.
Resolution mandates including subsequent Resolutions, unless rescinded or amended by Iraqi 151
United Nations Security Council Resolution 1546 (2004), 8 June 2004 (letters). Subsequently, the U.N. mandate
was extended annually.
147 Ibid., para. 9.
148 Ibid., para. 10.
149 The ceremony marking the establishment (Full Operational Capability) of the Multi-National Force-Iraq, in May
2004, included a parade of representatives of each coalition partner country. An Iraqi General participated in the parade
like all the other coalition members—and then brought the house down when, unscripted, he kissed the Iraqi flag.
150 United Nations Security Council Resolution 1546 (2004), 8 June 2004 (letters).
151 Coalition Provisional Authority Order 17 (revised), “Status of the Coalition Provisional Authority, MNF-Iraq,
Certain Missions and Personnel in Iraq,” available at http://www.iraqcoalition.org/regulations/
The final U.N. authorization, issued on December 18, 2007, extended through December 31,
2008. In requesting that authorization, in a letter appended to the UN Resolution, Iraqi Prime
Minister Nuri al-Maliki made clear that it would be the final request by the Government of Iraq
for an extension of the current mandate. The Iraqi Government, he wrote, “expects, in future, that
the Security Council will be able to deal with the situation in Iraq without the need for action 152
under Chapter VII of the Charter of the United Nations.” In November 2008, the U.S. and Iraqi
governments concluded a new status of forces-like agreement, which takes effect on January 1,
who support them, in Iraq.
Since the declared end of major combat operations, the formal relationships among U.S. military
and civilian organizations operating in Iraq have shifted several times, in important ways.
The period of formal occupation was characterized by multiple, somewhat confusing 154
relationships. In late April 2003, LTG McKiernan, Commanding General of the Combined
Forces Land Component Command (CFLCC), issued a proclamation stating: “The coalition alone 155
retains absolute authority within Iraq.” CFLCC, the military face of the coalition in Iraq,
maintained a small headquarters presence in Baghdad, at the Al Faw Palace at Camp Victory,
while the majority of its staff remained in their pre-war location at Camp Doha, Kuwait.
The civilian face of the coalition in Iraq, in that time frame, was the Organization for
Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance (ORHA), whose small staff had arrived in Baghdad
in late April. The basic civil-military division of labor was clear—CFLCC was responsible for
security, while ORHA focused on reconstruction and humanitarian issues. The command
relationship between the two, debated before the war, was never clearly resolved during the very
short duration of their partnership on the ground in Iraq.
In early May 2003, President Bush announced his intention to appoint a senior official to serve as
Administrator of a new organization, the Coalition Provisional Authority, which would serve as
the legal executive authority of Iraq—a much more authoritative mandate than ORHA had held.
On May 9, 2003, Ambassador L. Paul “Jerry” Bremer arrived in Baghdad with a small retinue, to
take up the assignment. By mandate, Ambassador Bremer reported through the Secretary of
Defense to the President. Later, in fall 2003, the White House assumed the lead for coordinating
UN Security Council Resolution 1790 (2007), December 18, 2007, available at http://daccessdds.un.org/doc/
153 See “Agreement between the United States of America and the Republic of Iraq on the Withdrawal of United States
Forces from Iraq and the Organization of their Activities during their Temporary Presence in Iraq”.
154 For an account of the year of formal occupation from one of the key protagonists, see L. Paul Bremer III with
Malcolm McConnell, My Year in Iraq: The Struggle to Build a Future of Hope, New York: Simon & Schuster, 2006.
For an account of that year by a journalist who spent considerable time at CPA headquarters, see Rajiv
Chandrasekaran, Imperial Life in the Emerald City, New York: Vintage Books, 2006. For a hard-hitting critique of both
civilian and military mistakes during the occupation, see Thomas E. Ricks, Fiasco: The American Military Adventure
in Iraq, New York: The Penguin Press, 2006.
155 Information from CFLCC and V Corps staff, 2003.
efforts in Iraq, and Ambassador Bremer’s direct contacts with the White House became even
On June 15, 2003, the headquarters of U.S. Army V Corps, now led by Lieutenant General
Ricardo Sanchez, assumed the coalition military leadership mantle from CFLCC—and the new 156
body was named the CJTF-7. CJTF-7 reported directly to CENTCOM, and through it to the 157
Secretary of Defense. At the same time, CJTF-7 served in “direct support” to CPA. In the view
of many observers, that dual chain of command and accountability was not a recipe for success—
particularly when the CENTCOM Commanding General and the CPA Administrator disagreed
with each other. In May 2004, CJTF-7 separated into a higher, strategically focused headquarters,
the Multi-National Force-Iraq (MNF-I), still led by LTG Sanchez, and a lower, operationally
focused headquarters, the Multi-National Corps-Iraq (MNC-I). MNF-I retained CJTF-7’s “direct
support” relationship with CPA until the end of the formal occupation.
CJTF-7 itself was a combined force, including a UK Deputy Commanding General, and many
key staff members, as well as contingents, from coalition partner countries. As a rule, those
representatives maintained direct communication with their respective capitals. CPA, too, was
“combined,” including a senior UK official who shared the leadership role, though not executive
signing authority, with Ambassador Bremer, and who maintained a regular and full channel of
communication with the UK government in London.
On June 28, 2004, at the “transfer of sovereignty,” the Coalition Provisional Authority ceased to
exist. The new U.S. Embassy, led by Ambassador John Negroponte, inherited none of CPA’s
executive authority for Iraq—like other U.S. Embassies around the world, it simply represented
U.S. interests in Iraq. The relationship between the Embassy and MNF-I—led by General George
Casey beginning on July 1, 2004—was strictly one of coordination.
The Multi-National Force-Iraq (MNF-I), like its predecessor CJTF-7, is a joint, combined force.
It includes some Department of Defense civil servants, and it is supported by civilian contractors.
The MNF-I headquarters, located in Baghdad, is the strategic-level headquarters, currently led, as
of September 16, 2008, by U.S. Army General Raymond Odierno. The position of MNF-I Deputy
Commanding General (DCG) has always been filled by a general officer from the United
The previous day, June 14, The V Corps Commanding General who led V Corps during OIF major combat, LTG
Wallace, handed command of the Corps to LTG Sanchez. LTG Sanchez had come to Iraq several weeks earlier as the st
Commanding General of 1 Armored Division. The few CFLCC staff still remaining in Baghdad redeployed to Kuwait.
157 The phrase, borrowed from field artillery, does not necessarily translate smoothly into bureaucratic relationships.
CPA tended to assume that the military command in Iraq simply worked for CPA. In May 2003, at his first meeting
with the V Corps Commander, discussing whether their organizations would retain separate headquarters, Ambassador
Bremer pointed his finger at the General’s chest and said, “It is my commander’s intent that you co-locate with me.”
Participant observation, 2003.
Kingdom—since March 2008, Lieutenant General John Cooper has served simultaneously as
MNF-I DCG and Senior British Military Representative to Iraq. The MNF-I staff is an ad hoc
headquarters, including senior leaders and staff provided individually by the U.S. military
services and by coalition partner countries.
The Multi-National Corps-Iraq (MNC-I), also located in Baghdad, is the operational-level 158
headquarters, reporting to MNF-I. Its role is synchronizing coalition forces actions throughout
Iraq. MNC-I is built around a U.S. Army Corps. As of February 2008, the nucleus of MNC-I is
the XVIII Airborne Corps, led by Army Lieutenant General Lloyd Austin, which replaced III
Corps, led by then-Lieutenant General Odierno. In each rotation, the Army Corps staff is
augmented by additional U.S. and coalition partner senior leaders and staff.
The structure and staffing of both MNF-I and MNC-I have evolved significantly from the early
days of OIF. When U.S. Army V Corps became the nucleus of CJTF-7, in June 2003, its pre-war
planning and exercising, and its OIF wartime experience, had been focused on the tactical-level
ground campaign. Its senior staff positions were filled by Colonels; those senior positions were
only gradually filled by General Officers over the course of summer and fall 2003.
Under the command of MNC-I, Divisions or their equivalents are responsible for contiguous
areas covering all of Iraq. The boundaries of the divisional areas of responsibility have shifted
somewhat over time, to accommodate both shifting security requirements and major changes in
deployments by coalition partner countries.
The type of coverage varies geographically. In provinces under “Provincial Iraqi Control”
(PIC)—13 of Iraq’s 18 provinces—the Government of Iraq, represented by the Governor, has the
lead responsibility for security. Conventional coalition forces may have little or no continual
presence, and as a rule they are required to seek Iraqi approval to carry out operations.
The PIC designation is the result of a high-level decision process, based on a set of criteria, with
input from Iraqi Government, MNF-I, and U.S. and UK officials, and a final decision by Iraq’s 159
Ministerial Committee on National Security, which is chaired by the Prime Minister. As DOD
has pointed, out, there is “... no clear, post-PIC assessment process for determining the degree to
which a transitioned province has achieved sustainable security and the conditions necessary for 160
continued economic growth and stability.” Security conditions on the ground vary among PIC
provinces, for example, between calm Sulaymaniyah province in the north to recently restive
Basra province in the south—so the PIC designation may indicate more about security
responsibilities than security conditions.
The 2004 split of CJTF-7 into a higher, four-star HQ, and a lower, three-star HQ, was strongly recommended, in
order to give the commanders time to focus full-time on two very large portfolios—strategic work with U.S. and Iraqi
leadership, and supervising operations throughout Iraq. As of January 2008, MNF-I and MNC-I staff were reportedly
beginning to plan a re-merger of the two headquarters, perhaps to take effect at the following Corps rotation, to avoid
apparent duplication of effort by some staff sections.
159 As of August 2008, PIC provinces and their dates of designation include Muthanna, July 2006; Dhi Qar, September
2006; An Najaf, December 2006; Maysan, April 2007; Irbil, Sulaymaniyah and Dahuk, May 2007; Karbala, October
2007; Basrah, December 2007; Qadisiyah, July 2008; Anbar, September 2008; Babil, October 2008; Wasit, October
160 Department of Defense, “Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq,” December 2007, p. 27.
The total number of U.S. forces in Iraq peaked early, during major combat operations, at about
250,000 troops. Since then, the number has varied greatly over time, in response to events on the
ground, such as Iraqi elections, and to strategic-level decisions, such as the 2007 surge. The peak
surge level of U.S. troops was about 168,000, in October 2007, up from a relative low of 135,000
troops in January 2007 just before surge forces began to arrive.
As of September 2008, the total number of U.S. troops in Iraq was about 145,000.161 The lower
total, compared to October 2007, reflects the redeployment from Iraq without replacement of all ndnd
five of the Army’s “surge” brigades: the 2 brigade combat team (BCT) of the 82 Airborne thstrdrdth
Division; the 4 BCT of the 1 Infantry Division; the 3 BCT of the 3 Infantry Division; the 4 ndndrd
BCT of the 2 Infantry Division; and the 2 BCT of the 3 Infantry Division.
In September 2008, President Bush had announced that an additional Army BCT would withdraw
from Iraq, in early 2009, without replacement. In November 2008, DOD announced that that ndst
unit—the 2 BCT of the 101 Airborne Division, based in western Baghdad—would redeploy
about six weeks earlier than planned. Their departure leaves 14 U.S. BCTs or BCT-equivalents in
Well before the surge, by many accounts, the demand for forces in Iraq had placed some stress on
both the active and reserve components. The operational benefits of maintaining continuity, and
keeping forces in place long enough to gain understanding and develop expertise, competed
against institutional requirements to maintain the health of the force as a whole, including the
ability to recruit and retain personnel.
An additional challenge was that pre-war assumptions only very incompletely predicted the scope
and scale of post-war mission requirements, which meant in practice, especially early in OIF, that
individuals and units deployed without certainty about the length of their tours. U.S. Army V
Corps, for example, was not specifically given the mission, before the war, to serve as the post-
war task force headquarters, let alone a timeline for that commitment. As the press widely rd
reported after the end of major combat operations, some members of the 3 Infantry Division
(3ID), which had led the Army’s charge to Baghdad, publicly stated their desire to redeploy as
soon as possible. Major General Buford Blount, the 3ID Commanding General, commented:
“You know, a lot of my forces have been over here since September, and fought a great fight and 162
[are] doing great work here in the city. But if you ask the soldiers, they’re ready to go home.”
Sometimes, changes in the security situation on the ground—rather than anticipated political
events like Iraqi elections—have prompted decisions to extend deployments. The earliest and
possibly most dramatic example took place in April 2004. The young Shiite cleric Muqtada al-
Sadr and his militia, the Jaish al-Mahdi (Mahdi Army), staged uprisings in cities and towns
throughout Shi’a-populated southern Iraq, just as the volatile, Sunni-populated city of Fallujah, in
Al Anbar province, simmered in the wake of the gruesome murders of four Blackwater st
contractors. The 1 Armored Division (1AD), which had served in Baghdad for one year, and was
Joint Staff information paper, “Boots on the Ground,” September 1, 2008.
162 Department of Defense News Transcript, MG Buford C. Blount III from Baghdad, May 15, 2003, available at
already in the process of redeploying, was extended by 90 days—and then executed a remarkable
series of complex and rapid troop deployments to embattled southern cities.
In early 2007, in an effort to provide greater predictability if not lighter burdens, the Department
of Defense, under the leadership of Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, announced new rotation
policy goals. Active units would deploy for not more than 15 months, and return to home station 163
for not less than 12 months. Reserve Component units would mobilize for a maximum of 12
months, including pre- and post-deployment responsibilities, rather than 12 months of “boots on 164
the ground,” with the goal of five years between deployments.
In April 2008, partly in anticipation of some reduction of stress on the force from the
redeployment of the surge brigades, President Bush announced that active component Army units
deploying after August 1, 2008, would deploy for 12 months, rather than 15. The President also
recommitted to “...ensur[ing] that our Army units will have at least a year at home for every year 165
in the field.”
Since its inception, OIF has been a multinational effort, but the number, size, and nature of
contributions by coalition partner countries has varied substantially over time. Some of those
contributions have been constrained by national caveats. The expiration of the UN mandate at the
end of 2008 triggered a significant drawdown in contributions.
Four countries provided boots on the ground for major combat—the United Kingdom, Australia,
and Poland, in addition to the United States. Coalition forces contributions then reached their
peak, in terms of the number of both countries and troops contributed, in the early post-major
combat period. After that period, some countries withdrew their forces altogether. A number of
other countries have withdrew the bulk of their contingents, but left a few personnel in Iraq to
serve in headquarters staff positions.
Department of Defense News Briefing with Secretary Gates and General Pace from the Pentagon, April 11, 2007,
available at http://www.defenselink.mil/transcripts/transcript.aspx?transcriptid=3928. Secretary Gates clarified that the
current expectation was that “not more than 15 months” would generally mean “15 months.”
164 Department of Defense Press Release, “DoD Announces Changes to Reserve Component Force Management
Policy,” January 11, 2007, available at http://www.defenselink.mil/releases/release.aspx?releaseid=10389. The policy
is based on unit rotations; individuals who transfer between units may find themselves out of synch with the rotation
policy goals. See for example John Vandiver, “Families want answers about deployments and dwell time,” Stars and
Stripes, May 11, 2007.
165 White House, “Fact Sheet: The Way Forward in Iraq,” April 10, 2008, available at http://www.whitehouse.gov/
166 For more detailed information about foreign contributions to Iraq, including coalition forces, see CRS Report
RL32105, Iraq: Foreign Contributions to Stabilization and Reconstruction, by Christopher M. Blanchard and
Past decisions to draw down forces may have been shaped, in some cases, by a perception that the
mission had been accomplished. However, far more frequently, decisions seem to have been
informed by domestic political considerations, sometimes coupled with apparent pressure from
extremists seeking to shape those decisions. Most notable was the Spanish troop withdrawal,
catalyzed by the March 11, 2004, commuter train bombings in Madrid, which killed nearly 200
people. The attacks took place just days before scheduled Spanish parliamentary elections, in
which the ruling party of Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar Lopez, who had supported OIF, was
voted out of office. The new Prime Minister, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, gave orders, within
hours after being sworn into office, for Spanish troops to come home from Iraq.
The expiration of the UN mandate as of December 31, 2008, force all coalition partners either to
negotiate a bilateral status of forces agreement with the Government of Iraq, or to withdraw their
forces. Most partners chose to bring their deployments to a close. In December, a senior MNC-I st
official noted that after January 1, the coalition would still include, in addition to the United 167
States, the United Kingdom, Australia, Romania, El Salvador, and Estonia.
As of December 2008, the largest remaining non-U.S. coalition partner was the United Kingdom,
with approximately 4,100 troops. The UK continues to lead Multi-National Division-Southeast,
headquartered in Basra. In July 2008, Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced plans for a 168
“fundamental change of mission” for UK forces, in “the first months of 2009”. In December
Several major contingents redeployed or significantly drew down their forces in 2008. In June,
Australia withdrew its battle group of combat forces, which had been based at Tallil Air Base in
Nasariyah province, in southern Iraq, but other Australian troops continued to serve in and around
Iraq, including providing maritime surveillance, intelligence assistance, and logistics 170
operations. In August, Georgia withdrew its 2,000-strong contingent, which had been deployed
in Wasit province along the border with Iran, after Russian troops invaded Georgia. In October,
Poland withdrew its remaining contingent of about 900 soldiers from Qadisiyah province in
southern Iraq, where Poland had led the Multi-National Division Center-South. And in December,
the Republic of Korea concluded its deployment in northern Iraq, focused on reconstruction, as
the nucleus of Multi-National Division-North East.
Interview with Deputy Commanding General of Multi-National Corps-Iraq, Brigadier General Nicholas Matern
(Canada), see “Army General Discusses Drawdown of coalition Forces From Iraq,” National Public Radio, “Day to
Day,” December 10, 2008.
168 “Brown signals Iraq troops withdrawal,” The Guardian, July 22, 2008; and interviews with MND-SE officials,
169 Michael Evans, “British Forces to Start Leaving Iraq in March: Down to 400 by Summer,” London Times,
December 10, 2008.
170 See “Australia withdraws troops from Iraq,” Reuters, June 1, 2008; and “Australia ends combat operations in Iraq,”
CNN, June 2, 2008; and interviews with MNF-I officials, August 2008.
In addition to MNF-I, foreign troops serve in several other organizations in Iraq - the NATO
Training Mission-Iraq (NTM-I, which falls under the dual supervision of MNF-I and NATO); and
the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI). As of December 2008, Hungary, Italy,
Netherlands, Portugal, Slovenia and Turkey were contributing directly to the NTM-I but not to 171
MNF-I, and New Zealand and Fiji had forces in Iraq providing security support to (UNAMI).
The security situation in Iraq is multi-faceted, geographically varied, and constantly evolving. In
a society where the rule of law is not completely established, politics—the struggle for power,
resources and influence—more readily and frequently takes the form of violence. Iraqi people are
often faced with imperfect, pragmatic decisions about who is best suited to protect them and their
interests. As a general trajectory, after a brief period of relative quiet in 2003 following major
combat operations, forms of violent expression grew in variety, intensity, and frequency, hitting
peaks in 2005 and 2006. By 2008, indicators of violence had tapered off to markedly lower
One major form of violence that has been practiced in post-Saddam Iraq is terrorism carried out
by Sunni Arabs with stated Islamic extremist goals. Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) has been the most
prominent named organization, but the threat may be better characterized as a loose network of
affiliates, including both Iraqis and foreign fighters. Within the networks, assigned roles range
from financiers, and planners of coordinated attacks, to unskilled labor recruited to emplace
improvised explosive devices (IEDs). Their efforts to recruit primarily young males have
capitalized on Iraq’s widespread under-employment, which can make the prospect of one-time 172
payments appealing, and general disaffection spurred by a perceived lack of opportunities in
the new Iraq. The infrastructure used by AQI and its affiliates has included safe houses and lines 173
of communication reaching, especially, through central and northern Iraq.
The network has capitalized on Iraq’s porous borders. In early 2008, U.S. military commanders 174
confirmed that the flow of foreign fighters continued, from Syria into Iraq. In its September
2008 quarterly report to the Congress, the Department of Defense stated, “Syria remains the
primary facilitation gateway for foreign terrorists moving into Iraq. The GoI has implored Syria
to do more to stop the flow of foreign terrorists but is not yet satisfied with Syria’s level of 175
See NATO Training Mission-Iraq website, at http://www.afsouth.nato.int/JFCN_Missions/NTM-I/NTMI_part.htm.
172 Based on accounts from detainees and others, MNF-I leaders assess that underemployment, more often than
unemployment, is a prime motivation for those recruited to place an IED in return for a one-time cash payment.
173 Interviews with MNF-I and MNC-I officials, January 2008.
174 Interviews with MNF-I and MNC-I officials and subordinate commanders, January 2008.
175 Department of Defense, “Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq”, September 2008, p.7.
Over time, the AQI network has demonstrated adaptability, quickly shifting its tactics and its
footprint as circumstances change. Pushed out of urban areas, they typically have sought refuge
and an opportunity to re-group in deep rural settings. As surge operations pushed AQI and its
affiliates out of Baghdad in late 2007, they sought new bases of operation to the east and to the
north, in the Diyala River Valley in Diyala province, and in the northern Tigris River Valley in 176
Ninewah province. In early 2008, some AQI elements attempted to regroup in Mosul, but 177
coalition and Iraqi operations pushed AQI elements out of the city and deeper into rural areas.
As of August 2008, U.S. commanders in Iraq assessed that AQI was in disarray but still capable
of conducting spectacular attacks. AQI was making increasing use of “surgical” attacks, such as
sniper attacks, and using intimidation tactics, which may require fewer resources and less
coordination that large-scale catastrophic attacks. In western Anbar province, where significant
security progress was achieved earlier than in the north, commanders note—borrowing from
Mao—that there’s no longer a sea for the AQI fish to swim in; that is, popular support for AQI 178
has so sharply diminished that they are forced to operate clandestinely.
Some Shi’a militias have been another major source of violence in post-Saddam Iraq. A central
figure since the days of major combat operations has been the young Shi’a cleric Muqtada al-
Sadr, the head of the Office of the Martyr Sadr political organization and its armed militia, the
Jaish al-Mahdi (“JAM”). During the year of formal occupation, al-Sadr frequently delivered
Friday sermons at mosques, using a hardline nationalist message to condemn the coalition and its
Iraqi partners and to call for action against them. In April 2004, his followers staged coordinated,
violent uprisings in cities throughout southern Iraq, which were put down by coalition forces.
While continuing to voice staunch opposition to the U.S. force presence in Iraq, in August 2007,
al-Sadr declared a ceasefire to which most of JAM adhered., and he repeated the call in February
2008. By the summer of 2008, al-Sadr was reportedly making efforts to shift the focus of his base
organization to social, cultural and political activities. At the end of July, he issued a statement
pledging his support and that of his followers to the Government of Iraq, if the GoI would refrain
from signing any security agreement with the United States. He also urged his followers to refrain
from any actions that would harm Iraqi civilians, or disrupt the provision of government 179
Meanwhile, rogue elements of JAM—known euphemistically as “special groups” or “special
groups criminals”—defied al-Sadr’s August 2007 ceasefire call and continued to practice
violence. The Office of the Martyr Sadr, insisting that JAM itself is an “army of believers,” has
described such elements as criminal infiltrators who find it useful to have the cover of the JAM 180
Interviews with MNF-I, MNC-I, and MND-North officials, January 2008.
177 Interviews with MNC-I and subordinate commanders, August 2008.
178 Interviews with MNC-I and MNF-W commanders and other officials, August 2008.
179 Interviews with U.S. civilian and military officials, August 2008. See for example Nicholas Spangler and
Mohammed al Dulaimy, “Al-Sadr would back Iraqi government for a price,” Arizona Daily Star, July 31, 2008.
180 See Sabrina Tavernise, “A Shiite Militia in Baghdad sees its power wane,” New York Times, July 27, 2008.
In official reports, the Department of Defense states that some JAM special groups and other 181
Shi’a extremist groups receive funding and support from Iran. The Iranian government has
reportedly pledged to help stop the flow of lethal aid into Iraq, but reports suggest there has been 182
no marked diminution. According to officials from the Multi-National Divisions that border
Iran, the cross-border flow varies geographically over time, tending to seek the path of least
resistance. The deployment of the Georgian full brigade to Wasit province, for example, made 183
that province harder to traverse and pushed traffic north and south. As of August 2008, a key
locus of cross-border smuggling—not only of lethal aid but also of consumer goods—was the
border along Maysan province, where Marsh Arabs historically have traded goods for 184
Meanwhile, the Iranian government apparently continues to seek influence among Iraqi Shi’a
through the exercise of “soft power,” for example by continuing to foster relationships with
political leaders, by providing social services, and through investments including purchasing a 185
power plant in the Shi’a-populated Sadr City section of Baghdad.
According to U.S. and Iraqi commanders on the ground, the series of Iraqi-led military operations
in southern Iraq, which began in Basra in March 2008, had the effect of isolating some special
groups members and forcing others to flee across the border into Iran. U.S. and Iraqi commanders
note, however, that in Iran, Quds forces continue to train some Iraqi Shi’a extremists, including
former special groups members. They add that some infiltrations continue, with the goal of
carrying out assassinations or planting improvised explosive devices. They suggest that special
groups may attempt to reassert themselves in Iraq, with help from Iran. As one Iraqi commander
noted, “Sadly, our neighbors are not friendly.” Some U.S. and Iraqi commanders comment that a
special groups re-emergence might take the form of a streamlined, well-trained terrorist network
with a cellular structure, operating under cover, rather than a mass movement with popular 186
JAM and JAM “special groups” activities in southern Iraq and Baghdad take place against the
backdrop of a deeply rooted intra-Shi’a struggle for power and resources. Some observers assess
In a December 2007 quarterly report, DOD assessed that, compared to September 2007: “There has been no
identified decrease in Iranian training and funding of illegal Shi’a militias in Iraq. Tehran’s support for Shi’a militant
groups who attack Coalition and Iraqi forces remains a significant impediment to progress towards stabilization.”
Department of Defense, “Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq,” December 2007. In its September 2008 report,
DOD stated, “Although Iran’s leadership publicly proclaimed it stopped providing lethal aid to Shi’a militants, the
evidence does not support their claim.” See Department of Defense, “Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq,”
September 2008, p.6.
182 Interviews with MNF-I officials, Baghdad, January and August 2008. During the February 2008 state visit to
Baghdad by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iranian and Iraqi officials reportedly signed an agreement on
the renovation of border posts along their shared land and maritime borders. See “Iran, Iraq Emphasize Need for
Renovation of Border Posts,” Tehran IRNA agency in English, February 20 2008.
183 Interviews with MNF-I subordinate command officials, January 2008.
184 Interviews with MNC-I and subordinate command officials, August 2008.
185 Interviews with MNF-I officials, January 2008. See also Joseph Felter and Brian Fishman, “Iranian Strategy in Iraq:
Politics and ‘Other Means,’” Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, Occasional Paper Series, October 13, 2008.
186 Interviews with MNF-I and MNC-I officials, and subordinate commanders, and with Iraqi commanders, August
2008. See also “US: Quds, Hezbollah training hit squads in Iran,” Associated Press, August 16, 2008. The author,
citing a “senior U.S. military intelligence officer in Iraq,” writes that Iraqis are being trained in Iran in reconnaissance,
the use of small arms and improvised explosive devices, assassination techniques, and terrorist cell operations and
that, more than the Sunni-based insurgency or any other issue, the struggle for the Shi’a-187
populated south may shape Iraq’s future. The other main protagonist is the Islamic Supreme
Council in Iraq (ISCI, formerly known as the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in
Iraq), which is backed by its Badr militia and which, like JAM, provides people with goods and
services in an effort to extend its influence. The power struggle also includes smaller Shi’a
political parties backed by militias, such as Fadila al-Islamiyah (Islamic Virtue) which is active
in the major southern city and province of Basra.
Relatively new to the power struggle are the ground-up voices of southern tribal leaders, most of
whom stayed in Iraq through the Saddam period, unlike many Iraqi Shi’a political party leaders
who spent years in Iran. Recognizing the largely untapped potential political power of southern
tribal Shi’a, in 2008 Prime Minister Maliki sought to form consultative “tribal support councils,”
first of all in southern provinces, which were supposed to articulate tribal needs to the provincial
councils. In at least one case, Babil province, the governor sought to form a competing provincial 188
Key political markers, including regionalization and provincial elections, have the potential to
exacerbate the contest for political power and influence in the south. In April 2008, an 18-month
moratorium expired on the implementation of a 2006 law on federalism, which included
provisions for the creation of “regions” based on one or more provinces. “Regional” status could
prove important because it affects the distribution of economic resources and political power.
Major Shi’a groups in the south have called for various approaches to regionalization, based on 189
their popular bases of support. Iran, too, has reportedly expressed interest in how southern Iraq
might be regionally grouped. As of August 2008, local political parties and organizations in Basra
had taken the first steps to seek regionalization of Basra province, by filing an initial petition; the 190
full process would include a broader-based collection of signatures, and a popular referendum.
The Provincial Powers Act passed in February 2008 and approved by the Presidency Council,
after some reluctance, in March, named October 1, 2008, the deadline for holding provincial 191
elections. However, in July 2008, work on a new elections law, a prerequisite for holding
provincial elections, foundered over the inability of political leaders to reach agreement on a 192
process for resolving the political status of Kirkuk. In October 2008, the Presidency Council
passed the elections law, which called for holding provincial elections in all of Iraq’s provinces
except Kirkuk, by January 31, 2009, although that deadline, some observers note, may be
See for example, “Shiite Politics in Iraq: the Role of the Supreme Council,” International Crisis Group, November
15, 2007, available at http://www.crisisgroup.org/home/index.cfm?id=5158. This view is shared by some key
strategists at MNF-I, interviews, January and August 2008.
188 Interviews with MNF-I subordinate officials, and PRT officials, 2008. By late 2008, the role of these councils had
expanded beyond southern Iraq. Some Iraqis had reportedly expressed concerns that the councils were designed to
support Prime Minister Maliki. In response, President Talabani stated that he would request a ruling from the Federal
Supreme Court on the question of the councils’ constitutionality. See Alissa J. Rubin, “Clash in Iraq over a plan for
councils intensifies,” New York Times, Dec 4, 2008.
189 Interviews with U.S. Embassy officials, August 2008.
190 Interviews with the Governor of Basra, and with U.S. and UK military and civilian officials in Basra, August 2008.
191 See Amit R. Paley, “Iraqi Leaders Veto Law on Elections,” Washington Post, February 28, 2008. The Provincial
Powers Act was passed as part of a “package deal,” together with the National Budget and an Amnesty Law. Vice
President Abd al-Mehdi initially objected to a provision of the Provincial Powers Act concerning modalities for the
removal of provincial governors.
192 Interviews with U.S. Embassy officials, with the Governor of Kirkuk, and with U.S. civilian and military officials in
Kirkuk, August 2008.
unrealistic for logistical reasons. Some Iraqi provincial political leaders and security forces
commanders in southern Iraq have suggested that the elections carry the potential for violence, in
part because many current office-holders recognize that they may not have enough popular
support to be elected. Others have stressed the importance of those elections, as a safety valve for
popular opinion, but suggested that a postponement of several months was not likely to have 193
Less a source than a type of violence, Iraq has struggled for years with sectarian violence,
particularly along the fault lines between populations predominantly of different sectarian groups.
Those fault lines, some observers suggest, are where local populations are likely to feel most
vulnerable, and might in some cases be most open to assurances of protection from one organized
armed group or another.
Sectarian violence skyrocketed in February 2006, following the bombing of the Golden Mosque
in Samarra, one of Shiite Islam’s holiest shrines. That attack prompted Shi’a reprisals targeting
Sunnis and Sunni mosques in a number of cities. AQI responded in some locations by staging a 194
series of further attacks.
The sectarian-based displacement of many Iraqis from their homes, and the resulting greater 195
segregation in urban areas, reduced the number of fault lines somewhat. Displacement and
resettlement are dynamic issues—while the GoI does not yet have a well-resourced,
comprehensive plan for the resettlement of refugees and internally displaced persons, some 196
resettlement initiatives are underway. In many instances, the usual challenges of displacement
are compounded by both sectarian and class-based differences, between those who have fled, and 197
those who have moved into the “abandoned” homes.
Another major category of violence is opportunistic criminality, practiced with a view to sheer
material gain rather than political or ideological goals. The inchoate status of Iraq’s judicial
system and law enforcement organizations has left room for opportunists to steal, loot, smuggle,
kidnap and extort.
Interviews with Governors of Najaf, Basra; and Iraqi commanders in Diwaniyah and Basra, August 2008.
194 See press accounts including Ellen Knickmeyer and K.I. Ibrahim, “Bombing Shatters Mosque in Iraq,” Washington
Post, February 23, 2006; and Robert F. Worth, “Muslim Clerics Call for an End to Iraqi Rioting,” The New York Times,
February 25, 2006.
195 To be clear, as human rights groups stress, displacement is not a “solution.” As a rule, in most situations, people are
far more vulnerable in displacement than they are in their homes.
196 Interviews with Iraqi officials responsible for resettlement in parts of Baghdad, August 2008.
197 Ibid. For example, in some Baghdad neighborhoods, Shi’a extremists from the Jaish al-Mahdi reportedly forced
affluent Sunni Arabs to flee their homes, and then offered those “empty” homes, for a very nominal rent, to much less
affluent Shi’a Arabs.
In addition to the primary adversaries during major combat operations—the regime’s forces and
security structures—and the primary sources of violence in the period after major combat,
coalition forces in Iraq have had to contend with the presence of two groups, designated by the
Department of State as Foreign Terrorist Organizations, which are largely unrelated to the rest of
the fight but of deep interest to some of Iraq’s neighbors. Both cases have consumed substantial
time and energy from MNF-I staff in Iraq as well as senior leaders in Washington, D.C., and both
have had the potential to destabilize the broader security environment.
The first group is the Kurdistan Workers Party—the PKK, also known over time as KADEK,
Kongra-Gel, and the KCK. The PKK is based in southeastern Turkey, but maintains a presence in
northern Iraq and reportedly uses that area to rest and re-group from its operations inside Turkey.
The PKK’s stated goal is the establishment of an independent Kurdish state, and it has practiced
terror to that end, targeting Turkish security forces and civilian officials.
Since 2003, the Turkish government has pushed for action against PKK members in northern
Iraq. The U.S. and Iraqi governments have both strongly supported the Turkish government’s
stand against terrorism and the PKK in principle. In the past, both the Iraqi government and
MNF-I reportedly expressed concerns that military action against the PKK in Iraq could open a 198
new northern front, taxing their already thinly stretched forces.
In 2007, the Government of Turkey received a one-year Turkish parliamentary authorization to
conduct cross-border actions against the PKK, and in October 2008 the Turkish parliament 199
extended the authorization for one year. In December 2007, the Turkish Air Force launched a
series of air strikes, targeting presumed PKK positions in northern Iraq, followed in February 200
2008 by a week-long series of coordinated air and ground attacks. Initially, Iraqi government
officials objected, stressing the need to respect the sovereignty of its territory and air space. U.S.
senior leaders, reportedly informed in advance of the February attacks about Turkish intentions, 201
publicly called on the government of Turkey to keep the operation as short as possible. In July
northern Iraq. In October 2008, following a PKK attack that killed 17 Turkish soldiers, Turkish
forces launched another series of air strikes into northern Iraq. U.S. officials have reportedly
facilitated diplomatic consultations with Iraqi and Turkish officials, aimed at a comprehensive 203
solution to deal with the PKK issue.
Information from CJTF-7, MNF-I, DOD, and Iraqi officials, 2003 and 2004.
199 “Turkey Extends Right to Attack,” New York Times, October 9, 2008.
200 See for example “Turkish jets in fresh Iraq strike,” BBC America, December 26, 2007.
201 See Alissa J. Rubin and Sabrina Tavernise, “Turkish Troops Enter Iraq in Pursuit of Kurdish Militants,” The New
York Times, February 23, 2008; Lolita Baldor, “Gates: Turkey Raid Won’t Solve Problems,” Washington Post,
February 23, 2008; Yochi Dreazen, “U.S. Knew of Turkey’s Plan to Hit PKK, Didn’t Object,” Wall Street Journal,
February 26, 2008.
202 See “Turkey strikes PKK headquarters in Kandil,” Turkish Daily News, July 28, 2008.
203 See Department of Defense, “Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq,” June 2008, pp.29-30.
During the year of formal occupation, the leadership of CJTF-7 and CPA, and senior officials in
Washington, D.C., spent considerable time focused on the disposition of the Mujahedin-e Khalq
(“MeK”). Formed by students in Iran in the 1960’s, in leftist opposition to the Shah and his
regime, the MeK later stepped into opposition against what it calls the “mullah regime” that took
power after the 1979 Iranian Revolution. Over time, the MeK has sought opportunistic alliances,
including moving its operational headquarters to Iraq, and making common cause with the Iraqi
government, during the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s.
Although the MeK is a designated Foreign Terrorist Organization, some U.S. officials reportedly
have considered the possibility of using the MeK as leverage against Tehran. Several times, some
Members of Congress—reportedly some 200 in the year 2000—signed letters expressing their 204
support for the cause advocated by the MeK.
This awkward policy history was magnified by awkward events on the ground during OIF major
combat operations, when, on April 15, 2003, members of the U.S. Special Operations Forces
signed a ceasefire agreement with MeK leaders. Subsequently, Department of Defense issued
guidance through CENTCOM to forces on the ground to effect a MeK surrender. Following a
series of negotiations with MeK leaders, the several thousand MeK members were separated from
their well-maintained heavy weapons and brought under coalition control. The key operational
concern, in the early stages, was that MeK non-compliance could generate large-scale operational
requirements, effectively opening another front. Efforts have been underway since that time, in
coordination with the Iraqi government and the many countries of citizenship of the MeK
members, to determine appropriate further disposition.
As of fall 2008, the Government of Iraq had initiated steps to transition responsibility for control 205
of the MeK camp from U.S. to Iraqi security forces. In a public statement in September 2008,
Minister of Defense Abdul Qadr noted that the sovereign government of Iraq should be
responsible for any such group inside the country—“The Iraqi government is entitled to be the 206
guard around the borders of the camp.”
Over time, U.S. military strategy for Iraq—and thus also operations on the ground—have been
adapted to support evolving U.S. national strategy. In turn, national strategy has directly drawn
some lessons from OIF operational experience. Given the scope and scale of the mission, and its
lack of precise historical precedents, there has been ample need and opportunity for learning and
Michael Isikoff and Mark Hosenball, “Terror Watch: Shades of Gray,” Newsweek, October 17, 2007.
205 Interviews with MNF-I and MNC-I officials, August 2008. Early indications of GoI intent were reportedly causing
anxiety for members of the MeK.
206 Multi-National Force-Iraq press conference, Mr. Abdul Qadr al-Mufriji, Minister of Defense, and LTG Frank
Helmick, Commanding General, Multi-National Security Transition Command-Iraq, September 10, 2008.
The Administration’s basic national strategic objectives have remained roughly consistent over
time. So have the major categories of activities (or “lines of operation”)—political, economic,
essential services, diplomatic—used to help achieve the objectives. What have evolved greatly
over time are the views of commanders in the field and decision-makers in Washington, D.C.,
about the best ways to achieve “security” and how that line of operation fits with the others.
This section highlights key episodes and turning-points in the theory and practice of OIF military
operations, including early operations during formal occupation, “Fallujah II,” COIN operations
in Tal Afar, Operation Together Forward, the operations associated with the 2007 “New Way
Forward,” and surge follow-on operations in 2008. The review suggests that the application of
counter-insurgency (COIN) theory and practice grew over time, but by no means steadily or
Prussian military theorist Karl von Clausewitz argued: “The first, the supreme, the most far-
reaching act of judgment that the statesman and commander have to make is to establish ... the 207
kind of war on which they are embarking.” In theory, how the “kind of war” is identified helps
shape the tools selected to prosecute it. In the case of OIF after major combat operations, it
proved difficult for senior Bush Administration officials and military leaders to agree on what
“kind of war” OIF was turning out to be.
On July 7, 2003, General John Abizaid, an Arabic speaker who had served during OIF major
combat as the Deputy Commanding General of CENTCOM, replaced General Tommy Franks as
CENTCOM Commander. At his first press conference in the new role, GEN Abizaid referred to
the challenge in Iraq as a “classical guerrilla-type campaign.” Slightly more carefully but leaving
no room for doubt he added, “I think describing it as guerrilla tactics is a proper way to describe it 208
in strictly military terms.”
The Pentagon pointedly did not adopt that terminology. Two weeks later, asked about his
reluctance to use the phrase “guerrilla war,” Secretary Rumsfeld noted: “I guess the reason I don’t
use the phrase ‘guerrilla war’ is because there isn’t one, and it would be a misunderstanding and a
miscommunication to you and to the people of the country and the world.” Instead, he argued, in
Iraq there were “five different things”: “looters, criminals, remnants of the Ba’athist regime, 209
foreign terrorists, and those influenced by Iran.”
In his account of that year, CJTF-7 Commanding General LTG Sanchez wrote that by July 2003, 210
he and GEN Abizaid, his boss, had recognized that what they faced was an insurgency. A UK
Carl von Clausewitz, On War, Michael Howard and Peter Paret, eds., Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press,
208 See BBC, “US faces Iraq guerrilla war,” July 16, 2003, available at http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/
209 Department of Defense News Briefing with Secretary Rumsfeld and General Myers, June 30, 2003, available at
http://www.defenselink.mil/transcripts/transcript.aspx?transcriptid=2767. When a reporter read the DOD definition of
guerrilla war—“military and paramilitary operations conducted in enemy-held or hostile territory by irregular,
predominantly indigenous forces”—and asked whether that described the situation in Iraq, Secretary Rumsfeld replied,
“It really doesn’t.”
210 Ricardo S. Sanchez, Wiser in Battle: A Soldier’s Story, New York: Harper, 2008, pp.231-232.
officer serving as Special Assistant to LTG Sanchez drafted a paper outlining the concepts of
insurgency and counter-insurgency and their possible application to Iraq. The paper’s ideas, and 211
its nomenclature, gained traction and helped inform the command’s planning.
However, for years afterward, the Pentagon also resisted the terminology of “insurgency.” At a
November 2005 press conference, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Peter Pace,
speaking about the adversary in Iraq, said, “I have to use the word ‘insurgent’ because I can’t
think of a better word right now.” Secretary Rumsfeld cut in—“enemies of the legitimate Iraqi
government.” He added, “That [using the word “insurgent”] gives them a greater legitimacy than 212
they seem to merit.”
During the formal occupation of Iraq from 2003 to 2004, the military command in Iraq, CJTF-7,
was responsible for “security,” while the civilian leadership, the Coalition Provisional Authority 213
(CPA), was responsible for all other governance functions. In the views of the CJTF-7
leadership, establishing “security” required more than “killing people and breaking things”—it
required simultaneous efforts to achieve popular “buy-in,” for example by rebuilding local 214
communities and engaging Iraqis in the process.
Accordingly, CJTF-7 built its plans around four basic lines of operation, or categories of effort—
political (governance), economic, essential services, and security—which differed only slightly
from the categories in use in early 2008. Those lines of operation were echoed in the plans of
CJTF-7’s subordinate commands. CJTF-7 would lead the “security” line, and support CPA efforts
in the other areas.
Beginning in 2003, CJTF-7’s basic theory of the case was that the lines of operation, pursued
simultaneously, would be mutually reinforcing. Major General Peter Chiarelli, who commanded st
the 1 Cavalry Division in Baghdad from 2004 to 2005, argued after his tour that it was not
effective to try to achieve security first, and then turn to the other lines of operation. He wrote: “...
if we concentrated solely on establishing a large security force and [conducting] targeted
counterinsurgent combat operations—and only after that was accomplished, worked toward
establishing a sustainable infrastructure supported by a strong government developing a free-215
market system—we would have waited too long.”
Information from that officer and senior CJTF-7 staff, 2003 and 2004.
212 News Briefing with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and General Peter Pace, November 29, 2005, DOD
website, available at http://www.defenselink.mil/transcripts/transcript.aspx?transcriptid=1492.
213 Neither CPA nor CJTF-7 was responsible for the search for possible weapons of mass destruction. That mission was
assigned to the Iraq Survey Group, which reported jointly to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and DOD’s
Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), and which carried out its work from June 2003 to September 2004. The group’s
final Report, “Comprehensive Report of the Special Advisor to the DCI on Iraq’s WMD,” and commonly known as the
Duelfer Report, was published on September 30, 2004, and is available at https://www.cia.gov/library/reports/general-
214 Information from CJTF-7 leaders, and participant observation, 2003 and 2004.
215 Major General Peter W. Chiarelli and Major Patrick Michaelis, “Winning the Peace: The Requirement for Full-
Spectrum Operations,” Military Review, July-August 2005, available at http://usacac.army.mil/CAC/milreview/
download/English/JulAug05/chiarelli.pdf. The authors characterized the lines of operation as “combat operations, train
and employ security forces, essential services, promote governance, and economic pluralism.” Echoing the views of
CJTF-7 leaders, the authors added, “Further, those who viewed the attainment of security solely as a function of
In the “security” line of operation, military operations under CJTF-7 included combat operations
focused on “killing or capturing” the adversary. Aggressive operations yielded large numbers of
Iraqis detained by the coalition—the large numbers, and frequent difficulties determining whether
and where individuals were being held, were an early and growing source of popular frustration.
In April 2004, the unofficial release of graphic photos of apparent detainee abuse at Abu Ghraib
generated shock and horror among people inside and outside Iraq. Some observers have 216
suggested that these developments may have helped fuel the insurgency.
CJTF-7 military operations also included early counter-insurgency (COIN) practices for
population control. Those practices included creating “gated communities”—including Saddam’s
home town of al-Awja—by fencing off a town or area and strictly controlling access through the
use of check-points and ID cards. To make military operations less antagonistic, when possible, to
local residents, units substituted “cordon and knock” approaches for the standard “cordon and 217
The security line of operation also included early partnerships with nascent Iraqi security forces,
including mentoring as well as formal training. Where troop strength so permitted, for example in
Baghdad and in Mosul, Army Military Police were assigned to local police stations as de facto 218
advisors. GEN Abizaid’s theory was that the very presence of U.S. forces in Iraq was an 219
“antibody” in Iraqi society. Therefore, to remove the possibility that insurgents could leverage
the presence of an occupation force to win popular support, a key goal was to move quickly to an
“overwatch” posture. Doing so would require an accelerated stand-up of Iraqi security forces.
That approach shared with later COIN approaches the premise that U.S. forces alone could not
“win”—that success in the security sphere would require acting by, with and through Iraqis. It
differed sharply from later COIN approaches, however, in terms of implications for the U.S.
forces footprint, size of presence, and many activities.
While the military command did not have the lead role for the non-security lines of operation, it
made contributions to those efforts. To address the most pressing “essential services” concerns,
the military command created Task Force Restore Iraqi Electricity, and Task Force Restore Iraqi
Oil, which were later consolidated into the Gulf Region Division, under the Army Corps of
To help jumpstart local economies—and to provide Iraqis with some visible signs of post-war
“progress”—the military command launched the Commanders Emergency Response Program
military action alone were mistaken.”
216 In January 2004, when abuse allegations were brought forward, CJTF-7 issued a press release noting that the
command had ordered an inquiry into alleged detainee abuses. Abu Ghraib events prompted a number of investigations
and reports. For one account of events and the policies that shaped them, see the Final Report of the Independent Panel
to Review DoD Detention Operations, chaired by former Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger, and commissioned
by then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld “to provide independent professional advice on detainee abuses, what
caused them, and what actions should be taken to preclude their repetition,” available in book form, Department of
Defense, The Schlesinger Report: An Investigation of Abu Ghraib, New York: Cosimo Reports, November 15, 2005.
For a detailed, critical account of Abu Ghraib events and their antecedents and impact, see Seymour Hersch, Chain of
Command: The Road from 9/11 to Abu Ghraib, New York: Harper Perennial, 2005.
217 Information from CJTF-7 and Division leaders, 2003 and 2004.
218 Information from CJTF-7, 1AD, and 101st leaders, and participant observation, 2003 and 2004.
219 Ricardo S. Sanchez, Wiser in Battle: A Soldier’s Story, New York: Harper, 2008, p.232.
(CERP). As initially crafted, CERP provided commanders with readily available discretionary
funds to support small-scale projects, usually initiated at the request of local community leaders.
In the “governance” field, commanders needed Iraqi interlocutors to provide bridges into local
communities, and advice concerning the most urgent reconstruction and humanitarian priorities.
Since official Iraqi agencies were no longer intact, and since the CPA did not yet have a sufficient
regional presence to help build local governments, commanders helped select provincial and local 220
councils to serve in temporary advisory capacities.
By most accounts, by the end of the year of formal occupation, in June 2004, the security
situation had worsened—catalyzed in April by the simultaneous unrest in Fallujah and al-Sadr-led
uprisings throughout the south. Many observers have suggested that none of the lines of
operation—whether civilian-led or military-led—was fully implemented during the year of
formal occupation, due to a lack of personnel and resources. In particular, GEN Abizaid’s goal of
diminishing the presence of U.S. “antibodies” in Iraq society was not realized, since highly
inchoate Iraqi security forces training efforts, led by CPA, had not had time to yield results. The
basic assumption of CJTF-7—that establishing security required simultaneous application of all
the lines of operation—may never have been fully put to the test.
One of the first very high-profile military operations after major combat was Operation Phantom
Fury, designed to “take back” the restive city of Fallujah in the Al Anbar province. In November
2004, Phantom Fury—or “Fallujah II”—highlighted the intransigence of the emerging Sunni
Arab insurgency, early coalition military efforts to counter it, and the complex intersection of 221
political considerations and “best military advice” in operational decision-making.
During major combat operations and the early part of the formal occupation, the military
command practiced first an “economy of force” approach to Al Anbar province, and then a quick
shuffling of responsible military units, which left little opportunity to establish local relationships 222
or build expertise. Building relationships with the population is critical in any counter-
insurgency, and it may have been particularly important in Al Anbar, where social structure is
based largely on complex and powerful tribal affiliations.
Coalition forces in Al Anbar during major combat were primarily limited to Special Operations
Forces. After CJTF-7 was established, the first unit assigned responsibility for the large province rd
was the 3 Armored Cavalry Regiment—essentially a brigade-sized formation. In fall 2003, the nd
much larger 82 Airborne Division and subordinate units arrived in Iraq and were assigned to Al st
Anbar, but their tenure was brief—after six months they handed off responsibility to the 1 223
Marine Expeditionary Force (IMEF).
These efforts continued an initiative to help form district and neighborhood advisory councils in Baghdad, launched
by ORHA but discontinued by CPA.
221 For a detailed account of the military operations, and the political and military events that led up to them, see Bing
West, No True Glory: A Frontline Account of the Battle for Fallujah, New York: Bantam Books, 2005.
222 Al Anbar province, in western Iraq, covers about one-third of Iraq’s territory but is relatively lightly populated.
223 IMEF headquarters and the 1st Marine Division returned to Iraq in spring 2004, after a short stay at home after major
The city of Fallujah, like the rest of Al Anbar, is populated largely by Sunni Arabs. Under the old
Iraqi regime, Fallujah had enjoyed some special prerogatives and had produced a number of
senior leaders in Iraq’s various security forces. Many residents therefore had some reason to be
concerned about their place in the post-Saddam Iraq.
On March 31, 2004, four American contractors working for Blackwater, who were driving
through Fallujah, were ambushed and killed—and then their bodies were mutilated and hung
from a bridge. Photos of that grisly aftermath were rapidly transmitted around the world—
riveting the attention of leaders in Baghdad, Washington, and other coalition country capitals.
What followed, in April 2004, was a series of highest-level deliberations in Baghdad and
Washington concerning the appropriate response. Some key participants in the debates initially
favored immediate, overwhelming military action, but those views were quickly tempered by
concerns about the reactions that massive military action—and casualties—might produce.
Several key Sunni Arab members of the Iraqi leadership body, the Iraqi Governing Council—224
threatened to resign in the event of an attack on Fallujah. And some senior U.S. officials
expressed concerns about the reactions of other governments in the region, and of Sunni Arabs 225
elsewhere in Iraq.
The Administration’s guidance, after the initial debates, was to respect the concerns of Iraqi
leaders and to avoid sending U.S. military forces into Fallujah. What followed, instead, was a
series of “negotiations” by CPA and CJTF-7 leaders with separate sets of Fallujah community
representatives, some of them brokered by Iraqi national-level political leaders. And what
emerged was a “deal” initiated by IMEF with a local retired Iraqi Army General and a group of
locally recruited fighters, who formed the “Fallujah Brigade” and pledged to restore and maintain 226
When the Fallujah Brigade collapsed that summer, the city of Fallujah had not been “cleared” by
either the Brigade or IMEF. Over the summer, insurgents reportedly strengthened their hold on
Decisive military action—Operation Phantom Fury—was launched by IMEF in November 2004.
Several factors may have shaped the timing of the Operation. By November, the new interim Iraqi
government, led by Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, had had some time to establish its credibility—
perhaps enough to help quell citizens’ concerns in the event of large-scale military action. Key
Iraqi elections were scheduled for January 2005, and eliminating a hotbed of insurgency
beforehand might increase voter participation. And earlier in November, President Bush had been
re-elected, which may have reassured some Iraqi leaders that if they agreed to the military
operation, the U.S. government—and coalition forces—would be likely to continue to provide
support to deal with any aftermath.
The Iraq Governing Council (IGC) was a critical part of the U.S. strategy for transitioning responsibility and
authority to Iraqi leaders. The plans, articulated in the Transitional Administrative Law approved in March 2004, called
for the IGC to relinquish its advisory role to a new, appointed Iraqi Interim Government, to which CPA, in turn, would
return full governing authority by June 30, 2004. An IGC collapse, it was considered, could disrupt or delay the plans.
225 Information from CPA and CJTF-7 officials, and participant observation, 2004.
226 Information from CJTF-7 and IMEF leaders, 2004. See also Bing West, No True Glory: A Frontline Account of the
Battle for Fallujah, New York: Bantam Books, 2005.
The Marines began the Fallujah operations by setting conditions—turning off electrical power,
and urging the civilians of Fallujah to leave the city. The vast majority of residents did depart—
leaving about 500 hardcore fighters, who employed asymmetrical tactics against a far larger,
stronger force. That coalition force included one UK battalion, three Iraqi battalions, six U.S.
Marine battalions and three U.S. Army battalions. The operation reportedly included 540 air
strikes, 14,000 artillery and mortar shells fired, and 2,500 tank main gun rounds fired. Some 70
U.S. personnel were killed, and 609 wounded. In Fallujah, of the city’s 39,000 buildings, 18,000 227
were damaged or destroyed.
In the aftermath, coalition and Iraqi forces established a tight security cordon around the city,
with a system of vehicle searches and security passes for residents, to control movement and
access. Fingerprints and retinal scans were taken from male residents. Observers noted that by
spring 2005, about half the original population, of 250,000, had returned home—many of them to 228
find essential services disrupted and their property damaged. The scale of destruction was
criticized by some observers inside Iraq and in the Middle East region more broadly.
The effects of the comprehensive “clearing” were not lasting. Al Qaeda affiliates gradually
returned and made Fallujah a strong-hold and base of operations.
Military operations in the town of Tal Afar, in 2005, marked an early, multi-faceted, and
successful application of counter-insurgency (COIN) approaches, and successful results, in OIF.
In Washington, “Tal Afar” gave birth to a new Iraq policy lexicon, and in Iraq—though not
immediately—to the expanded use of COIN practices.
Tal Afar is located in Ninewah province, along the route from the provincial capital of Mosul to
Syria. Its mixed population of about 290,000 includes Sunni Arabs, Kurds, Turkmen and Yezidis. st
From April 2003 until early 2004, the 101 Airborne Division had responsibility for Ninewah and
Iraq’s three northern, largely Kurdish-populated provinces. Because the north was relatively st
quiet, due in part to the effectiveness of the Kurdish pesh merga forces, the 101 was able to
concentrate primarily on Ninewah—a relatively high troops-to-population ratio. In early 2004, st
when the 101 redeployed, responsibility for the area passed to a much smaller Stryker brigade.
That brigade, in turn, was periodically asked to provide forces for operations elsewhere in Iraq, so
the coalition force footprint in Ninewah was substantially reduced. Tal Afar—with a convenient
trade route location, and a mixed population “perfect” for fomenting sectarian strife—become a
base of operations for former regime elements and Sunni extremists, including suicide bombers.
In May 2005, the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment (3ACR), now commanded by Colonel H.R.
McMaster, arrived in Tal Afar. COL McMaster was familiar with OIF issues from his previous 229
service as the Director of GEN Abizaid’s Commander’s Action Group at CENTCOM. At
CENTCOM, he had helped the command to think through the nature of the Iraqi insurgency, and
to craft appropriate responses including targeted engagements with key leaders. As the author of a
Bing West, No True Glory: A Frontline Account of the Battle for Fallujah, New York: Bantam Books, 2005.
228 See for example Richard Beeston, “At home in the rubble: siege city reborn as giant gated community,” The Times
Online, May 19, 2005.
229 A Commander’s Action—or Initiatives—Group, is small group of smart thinkers, hand-selected by the commander
to serve as his personal, in-house “think-tank.”
well-known account of Vietnam decision-making, COL McMaster could also readily draw key 230
lessons from that earlier complex engagement.
In early 2005, the 3ACR began their deployment preparations at home in Fort Carson,
Colorado—studying COIN approaches, training and exercising those approaches, and learning
conversational Arabic. Later, in Iraq, COL McMaster described the Regiment’s mission in the
classical COIN lexicon of “population security”: “...the whole purpose of the operation is to
secure the population so that we can lift the enemy’s campaign of intimidation and coercion over
the population and allow economic and political development to proceed here and to return to 231
In practice, that meant taking “a very deliberate approach to the problem,” beginning with months
of preparatory moves. Those preparatory steps included beefing up security along the Syrian
border to the west, and targeting and eliminating enemy safe havens out in the desert. They also
included constructing a dirt berm ringing Tal Afar, and establishing check points to control
movement in and out of the city.
Before the launch of full-scale operations in September 2005, the Regiment urged civilians to
leave Tal Afar. Then 3ACR cleared the city deliberately—block by block. After the clearing
operations, 3ACR had sufficient forces to hold the city, setting up 29 patrol bases around town, 232
every few blocks.
Basing coalition forces among the population was an unusual approach at the time. Though
common in the early days of OIF, by 2005, most coalition forces in Iraq had been pulled back to
relatively large Forward Operating Bases (FOBs), secure and separate from the local population.
That strategy was driven in part by the theory that the visible presence of coalition forces—and 233
their weapons and their heavy vehicles—could antagonize local communities.
counterparts—the 3 Iraqi Army Division. COL McMaster credited that partnership as essential
to the strategy: “What gives us the ability to ... clear and hold as a counterinsurgency strategy is 234
the capability of Iraqi security forces.” The key to the success in Fallujah, he added—and the
major difference from “Fallujah II”—was popular support: “we had the active cooperation of
such a large percentage of the population.”
His book Dereliction of Duty: Johnson, McNamara, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Lies that led to Vietnam
(published by Harper Perennial, 1998) is widely read in U.S. military educational programs and elsewhere.
231 Department of Defense Press Briefing, H.R. McMaster, September 13, 2005, available at
232 See Thomas E. Ricks, “The Lessons of Counterinsurgency,” Washington Post, February 16, 2006; “The Insurgency:
Interview with COL H.R. McMaster,” Frontline, PBS, February 21, 2006, available at http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/
frontline/insurgency/interviews/mcmaster/html; and George Packer, “Letter from Iraq: The Lesson of Tal Afar,” The
New Yorker, April 10, 2006.
233 Information from CENTCOM and CJTF-7 leaders, 2004.
234 Department of Defense Press Briefing, H.R. McMaster, September 13, 2005, available at
COL McMaster’s use of the phrase “clear and hold” was not accidental—it had been the name of
the counter-insurgency approach introduced in Vietnam by General Creighton Abrams, following 235
years of General William Westmoreland’s “search and destroy” approach.
A short time later, the Administration adopted and expanded on the “clear, hold” lexicon to 236
describe the overall strategy in Iraq. In October 2005, in testimony about Iraq before the Senate
Foreign Relations Committee, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice began by stating: “Our
political-military strategy has to be clear, hold, and build: to clear areas from insurgent control, to 237
hold them securely, and to build durable, national Iraqi institutions.” About three weeks later, in
a major Veterans Day speech, President Bush echoed Secretary Rice’s “clear, hold, build” 238
language almost verbatim.
The following month, November 2005, the Administration issued a new National Strategy for
Victory in Iraq. The Strategy argued—roughly consistent with the military’s long-standing lines
of operation—that success required three major tracks, security, political and economic.
Consistent with the basic theory of the case since 2003, these tracks were to be pursued
simultaneously, and would be “mutually reinforcing.” As the Strategy states, “Progress in each of 239
the political, security, and economic tracks reinforces progress in the other tracks.”
The new Strategy prominently adopted the “clear hold build” lexicon, with a twist. “Clear, hold,
build” was now the prescribed set of approaches for the security track alone. The political and
economic tracks were also each based on a trinitarian set of approaches. In the security track,
“build” now referred specifically to the Iraqi security forces and local institutions. “Build” also
appeared in the other two tracks—capturing the focus on national-level institutions from the 240
earlier public statements by President Bush and Secretary Rice.
236 David Ignatius wrote in the Washington Post that in 2005, a number of key Iraq decision-makers and practitioners,
including COL McMasters’ former boss at CENTCOM General Abizaid, were reading Lewis Sorley’s book, A Better
War: The Unexamined Victories and the Final Tragedy of America’s Last Years in Vietnam (New York: Harcourt,
1999), which favorably describes General Abrams’ “clear and hold” approach. See David Ignatius, “A Better Strategy
for Iraq,” Washington Post, November 4, 2005.
237 Secretary Condoleezza Rice, Opening Remarks before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, October 19, 2005,
available at http://www.state.gov/secretary/rm/2005/55303.htm. To be clear, “strategy” refers in general to a set of
“ways and means,” linked with the “ends” they are intended to achieve. “Clear, hold, build” referred to a new set of
approaches—of “ways and means”—but the Administration’s broad stated goals had not changed.
238 He said, “Our strategy is to clear, hold, and build. We’re working to clear areas from terrorist control, to hold those
areas securely, and to build lasting, democratic Iraqi institutions through an increasingly inclusive political process.”
See “President commemorates Veterans Day, Discusses War on Terror,” November 11, 2005, Tobyhanna,
Pennsylvania, available at http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2005/11/print/20051111-1.html.
239 The Strategy describes the security mandate to “clear, hold, build” this way: “Clear areas of enemy control by
remaining on the offensive, killing and capturing enemy fighters and denying them safe haven; hold areas freed from
enemy influence by ensuring that they remain under the control of the Iraqi government with an adequate Iraqi security
force presence; and build Iraqi Security Forces and the capacity of local institutions to deliver services, advance the
rule of law, and nurture civil society.” See National Strategy for Victory in Iraq, November 30, 2005, p. 2, available at
White House website, http://www.whitehouse.gov/infocus/iraq/iraq_national_strategy_20051130.pdf.
240 Ibid., pp. 1-2.
By March 2006, a complete, official narrative had emerged, in which Tal Afar operations had
tested and confirmed both the “clear, hold, build” strategy, and the interdependence of the three
major tracks. As a White House Fact Sheet, titled “Clear, Hold, Build,” stated, “Tal Afar shows
how the three elements of the strategy for victory in Iraq—political, security, and economic—241
depend on and reinforce one another.”
In June 2006, Iraqi and Coalition forces launched “Operation Together Forward,” officially based
on “clear, hold, build” and aimed at reducing violence and increasing security in Baghdad.
Baghdad was chosen as the focus because it was “the center that everybody [was] fighting for—242
the insurgents, the death squads ... the government of Iraq.” The Operation was predicated on 243
basic counter-insurgency principles—“to secure the citizens’ lives here in Baghdad.”
Together Forward included some 48 battalions of Iraqi and coalition forces—about 51,000 troops
altogether, including roughly 21,000 Iraqi police, 13,000 Iraqi National Police, 8,500 Iraqi Army, 244
and 7,200 coalition forces. Iraqi forces were in the lead, supported by the coalition. The effort
included clearing operations, as well as a series of new security measures including extended
curfews, tighter restrictions on carrying weapons, new tips hotlines, more checkpoints, and more 245
Together Forward theoretically included the other major tracks of the November 2005 National
Strategy—political and economic efforts, as well as security, although the coalition’s primary
focus was security. As MNF-I spokesman Major General William Caldwell noted in July 2006,
“It’s obviously a multi-pronged approach ... but those [other tracks] are mostly the government of 246
Iraq side of the house.”
MNF-I stated publicly from the start that Together Forward was expected to take months, not
weeks. For several months after the operation was launched, the levels of violence in the capital
rose. As MG Caldwell explained in October 2006, “the insurgent elements, the extremists, are in
fact punching back hard.” Once the Iraqi and coalition forces cleared an area, the insurgents tried
to regain that territory, so the Iraqi and coalition forces were “constantly going back in and doing 247
clearing operations again.”
White House Fact Sheet: “Strategy for Victory—Clear, Hold, Build,” March 20, 2006.
242 Operations Update with Major General William B. Caldwell, Multi-National Forces-Iraq, July 24, 2006, available at
243 MNF-I spokesman MG Caldwell attributed that phrase to Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, see Operations
Update with Major General William B. Caldwell, Multi-National Forces-Iraq, July 20, 2006, available at
244 Operations Update with Major General William B. Caldwell, Multi-National Forces-Iraq, July 20, 2006, available at
245 Press Conference of the President, the Rose Garden, June 14, 2006, available at http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/
246 Operations Update with Major General William B. Caldwell, Multi-National Forces-Iraq, July 20, 2006, available at
247 Press Briefing by Major General William B. Caldwell, Multi-National Force-Iraq, October 19, 2006, available at
Many observers attributed that circle of violence to a lack of sufficient forces—whether coalition
or Iraqi—to “hold” an area once it was “cleared.” The vast majority of participating forces were
Iraqi, and at that juncture, some observers suggest, their capabilities were limited. MNF-I
Spokesman MG Caldwell noted in July 2006: “We are by no means at the end state, at the place 248
where the Iraqi security forces are able to assume complete control of this situation.”
By October 2006, MNF-I admitted that Together Forward had not achieved the expected
results—it had “not met our overall expectations of sustaining a reduction in the levels of 249
violence.” In the event, from the experiences of Tal Afar, Operation Together Forward had
applied the principle of close collaboration with host-nation forces, but only the “clear” element
of the “clear, hold, build” mandate.
By late 2006, senior diplomats and commanders in Iraq had concluded that the approaches in use
were not achieving the intended results—indeed, levels of violence were continuing to climb.
Several strategic reviews were conducted in parallel, some input from key observers was
solicited, options were considered, and a decision was made and announced by the 250
Administration—to pursue a “New Way Forward” in Iraq.
While the Administration’s basic long-term objectives for Iraq did not change, the New Way
Forward introduced a fundamentally new theory of the case. Until that time, Iraq strategy had
assumed that the major tracks of effort—security, political, economic—were mutually
reinforcing, and should therefore be implemented simultaneously.
The New Way Forward agreed that all of the tracks—plus a new “regional” track—were 251
important, but argued that security was a prerequisite for progress in the other areas. As a
White House summary of the results of the strategy review stated, “While political progress,
economic gains and security are all intertwined, political and economic progress are unlikely 252
absent a basic level of security.” And as President Bush stated in his address to the nation on 253
this topic, in January 2007, “The most urgent priority for success in Iraq is security.”
This thinking, though new as the premise for U.S. Iraq strategy, was not new to practitioners on
the ground. As early as 2003, some U.S. practitioners in Iraq had suggested that substantial
Operations Update with Major General William B. Caldwell, Multi-National Forces-Iraq, July 20, 2006, available at
249 Press Briefing by Major General William B. Caldwell, Multi-National Force-Iraq, October 19, 2006, available at
250 For a detailed account of theory and practice under the New Way Forward strategy, see Linda Robinson, Tell Me
How This Ends: General David Petraeus and the Search for a Way Out of Iraq, New York: PublicAffairs, 2008.
251 See “Fact Sheet: The New Way Forward in Iraq,” January 10, 2007, available at http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/
252 “Highlights of the Iraq Strategy Review,” National Security Council, January 2007, available at
253 President’s Address to the Nation, January 10, 2007, available at White House website, http://www.whitehouse.gov/
political and economic progress could not be expected, absent basic security conditions that
allowed Iraqis to leave their homes, and civilian coalition personnel to engage with local 254
communities. The New Way Forward institutionalized that view.
The theory of the case was that security improvements would open up space and opportunities for
the Iraqi government to make improvements in other areas. As General David Petraeus described
it in March 2007, one month into his tour as the MNF-I Commander, if security improves,
“commerce will return and local economies will grow.” And at the same time, “the Iraqi 255
government will have the chance it needs to resolve some of the difficult issues it faces.”
By early 2008, the basic premise had met with broad if not universal support among practitioners
and observers. For example, in October 2007, Commandant of the Marine Corps General James
Conway told a think-tank audience, “Certainly you have to have a level of security before you 256
can have governance.” Retired Marine Corps General James Jones, who led a congressionally
mandated review of Iraqi Security Forces in 2007, described it differently. He suggested that the
relationship between two major components of politics and security—national reconciliation and
sectarian violence—is more complex: “It’s a little bit of a chicken-and-egg question.... The real
overall conclusion is that the government of Iraq is the one that has to find a way to achieve 257
political reconciliation, in order to enable a reduction in sectarian violence.”
In his January 10, 2007, address to the nation, President Bush announced that to help implement
the New Way Forward, the United States would deploy additional military units to Iraq, primarily
to Baghdad. Their mission, a paraphrase of the “clear, hold, build” language, would be “to help
Iraqis clear and secure neighborhoods, to help them protect the local population, and to help
ensure that the Iraqi forces left behind are capable of providing the security that Baghdad 258
The surge forces would grow to include five Brigade Combat Teams (BCTs), an Army combat
aviation brigade, a Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), two Marine infantry battalions, a Division
headquarters, and other support troops. The number of U.S. forces in Iraq reached a peak of about
Conversations with ORHA, CPA and CJTF-7 staff, 2003 and 2004.
255 Press Briefing by GEN David Petraeus, March 8, 2007, available at http://www.mnf-iraq.com/
256 He added, “I think you have to have governance and security before you can have a viable economics plan.” See
“Remarks by General James T. Conway, Commandant of the Marine Corps,” Center for a New American Security,
October 15, 2007.
257 Remarks by General James Jones, Meeting of the Atlantic Council of the United States, Washington, D.C.,
September 12, 2007. General Jones led the Independent Commission on the Security Forces of Iraq, required by U.S.
Troop Readiness, Veterans’ Care, Katrina Recovery, and Iraq Accountability Appropriations Act of 2007, Public Law
110-28, Section 1314. The Report is available at http://www.csis.org/media/csis/pubs/isf.pdf, and discussed below.
258 President’s Address to the Nation, January 10, 2007, available at White House website, http://www.whitehouse.gov/
The surge effort also included a civilian component—increasing the number of civilian-led
Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) and the size of their staffs. A White House Fact Sheet 259
stated, “PRTs are a key element of the President’s ‘New Way Forward’ Strategy.”
The fundamental premise of the Iraqi and coalition surge operations was population security. This
marked an important shift from previous years, when the top imperative was transitioning 260
responsibility to Iraqis. The two efforts were not considered mutually exclusive—during the
surge, efforts would continue to train, mentor and equip Iraqi security forces to prepare for
transitioning increasing responsibilities to them. But the relative priority of the “population
security” and “transition” efforts was adjusted.
In early 2008, close to the height of the surge, some Division Commanders commented that their
guidance from their higher headquarters—MNC-I—was to practice patience, not to be in too
much of a hurry to move to an overwatch posture or to transition responsibility to Iraqi security 261
forces. The January 2008 mission statement of one division provides a good illustration of the
new priorities—population security first, with a view to laying the groundwork for future
transition. The division, “in participation with Iraqi security forces and the provincial
government, secures the population, neutralizes insurgents and militia groups, and defeats
terrorists and irreconcilable extremists, to establish sustainable security and set conditions for 262
transition to tactical overwatch and Iraqi security self-reliance.”
The surge aimed to provide “population security” not merely with greater troop strength, but also
by changing some of the approaches those troops used. One major emphasis was population
control—including the extensive use of concrete barriers, checkpoints, curfews, and biometric
technologies for identification including fingerprinting and retinal scans.
In April 2007, some key Baghdad neighborhoods were entirely sealed off using these approaches,
prompting the use of the moniker “gated communities.” In an Op-Ed piece, Multi-National
Corps-Iraq Commander Lieutenant General Ray Odierno explained that the gated communities
were “being put up to protect the Iraqi population by hindering the ability of terrorists to carry out 263
the car bombings and suicide attacks.” As counter-insurgency expert Dave Kilcullen described
it, “once an area is cleared and secured, with troops on the ground, controls make it hard to 264
infiltrate or intimidate ... and thus [they] also protect the population.”
See “Fact Sheet: Helping Iraq Achieve Economic and Political Stabilization,” January 8, 2008, available at
260 A famous quote by T.E. Lawrence—“Lawrence of Arabia”—appears frequently in briefings and on office walls, of
coalition forces in Iraq: “Do not try to do too much with your own hands. Better the Arabs do it tolerably than that you
do it perfectly. It is their war, and you are there to help them, not to win it for them.” The quote, although still popular,
more closely reflects an emphasis on “transition” than on “population security.”
261 Conversations with Division Commanders, January 2008.
262 Mission statement of one Multi-National Division, January 2008.
263 Ray Odierno, “In Defense of Baghdad’s Walls,” Los Angeles Times, April 25, 2007.
264 Dave Kilcullen, “The Urban Tourniquet—Gated Communities in Baghdad,” April 27, 2007, at Small Wars Journal,
http://www.smallwarsjournal.com/blog/2007/04/the-urban-tourniquet-gated-com/. Dr. Kilcullen has served at MNF-I in
Baghdad as an advisor to GEN Petraeus.
Some initial press coverage took note of some citizens’ dismay at the tighter controls that gated 265
communities brought. By early 2008, coalition and Iraqi leaders reported anecdotally that Iraqi
residents were pleased at the added protection the “gated community” measures provided them—266
by “keeping the bad guys out.”
Another key set of population security approaches involved troop presence—including not only
increasing the number of troops but also changing their footprint. From late in the formal
occupation through 2006—including Operation Together Forward—coalition forces in Iraq had
been consolidated at relatively large Forward Operating Bases (FOBs). Surge strategy called for
getting troops off of the FOBs and out into local communities, to live and work among the
As Major General James Simmons, III Corps and MNC-I Deputy Commanding General until 267
February 2008, stated, “You have to get out and live with the people.” Multi-National Force-
West leaders agreed that the key is “living with the population,” because “it makes Iraqis see us 268
as partners in the fighting and rebuilding.” As MNF-I Commanding General David Petraeus
commented in July 2008, explaining surge approaches: “The only way to secure a population is to 269
live with it—you can’t commute to this fight.”
Accordingly, coalition forces established scores of small combat outposts (COPs) and joint
security stations (JSSs) in populated areas. A JSS includes co-located units from coalition forces,
the Iraqi police, and the Iraqi Army. Each component continues to report to its own chain of
command, but they share space—and information. A COP is coalition-only, usually manned by a
“company-minus.” As of January 2008, for example, Multi-National Division-Center had
established 53 such bases in their restive area south of Baghdad.
Senior commanders at all levels have stressed the critical role JSSs and COPs played during the
surge. General Petraeus noted in March 2007 that they allowed the development of relationships 270
with local populations. Multi-National Division-Baghdad leaders called the creation of these 271
outposts the “biggest change over time” in coalition operations in Iraq.
Surge strategy still called on Iraqi and coalition forces to “clear, hold, build.” Administration and
coalition leaders admitted that in the past—in Operation Together Forward in 2006—insufficient
forces had been available to “hold” an area once it was cleared. The surge was designed to correct
See for example Karin Brulliard, “‘Gated Communities’ for the War-Ravaged,” Washington Post, April 23, 2007.
See also Tim Kilbride, “Coalition Positioned to Break Iraq’s Cycle of Violence,” American Forces Press Service, May
25, 2007, available at http://www.defenselink.mil/news/newsarticle.aspx?id=46184).
266 Information from Division and Brigade Commanders, January 2008.
267 Interview, January 2008, Baghdad. MG Simmons brought to bear considerable comparative perspective. He held the
post of III Corps DCG for over four and a half years, and thus also served as MNC-I DCG on the Corps’ first tour in
Iraq as the nucleus of MNC-I, from 2004 to 2005.
268 Conversation with MNF-West leaders, January 2008.
269 David Petraeus, Interview with Charles Gibson, World News, ABC, July 28, 2008.
270 Press Briefing by GEN David Petraeus, March 8, 2007, available at http://www.mnf-iraq.com/
271 Interviews with MNF-I subordinate commanders, January 2008.
As the President noted in his January 10, 2007, address to the nation, “In earlier operations, Iraqi
and American forces cleared many neighborhoods of terrorists and insurgents, but when our
forces moved on to other targets, the killers returned. This time,” he added, “we’ll have the force 272
levels we need to hold the areas that have been cleared.” General Petraeus confirmed the
approach, and the contrast with past operations, in March 2007: “Importantly, Iraqi and coalition
forces will not just clear neighborhoods, they will also hold them to facilitate the build phase of 273
the operation.” Key outside observers agreed. Retired General Jack Keane, a strong surge
advocate, noted, “We’re going to secure the population for the first time. What we’ve never been
able to do in the past is have enough forces to stay in those neighborhoods and protect the 274
President Bush announced one other major change which would make surge military operations
different from those of the past—the lifting of political restrictions on operations, which had been
imposed in the past by an Iraqi leadership concerned about its own fragility. In the past, President
Bush noted, “political and sectarian interference prevented Iraqi and American forces from going
into neighborhoods that are home to those fueling the sectarian violence.” But this time, Iraqi
leaders had signaled that Iraqi and coalition forces would have “a green light” to enter those 275
Enabled by the greater availability of U.S. and Iraqi forces in 2007, U.S. military commanders
launched a series of major “combined” operations with their Iraqi security forces counterparts.
In February 2007, just as surge forces began to flow into Iraq, U.S. and Iraqi forces launched
Operation Fardh al-Qanoon, often referred to as the Baghdad Security Plan. Its primary emphasis
was population security, and the primary geographical focal point was Baghdad, broadly 276
defined. As then-MNC-I Commander LTG Odierno put it, “The population and the government 277
are the center of gravity.”
The basic theory of the case was another paraphrase of “clear, hold, build.” At the outset of st
operations, Major General Joseph Fil, Commander of 1 Cavalry Division and the Multi-National
Division-Baghdad, described the plan as “clear, control, and retain.” That meant, he explained,
clearing out extremists, neighborhood by neighborhood; controlling those neighborhoods with a
President’s Address to the Nation, January 10, 2007, available at White House website, http://www.whitehouse.gov/
273 Press Briefing by General David Petraeus, March 8, 2007, available at http://www.mnf-iraq.com/
274 Adam Brookes, “Bush Iraq plan likely to cost dear,” BBC news, January 11, 2007, available at
275 President’s Address to the Nation, January 10, 2007, available at White House website, http://www.whitehouse.gov/
276 “Baghdad” is the name of both the capital city and the province where it is located.
277 See Department of Defense Press Briefing with Lieutenant General Odierno, May 31, 2007, available at
“full-time presence on the streets” by coalition and Iraqi forces; and retaining the neighborhoods 278
with Iraqi security forces “fully responsible for the day-to-day security mission.”
The specific targets of the Operation included Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) and its affiliates, and rogue
Shi’a militia elements including the Jaish al-Mahdi “special groups.”
“Baghdad” was defined to include the surrounding areas, or “belts,” which had been providing
bases of operation and transit points, with access into the capital, for both Sunni and Shi’a
extremists. LTG Odierno’s guidance to his subordinate commanders was to stop the flow of 279
“accelerants of the violence” through those areas into Baghdad.
Operating in the “belts” required shifting the footprint of coalition forces to cover all the major
supply lines leading into Baghdad. Coalition presence in many of the belt areas had previously
been very light. During the spring of 2007, incoming surge brigades were deployed into Baghdad
and its belts. April 1, 2007, a new division headquarters was added—the Multi-National Division-rd
Center, initially led by 3 Infantry Division—to cover parts of Baghdad province and other 280
provinces just south of Baghdad.
Beginning in June 2007, once all the coalition surge forces had arrived in Iraq, coalition forces, in
coordination with Iraqi counterparts, launched a series of operations: Phantom Thunder, followed
by Phantom Strike, and then Phantom Phoenix. As “Corps-level operations,” these were sets of
division- and brigade-level actions coordinated and integrated across Iraq by MNC-I. They
included close coordination with U.S. Special Operations Forces as well as with Iraqi military and
The city of Baghdad was the most complex battle space in Iraq, due to the strong presence of both
AQI and JAM special groups, the many potential fault lines among different neighborhoods, and
a security “temperature” that can vary on a block-by-block basis. In the series of Corps-level th
operations, the Multi-National Division-Baghdad, led by the 4 Infantry Division since December
The area just south of Baghdad and along the Tigris River, with its mixed Shi’a/ Sunni
population, had long provided safe havens and a gateway to Baghdad for AQI and its affiliates
from Al Anbar and Iraq’s western borders, and for Shi’a extremists coming from southern Iraq or
from Iraq’s border with Iran. As part of the Corps-level operations, Multi-National Division-
Center, led by 3ID, focused on clearing these restive areas, narrowing down to more specific
pockets of resistance, including Salman Pak and Arab Jabour, as progress is made.
See Department of Defense press briefing, Major General Joseph Fil, February 16, 2007, available at
279 Information from Division Commanders and staff, January 2008.
280 Information from MNC-I and Division officials, January 2008. See also Kimberly Kagan, “The Real Surge:
Preparing for Operation Phantom Thunder,” Iraq Report, The Institute for the Study of War and The Weekly Standard,
February 14, 2007-June 15, 2007, available at http://www.understandingwar.org/IraqReport/IraqReport05.pdf.
281 Information from MND-Baghdad, January 2008.
To the north, Multi-National Division-North, led by 1st Armored Division, focused on clearing
and then holding those areas where AQI affiliates sought refuge as they were pushed out of 282
Baghdad. Many AQI affiliates, pushed out of Baghdad by surge operations, initially relocated
to Baquba, the capital city of Diyala province east of Baghdad. Reports suggested they had 283
renamed it the new “capital of the Islamic State of Iraq.” As operations by MND-North and
Iraqi security forces pushed AQI out of that city, some AQI moved east up the Diyala River
Valley, into the so-called “breadbasket” of Iraq near the city of Muqtadiyah—a focal point for the th
Division’s operations in January 2008. Working in Diyala in partnership with the Iraqi 5 Army
Division, the combined forces uncovered a number of major weapons caches, and had “some very 284
In Al Anbar province to the west, the Multi-National Force-West, led by II Marine Expeditionary
Force (Forward), working closely with Iraqi counterparts, focused its operations on a pocket of
AQI concentration around Lake Thar Thar, northwest of Baghdad. As AQI was pushed out of
major population centers including Ramadi and Fallujah, they tended to attempt to regroup in the
desert, so another major coalition and Iraqi focus in Al Anbar has been targeting the AQI 285
remnants in rural areas.
Coalition and Iraqi military operations in 2008 have been characterized by growing ISF
capabilities, and growing assertiveness of the GoI in employing the ISF. Operations have been
carried out against both Al Qaeda in Iraq affiliates in north-central Iraq, and against extremist
Shi’a militia members in the south and Baghdad.
By the beginning of 2008, Corps-level operations had pushed AQI out of Anbar and Baghdad to
the east and north. Operations by Multi-National Division-North in January 2008, in Diyala
province, pushed AQI out of Diyala’s capital city Baqubah and further up the Diyala River Valley.
Some members of AQI sought to establish the northern city of Mosul as their last stronghold—286
their “center of gravity.”
In 2007, through the height of the surge, Ninewah province and its capital city Mosul had been an
“economy of force” area for both U.S. and Iraqi forces, as additional forces were sent south to 287
Baghdad and nearby areas. Ninewah province offered AQI affiliates some geographic
advantages, including land routes out to Iraq’s porous western border. It also offered a volatile
Retired Army Major General Scales provides a clear description of the early stages of these operations, based on a
visit to Iraq in Robert H. Scales MG (ret), “Petraeus’s Iraq,” Wall Street Journal, November 21, 2007.
283 Information from MND-North, January 2008.
284 See Department of Defense News Briefing, Major General Mark Hertling, January 22, 2008, available at
285 See Department of Defense News Briefing, Maj.Gen. Walter Gaskin, December 10, 2007,
286 Interviews with MNC-I and MND-North officials, January and August 2008.
287 Interviews with MNC-I and MND-N officials, August 2008. See also Solomon Moore, “In Mosul, New Test of
Rebuilt Iraqi Army,” New York Times, March 20, 2008; Moore reports that at one point, the demands of the surge in
Baghdad left only 750 U.S. Soldiers in Mosul, and 2,000 in Ninewah altogether.
mixed population, including governing structures largely controlled by Kurds, a sizable Sunni
Arab population that felt disenfranchised, and Christian, Yazidi, and other minority groups.
On January 25, 2008, Prime Minister Maliki announced that there would be a major new Iraqi 288
and coalition offensive against AQI in Mosul and stated that it would be “decisive.” The Prime
Minister established a new Ninewah Operations Command (NOC), designed to coordinate
operations by all ISF. The NOC was scheduled to reach full operating capacity in May 2008, but
as one senior U.S. commander noted, “they just weren’t ready.” Nevertheless, ISF did launch
some clearing operations and took steps to secure Mosul including setting up check points and 289
maintaining a presence at combat outposts. MNC-I noted its intent, once progress in Diyala
province allows, to go back and complete the effort in Mosul, to “get it set.”
In October 2008, U.S. and Iraqi forces struck a major blow against AQI in Mosul by killing Abu
Qaswarah, the senior AQI emir of northern Iraq. According to U.S. commanders on the ground,
that successful operation was made possible by a series of actions and information-gathering by
U.S. and Iraqi forces over preceding months, and his death was expected to disrupt the AQI 290
According to U.S. commanders, operations in Mosul in 2008 benefitted from an initiative by
Multi-National Corp-Iraq (MNC-I) in the Jazeera desert, west of Mosul. MNC-I formed a task
force around a military intelligence brigade headquarters, based it in the desert, and tasked it to
coordinate intelligence fusion, drawing on sources from the U.S. Marines in the west, and U.S.
and Iraqi SOF, in addition to its own assets. Commanders note that the approach has facilitated 291
identifying and interdicting fighters coming across the desert toward Mosul.
Meanwhile, in January 2008, operations in Diyala province, east of Baghdad, had driven AQI
affiliates out of major population centers into rural areas. One U.S. military commander,
emphasizing AQI’s lack of cohesive structure, described them as “a bunch of gangs under the Al 292
In late July 2008, ISF, supported by coalition forces, launched operations against AQI in Diyala.
Before the operations began, Prime Minister Maliki publicly stated the intention to launch
operations, and as a result, according to U.S. commanders, many of the “bad guys” simply ran 293
away. In the view of one U.S. commander, that approach may have “pushed the problem down
the road,” but on the other hand, he added, it might allow time for ISF capabilities to develop
further. U.S. support to the operations included conducting blocking operations, to try to catch
See for example “Iraq to Go After Al-Qaeda in Mosul,” Associated Press, Washington Post, January 25, 2008.
289 Interviews with MND-N officials, August 2008. See Department of Defense, “Measuring Stability and Security in
Iraq,” June 2008, p.20.
290 Information from MNF-I subordinate commanders, October 2008.
291 Interviews with MNC-I officials and subordinate commanders, August 2008. The Corps-level operation in this
region is called Operation DAN (Defeat Al-Qaeda in the North).
292 Interview with MNF-I subordinate commander, August 2008.
293 See Multi-National Force-Iraq press conference, Major General Mohammed al-Askari, Iraqi Ministry of Defense
Spokesman, and Brigadier General David Perkins, MNF-I Spokesman, July 30, 2008.
AQI affiliates attempting to flee,294 as well as providing air support, some logistics, and 295
According to U.S. commanders, the Diyala operations were the first to include rehearsals by the
ISF and joint planning with Multi-National Corps-Iraq. Iraqi officials noted that the Diyala
operations more than two Iraqi Army divisions, and more than one division from the Ministry of 296
Interior. U.S. commanders add that while the Iraqi Army demonstrated some proficiency in
“clearing,” it has been harder for the Iraqis to figure out how to “hold” cleared areas—Iraqi
planning for the “hold” portion of the operations was insufficient and hampered by a lack of Iraqi 297
On March 25, 2008, based on direction from Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, Iraqi security forces
launched a major operation, Sawlat al-Fursan (Charge of the Knights) in Basra, with the stated 298
aim of targeting criminals operating under religious or political cover. Some Muqtada al-Sadr
loyalists apparently viewed the matter differently, and accused the government of using its armed
forces, many of which are strongly influenced by the Islamic Supreme Council in Iraq (ISCI), to
attack a political rival. International Crisis Group expert Joost Hiltermann characterized the
operations as “a fairly transparent partisan effort by the Supreme Council [ISCI] dressed in 299
government uniforms to fight the Sadrists and Fadila.”
Prior to the operations, by many accounts, key militias in Basra controlled local councils and 300
much of the flow of daily life on the streets of the city. In 2007, the UK-led Multi-National
Division-Southeast (MND-SE), responsible for Basra, had determined that “the UK presence in
Basra was a catalyst for violence.” In August of that year, UK forces consolidated at the airport, 301
outside the city, and assumed an overwatch posture. In an apparent attempt at reconciliation,
the division reportedly made an accommodation with the Jaish al-Mahdi (JAM), agreeing to limit 302
its own presence in the city.
The launch of the “Charge” was, by many accounts, precipitate. In March 2008, Iraqi forces in
Basra, assisted by UK advisors, had been preparing a staged plan to take back Basra, including
Interviews with MNF-I and MNC-I officials, and subordinate commanders, August 2008.
295 See Multi-National Force-Iraq press conference, Major General Mohammed al-Askari, Iraqi Ministry of Defense
Spokesman, and Brigadier General David Perkins, MNF-I Spokesman, July 30, 2008.
296 See Multi-National Force-Iraq press conference, Major General Mohammed al-Askari, Iraqi Ministry of Defense
Spokesman, and Brigadier General David Perkins, MNF-I Spokesman, July 30, 2008.
297 Interviews with MNC-I officials and subordinate commanders, August 2008.
298 Maliki stated publicly that the operation was going after “criminals, terrorist forces, and outlaws.” See Alexandra
Zavis, “Iraqi Shiites Clash in Basra,” Los Angeles Times, March 26, 2008.
299 Quoted by Alexandra Zavis, “Iraqi Shiites Clash in Basra,” Los Angeles Times, March 26, 2008. See also “Iraq: Al-
Basrah Clashes Could Prove Ominous,” Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty, March 26, 2008; Sholnn Freeman and
Sudarsan Raghavan, “Intense Fighting Erupts in Iraq,” Washington Post, March 26, 2008; Michael Kamber and James
Glanz, “Iraqi and U.S. Forces Battle Shiite Militia,” The New York Times, March 26, 2008.
300 Interviews with MNC-I subordinate commanders, and with Commanding General of the Basra Operations
Command, Major General Mohammed Hameidi, August 2008.
301 Interviews with MND-SE officials, August 2008.
302 Interviews with UK military official, August 2008.
setting conditions first, and then launching operations in June. According to Iraqi civilian and
military officials in Basra, and U.S. and UK military officials, the Iraqi operation was not well-
planned. Some officials, who were directly involved, note that when the Prime Minister arrived in
Basra in March, he had been prepared only for a “limited operation” and was surprised by the 303
magnitude of the challenge. Some observers suggest that Maliki was emboldened by progress
against AQI in the north, and somewhat over-confident in the abilities of the ISF.
The ISF applied considerable forces to the effort, including 21 Iraqi Army battalions and 8
National Police battalions—reportedly some 30,000 Iraqi forces altogether, including special 304
operations and conventional army forces, as well as police. Extremists in Basra mounted fierce 305
resistance—including simultaneous attacks on 25 Iraqi police stations by JAM-affiliated forces.
Iraqi Minister of Defense Abdel Qadr Jassim was quoted as saying, “We supposed that this
operation would be a normal operation, but we were surprised by this resistance and have been 306
obliged to change our plans and our tactics.”
U.S. military officials report that without substantial assistance from the coalition, the operation
would have been in jeopardy. As one senior U.S. commander explained it, Prime Minister Maliki
had staked his reputation on the operation—if the operation failed, the government might 307
collapse, so, he added, “We made sure that it would be successful.” Coalition support included 308
the advice and support of embedded transition teams, air strikes, and air lift.
According to coalition officials, while many of the ISF performed competently, some—as widely nd
reported—did not. One newly formed Iraq Army brigade, the 52, which had no combat
experience, seemingly collapsed under the pressure. In April 2008, the GoI noted that more than
Iraqi Army Soldiers, and 421 members of the Iraqi Police in Basra, were fired.
In the aftermath of the Basra operations, coalition and Iraqi commanders reported that the
security situation had improved markedly. Accordingly to MND-SE, the ISF regained freedom of 310
movement throughout the city. According to an Iraqi Army commander, security was much 311
better, and the main challenge now was to act against criminals and outlaws.
In March 2008, as operations in Basra commenced, some JAM elements stepped up attacks
targeting coalition and Iraqi forces in Baghdad. The attacks included significant targeting of the
Interviews with UK and Iraqi officials, Basra, August 2008.
304 Interviews with UK military officials, Basra, August 2008.
305 Interview with UK military official, Basra, August 2008.
306 See “U.S. Forces Drawn Deeper Into Iraq Crackdown,” Reuters, March 28, 2008.
307 Interview with MNC-I official, August 2008.
308 Interviews with MNC-I officials, August 2008. See also MNF-I Press Conference, Major General Kevin Bergner,
March 26, 2008. In August 2008, reports emerged that UK ground forces did not enter the city during the heavy
fighting, due to the prior accommodation with Moqtada al-Sadr, which provided that UK combat forces could not enter
Basra without permission from the UK Minister of Defence. See Deborah Haynes and Michael Evans, “Secret Deal
Kept British Army Out Of Battle for Basra,” London Times, August 5, 2008.
309 See Stephen Farrell and Qais Mizher, “Iraq Dismisses 1,300 After Basra Offensive,” New York Times, April 14,
310 Interview with MND-SE officials, August 2008. The officials noted that the situation in Basra, post-operations, was
“a lot like Cairo.”
311 Interview with Iraqi Army commander, August 2008.
International Zone, primarily from the direction of Sadr City, a stronghold of supporters of
Moqtada al-Sadr and the Sadr family.
To quell the attacks, U.S. and Iraqi forces launched operations, first of all targeting the southern
part of Sadr City where many rocket attacks were originating. According to a senior U.S. military
official, the Iraqi security forces, perhaps focused on the ongoing Basra operations, were reluctant 312
to engage—he added, “We had to drag them to the fight.” U.S. forces, while largely remaining 313
outside Sadr City itself, brought to the fight air weapons teams and substantial layered ISR.
After simmering for nearly two months, with continual pressure applied by coalition and Iraqi
forces, the fight in Sadr City ended in May 2008 with a deal struck between Moqtada al-Sadr and
the GoI. The arrangements reportedly allowed the ISF full access to the area. They called for an
end to the launching of rockets and mortars from Sadr City, and for the removal of any explosives
that had been laid down. They did not require the disbanding or disarming of JAM forces—and 314
JAM affirmed that it did not possess any medium or heavy weapons. In the aftermath of the
fighting in Sadr City, U.S. officials confirmed that ISF freedom of movement had been restored,
and local residents reportedly confirmed that the grip of control by Shi’a militias over the local 315
economy and public services had relaxed.
In June 2008, the ISF launched clearing operations in Amarah, capital city of Maysan province
just north of Basra. While little resistance was encountered, ISF found a number of weapons
caches, assisted by information from the local population. The ISF followed by providing
humanitarian assistance in the form of hot meals, and coalition forces introduced a temporary
employment program, hiring local residents to remove trash and debris from city streets. U.S.
commanders noted that the Amarah operations may have been the first that the ISF carefully 316
Improvised explosive devices (IEDs) are the enemy’s “weapon of choice” in Iraq. Usually made
with technologically simple, off-the-shelf materials, they generally do not require deep expertise
to construct. As of early 2008, over 78% of those detained by coalition forces were interned based 317
on suspicion of some IED-related activity. IEDs are the leading cause of coalition casualties in
Iraq—and over time, they have driven changes in coalition operations, including an increased
reliance on air lift for transportation of personnel and cargo.
Interview with senior U.S. commander, August 2008.
313 Interviews with MNF-I and MNC-I officials, August 2008. See also Department of Defense, “Measuring Stability
and Security in Iraq,” June 2008, p.22.
314 See Howard Lafranchi, “Hasty truce with Moqtada al-Sadr tests his sway in Baghdad stronghold,” Christian Science
Monitor, May 12, 2008. See also “Text of Sadr Ceasefire Agreement,” posted by the Institute for the Study of War,
translated by Nathaniel Rabkin, available at http://www.understandingwar.org/text-sadr-cease-fire-agreement.
315 Interviews with MNF-I and MNC-I officials, August 2008. See Sabrina Tavernise, “ A Shiite Militia in Baghdad
Sees its Power Wane,” New York Times, July 27, 2008.
316 Interviews with MNC-I officials, August 2008. See also Department of Defense News Briefing, Colonel Charlie
Flynn (USA), 1st Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division, June 26, 2008.
317 Interviews with Task Force-134 officials, Baghdad, January 2008.
Recognizing the threat from these asymmetric weapons, both the Department of Defense and the 318
military command on the ground in Iraq have made countering IEDs a top priority. At DOD,
the Joint IED Defeat Organization, based in the Office of the Secretary of Defense and led since
December 2007 by Lieutenant General Tom Metz, is mandated to facilitate the rapid
development, production and fielding of new technologies and approaches.
In the field, the premise of the counter-IED efforts has been to “attack the network.” That
involves not just capturing the IED emplacers, usually hired for a one-time payment, but also, in 319
the words of one Division Commander, “influencing the decisions of those who place IEDs.”
More broadly, it includes mapping the relationships among emplacers, financiers, and overall
strategists, including the support they receive from outside Iraq.
To help execute those efforts, Multi-National Corps-Iraq and its subordinate multi-national
divisions created dedicated counter-IED cells, reinforced by experts provided by JIEDDO. Their
efforts include information-sharing about the latest enemy tactics, techniques and procedures,
distributing and providing training for the latest counter-IED technology, training the force to
recognize how the network operates, and integrating all available intelligence assets to better 320
define—and target—the networks. MNC-I also includes a task force of technical experts who 321
collect and analyze all found IEDs.
MNF-I and MNC-I officials point to a dramatic decrease in enemy IED use, from September
2007 to September 2008, from about 110 incidents per day to about 26 incidents per day. Most of
those incidents involved relatively unsophisticated devices, with key exceptions. According to 322
U.S. officials, enemy IED use seems to follow cycles of innovation. In late 2007, a key IED
concern was the explosively formed penetrator (EFP), able to target vehicles with a particularly
powerful blast, but EFP trend lines diminished markedly after January 2008. In late 2007, another
worrisome form of IED appeared, the improvised rocket-assisted mortar (IRAM)—a rocket with
a propane tank and ball bearings. IRAMs take a long time to build, and they have indiscriminate
and catastrophic effects. The first two IRAM incidents took place in November 2007, and a total
of 13 incidents had taken place by August 2008. In mid-2008, the use of “building-borne IEDs”—323
houses wired to explode—became more common.
Carrying out IED attack requires, to some extent, the ability to operate within a local population.
U.S. commanders note that the most fundamental factor in explaining the successes to date in the 324
counter-IED effort is that “the Iraqi population has turned against the IED effort.”
Interviews with LTG Odierno, and MNC-I staff, January 2008.
319 Interview with Division Commander, January 2008.
320 At the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint IED Defeat Organization, led since December 2007 by
Lieutenant General Tom Metz, is mandated to facilitate the rapid development, production and fielding of new
technologies and approaches.
321 Interviews with MNC-I officials, August 2008.
322 As one official observed, “It’s like R&D,” interview with MNC-I official, August 2008.
323 Interviews with MNC-I officials, August 2008.
324 Interviews with MNF-I and MNC-I officials, January and August 2008.
U.S. Special Operations Forces (SOF) have played an integral role throughout Operation Iraqi
Freedom, including targeting key enemy leaders. MNF-I leaders note that as of 2008, SOF and
conventional forces work in a much more closely integrated way than they did earlier in OIF.
SOF is particularly well-suited to infiltrate difficult areas to reach key individual targets. But
according to MNF-I and MNC-I leaders, SOF often rely, for targeting information, on
conventional units’ detailed, daily familiarity with their battle space, based on their long-standing
relationships with local Iraqi counterparts. Further, commanders stress, after a SOF action, it is 325
the conventional forces—in partnership with Iraqi forces—that stay to “hold” the area.
Most press coverage of the counter-insurgency effort in Iraq has focused on the role of ground
forces—the Army and the Marine Corps—including the number of troops on the ground, the 326
approaches they have used, and the stress on those two Military Services. Air power has also
been an integral element of the OIF counter-insurgency (COIN) effort—providing critical
Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities, and facilitating mobility—327
particularly given the lack of mass transit of troops by ground. Importantly from an analytical
perspective, the role of air power in Iraq has evolved over time.
One major shift over the course of OIF has been in the kinetic use of air power. Defense expert 328
Anthony Cordesman has pointed to its “steadily more important role over time.” In November
2007, Major General Dave Edgington, then the MNF-I Air Component Coordination Element
(ACCE) Director, confirmed a sharp spike, once all the surge troops had arrived in Iraq, in the 329
number of weapons dropped from fighters and bombers.
Statistics released in January 2008 by the Combined Force Air Component Command (CFACC),
the air component of CENTCOM, provided further detail about the upswing in the use of
weapons. The yearly number of close air support (CAS) strikes, with munitions dropped, in OIF,
rose from 86 in 2004, to 176 in 2005, to 1,770 in 2006, to 3,030 in 2007. During 2007, the
Interviews with MNF-I and MNC-I officials, January and August 2008.
326 Indeed, the ground Services themselves may tend to view counter-insurgency primarily as a ground forces effort. In
his provocative monograph, “Shortchanging the Joint Fight?,” Air Force Major General Charles Dunlap noted that the
new Army and Marine Corps COIN doctrine, FM 3-24, devotes only a 5-page appendix to the role of air power in
COIN, and argued for a “genuinely joint approach” that takes account of “the full potential of today’s airpower
capabilities.” See Maj. Gen. Charles Dunlap, “Shortchanging the Joint Fight? An Airman’s Assessment of FM 3-24 and
the Case for Developing Truly Joint COIN Doctrine,” Air University monograph, December 2007, available at
327 For a discussion of air operations in support of OIF and Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, including the
widespread use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, see Mark Benjamin, “Killing ‘Bubba’ from the Skies,” Slate.com,
February 15, 2008, available at http://www.salon.com/news/feature/2008/02/15/air_war/.
328 Anthony H. Cordesman, “US Airpower in Iraq and Afghanistan: 2004-2007,” Center for Strategic and International
Studies, December 13, 2007.
329 MNF-I press briefing, Major General Dave Edgington, MNF-I Air Component Coordination Element Director,
November 4, 2007, available at http://www.mnf-iraq.com/
monthly number of CAS strikes rose from 89 in January, then 36 in February, to 171 in June, 303 330
in July, and 166 in August, before dropping back to double-digits for the rest of the year.
In January 2008, Maj. Gen. Edgington explained that close air support—or “on-call” support—is
the type of kinetic air power that has been most in demand in Iraq. Coordinated air/ground
operations during the first several months after the arrival of the full surge force produced the
heaviest CAS requirements, but afterward the demand tapered off. The significantly higher
demand for CAS, he noted, was less a reflection of a deliberate strategy to use more air power,
than a natural result of a significantly larger number of U.S. troops, working significantly more
closely with Iraqi counterparts and in local neighborhoods, and getting better information that
made target identification much easier. As of January 2008, in a shift from mid-2007, the majority 331
of weapons dropped were targeting deeply buried IEDs.
Some counter-insurgency specialists have questioned the use of kinetic air power in counter-
insurgency operations because it risks civilian casualties that could fuel the insurgency. For
example, Kalev Sepp has written, “These killings drive family and community members into the 332
insurgency and create lifelong antagonisms toward the United States.”
Commanders stress, in turn, that although there is always a chance of accidental civilian
casualties, the likelihood has greatly diminished with the development of precision capabilities.
Further, the decision cycle before a weapon is dropped includes a series of decision points that
give commanders the opportunity to stop an action if new and better information becomes 333
available about a civilian presence in the target area. In his December 2007 assessment of the
use of air power in Iraq and Afghanistan, Anthony Cordesman concludes that “considerable 334
restraint was used in both wars.”
Another major shift in the use of air in OIF, according to U.S. commanders, has been the growing 335
availability of greater air assets—for example, significantly more full-motion video assets. In
2008, U.S. air assets—ISR, kinetic, and mobility—proved essential to the increasingly
“combined” coalition and Iraqi operations on the ground. In the Basra operations in March 2008,
U.S. transition teams embedded with Iraqi units relied on ISR and some kinetic air as key
enablers, and the coalition also provided some essential airlift.
U.S. and Iraqi military operations in the Sadr City section of Baghdad, in spring 2008, presented
some specific challenges—a geographic area largely denied to legitimate Iraqi security forces but
densely populated by civilians, serving as a launching pad for frequent attacks on Iraqi and
coalition targets, in the middle of the nation’s capital. In the judgment of some U.S. commanders,
what helped make the U.S.-Iraqi Sadr City operations a success was pushing the control of air
“2004-2007 Combined Forces Air Component Commander Airpower Statistics,” U.S. CENTAF Combined Air and
Space Operations Center, January 3, 2008.
331Interview with Maj. Gen. Edgington, Baghdad, January 2008.
332 See “The Insurgency: Can it be Defeated?” Interview with Kalev Sepp, PBS Frontline, February 21, 2006, available
at http://www/pbs.org/wgbh.pages/frontline/insurgency/can/. Other observers question the use of kinetic air power
simply on the grounds that any risk of inadvertent civilian loss of life is unacceptable.
333 Interviews with MNF-I and MNC-I leaders, January 2008.
334 Anthony H. Cordesman, “US Airpower in Iraq and Afghanistan: 2004-2007”, Center for Strategic and International
Studies, December 13, 2007.
335 Interviews with MNF-I and MNC-I officials, August 2008.
assets to lower levels in the U.S. chain of command.336 Commanders on the ground had access to
layered inputs from manned and unmanned sensors, and multiple options—both ground- and air-
based—for taking out targets, if the decision was to “kill” rather than “follow and exploit.”
As of 2008, the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) consisted of three major groups: the Army, Navy and
Air Force under the Ministry of Defense (MoD); the Iraqi Police Service, the National Police, and
the Department of Border Enforcement under the Ministry of Interior (MoI), as well as the
Facilities Protection Service that was still being consolidated under the MoI; and the Iraqi Special
Operations Forces that report to the Counter-Terrorism Bureau, under the office of the Prime
Developing the ISF and the security Ministries that oversee them is a critical component of the
role of U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq—a role that has evolved over time in response to events
on the ground and changes in U.S. strategy.
The scope of the challenge has been extensive, since none of Iraq’s pre-war security forces or
structures were left intact or available for duty after major combat operations.
U.S. pre-war planning had foreseen an immediate and practical need for law enforcement, and for
security more broadly, after major combat—particularly since some challenges to law and order
might reasonably be expected after the collapse of the old regime. Planning had also stressed the
need for security providers to have an “Iraqi face,” to calm and reassure the Iraqi people.
However, pre-war planning had erroneously assumed that Iraqi local police forces would be
available, as needed, to help provide security for the Iraqi people. Instead, in the immediate
aftermath of major combat, coalition forces found that civilian law enforcement bodies had
Meanwhile, military pre-war planning had also assumed that Iraqi military units would be
available for recall and reassignment after the war, as needed. Military plans counted on the
“capitulation” of Iraqi forces, and included options for using some of those forces to guard 337
borders or perform other tasks.
Instead, on May 23, 2003, the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) issued CPA Order Number
2, which dissolved all Iraqi military services including the Army. That decision foreclosed the
option of unit recall to support security or reconstruction activities, or to serve as building blocks 338
for a new, post-Saddam army.
Interviews with MNF-I and MNC-I officials, and subordinate commanders, August 2008.
337 Information from CFLCC and V Corps planners, 2002 and 2003. See also Michael R. Gordon and General Bernard
E. Trainor, Cobra II: The Inside Story and the Invasion and Occupation of Iraq, New York: Vintage Books, 2006.)
338 See CPA Order 2, “Dissolution of Entities,” available at http://www.iraqcoalition.org/regulations/
20030823_CPAORD_2_Dissolution_of_Entities_with_Annex_A.pdf. Note that the date of the Order is given
Post-war Iraq was not, however, a blank slate in terms of trained and organized fighters. The
Kurds in northern Iraq had long maintained well-trained and well-equipped forces—the pesh
merga—which had worked closely with coalition forces during major combat. Somewhat more
equivocally, a major Shi’a Arab political party, the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in 339
Iraq (SCIRI, later ISCI), maintained its own militia, the Badr Corps, which had been trained in
Iran during the Iran-Iraq war. Like the pesh merga, Badr members were trained and equipped, but
unlike them, they had no history of cooperation with coalition forces in Iraq. In the early days of
the formal occupation, in various contexts, both militias offered their services to help provide
security. The coalition—then the executive authority of Iraq—thus faced the additional challenge
of whether and how to incorporate these militias into official Iraqi security structures.
During the year of formal occupation, Iraqi security forces training was led and primarily
executed by the Coalition Provisional Authority. Particularly in the earliest days, the efforts were
characterized by limited long-term strategic planning, and by resources too limited for the scope
and scale of the tasks.
Police training began as a function of the CPA “Ministry of the Interior” office, initially under the
leadership of former New York Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik. He was supported by a
skeleton staff in Baghdad, and by some resources from the State Department’s Bureau of
International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL). Based on priorities articulated by
Washington, the team focused initially on the capital city, including rebuilding the Baghdad
Police Academy. The office also launched a limited call-back and re-training effort for former
Iraqi police officers, but the effort was constrained by limited resources and staff—including a 340
very limited presence outside Baghdad.
Meanwhile, military units throughout Iraq had recognized an immediate need for some Iraqi law
enforcement presence on the ground in their areas of responsibility. To the frustration of some 341
CPA officials, military commanders launched police re-training initiatives in their areas,
initially in the form of three-week courses, with the goal of quickly fielding at least temporary
Iraqi security providers. Ambassador Bremer eventually instructed CJTF-7 to cease police 342
incorrectly on the CPA website table of contents, but is correctly printed on the Order itself.
339Previously the “Badr Brigade,” subsequently the “Badr Organization.”
340 Regarding funding for the Iraqi civilian law enforcement system, Ambassador Bremer writes that CPA began with
$25 million from the State Department to assess the Iraqi criminal justice system, and Ambassador Bremer allocated an
additional $120 million from Iraqi government funds for training and equipping Iraqi police. See Ambassador L. Paul
Bremer III, My Year in Iraq: The Struggle to Build a Future of Hope, New York: Simon and Schuster, 2006.
341 Personal communications from CPA officials, 2003. Also, in his Iraq memoir, Ambassador Bremer minces no
words. He quotes Doug Brand, the U.K. Constable who replaced Kerik, as saying, “The Army is sweeping up half-
educated men off the streets, running them through a three-week training course, arming them, and then calling them
police. It’s a scandal, pure and simple.” See Ambassador L. Paul Bremer III, My Year in Iraq: The Struggle to Build a
Future of Hope, New York: Simon and Schuster, 2006, page 183.
342 In his memoir, Ambassador Bremer recalls an October 2003 meeting with CJTF-7 Commander LTG Sanchez, when
he instructed CJTF-7 to stop recruiting police. The incident underscored the difficult position in the chain of command
of CJTF-7 (see above), which was in direct support of CPA, but still reported to CENTCOM—which had instructed
CJTF-7 to recruit and train police. Communications from CJTF-7 officials, 2003, and Ambassador L. Paul Bremer III,
CPA also initially had responsibility for rebuilding Iraq’s Army, under the supervision of Walt
Slocombe, the CPA Senior Advisor for National Security, and a former Under Secretary of
Defense for Policy. In an August 2003 Order, CPA directed the creation of the New Iraqi Army 343
(NIA). The training effort, led day-to-day by Major General Paul Eaton, focused on recruiting
and training Iraqi soldiers, battalion-by-battalion. The plan was to create higher headquarters later
on—and in particular, once an Iraqi civilian leadership was in place to provide civilian control of
the military. The initial, ambitious goal was the creation of 27 battalions in two years, which was 344
adjusted to the even more ambitious goal of 27 battalions in one year.
In early September 2003, as a stop-gap measure, at the urging of CJTF-7 with backing from the
Office of the Secretary of Defense, CPA announced the establishment of the Iraqi Civil Defense
Corps (ICDC). The ICDC would be a trained, uniformed, armed “security and emergency service 345
agency for Iraq.” In accordance with the Order he signed, establishing the ICDC, Ambassador
Bremer delegated responsibility for its development to the senior military commander in Iraq—
LTG Sanchez. Under CJTF-7’s authority, Division Commanders launched ICDC recruiting and
training programs, supporting the efforts in part with their own organic assets, and in part with
In 2003 and early 2004, the various ISF training efforts—for the police, the NIA and the ICDC—
proceeded in parallel, led by separate entities within the coalition, with little opportunity for
integrated strategic planning and resourcing.
The military command in Iraq had sought for some time to be assigned responsibility for the
entire ISF training mission, based on the view that CPA did not have the capacity to accomplish
all of it, or to coordinate its many elements in a single strategy. Ambassador Bremer resisted this 346
design, based on the view that the military was not trained to train police forces.
On May 11, 2004, President Bush issued National Security Presidential Directive (NSPD) 36,
which assigned the mission of organizing, training and equipping all Iraqi security forces (ISF) to
My Year in Iraq: The Struggle to Build a Future of Hope, New York: Simon and Schuster, 2006.
343 Coalition Provisional Authority Order 22, “Creation of a New Iraqi Army,” 18 August 2003, available at
344 See Ambassador L. Paul Bremer III, My Year in Iraq: The Struggle to Build a Future of Hope, New York: Simon
and Schuster, 2006.
345 See Coalition Provisional Authority Order 28, “Establishment of the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps,” 3 September 2003,
available at http://www.iraqcoalition.org/regulations/
346 Conversations with CPA and CJTF-7 leaders, 2003 and 2004. In his memoir, Ambassador Bremer describes a
September 2003 meeting at which GEN Abizaid and LTG Sanchez proposed that CJTF-7 take over the police training
mission. He observes in his memoir: “I didn’t like it.... Although our soldiers were the best combat troops in the world,
they had been trained and equipped for fast-moving operations where they killed the enemy, not for community
policing and criminal investigations.” See Ambassador L. Paul Bremer III, My Year in Iraq: The Struggle to Build a
Future of Hope, New York: Simon and Schuster, 2006, pp.168-169.
CENTCOM. This included both directing all U.S. efforts, and coordinating all supporting 347
international efforts. It explicitly included Iraq’s civilian police as well as its military forces.
CENTCOM, in turn, created the Multi-National Security Transition Command-Iraq (MNSTC-I),
a new three-star headquarters that would fall under the Multi-National Force-Iraq (MNF-I), to 348
bring together all Iraqi security forces training under a single lead in Iraq.
Since December 2004, in keeping with the original NSPD mandate concerning international
contributions, the MNSTC-I Commanding General has been dual-hatted as the Commander of the
NATO Training Mission-Iraq (NTM-I). NTM-I provides training, both inside and outside Iraq, to
Iraqi security forces; assistance with equipping; and technical advice and assistance. As of August
2008, its permanent mission in Iraq included 133 personnel from 15 countries. Major initiatives
have included helping the Iraqi Army build a Non-Commissioned Officer Corps; helping
establish and structure Iraqi military educational institutions; and—with a strong contribution 349
from Italy’s Carabinieri—helping update the skills and training of Iraq’s National Police.
On October 1, 2005, MNSTC-I was given the additional responsibility of mentoring and helping 350
build capacity in the Ministries of Defense and Interior.
At the heart of the ISF training mission is the practice of embedding coalition forces and other
advisors and experts—now called “transition teams”—with Iraqi military or civilian units, to
train, mentor and advise them.
That practice, though it has grown over time, is not new. In early 2004, under CJTF-7, some
Army units embedded teams with the newly generated New Iraqi Army battalions. Under
Commanding General George Casey, MNF-I initiated a more aggressive embedding strategy, and
the effort expanded still further in scope when GEN Petraeus assumed command of MNF-I in 351
See National Security Presidential Directive 36, “United States Government Operations in Iraq,” May 11, 2004,
available at Federation of American Scientists website, http://www.fas.org/irp/offdocs/nspd/nspd051104.pdf.
348 The first MNSTC-I Commanding General was then-LTG David Petraeus. In May 2004, CJTF-7 split into a higher,
four-star headquarters, MNF-I, and a lower, three-star headquarters, MNC-I, (see above).
349 Interviews with MNSTC-I officials, August 2008. See http://www.afsouth.nato.int/JFCN_Missions/NTM-I/NTM-
350 See for example LTG Martin Dempsey, Statement before the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Oversight
and Investigations, June 12, 2007, available at HASC website, http://armedservices.house.gov/pdfs/OI061207/
Dempsey_Testimony061207.pdf. The US Agency for International Development, and the U.S. Embassy’s Iraq
Transition Assistance Office, share responsibility for facilitating the development of all other Iraqi Ministries.
351 See Major General Carter F. Ham, “Transition Team’s Role in Iraq,” Military Training Technology, Vol.12, Issue 1,
April 10, 2007, available at http://www.military-training-technology.com/article.cfm?DocID=1972. In December 2006,
the Iraq Study Group had recommended sharply enhancing the embedding program—down to the company level in the
Iraqi Army—and “paying” for this increase in embedded troops with reductions in the number of troops assigned to
combat brigades. See The Iraq Study Group Report, James A. Baker, III, and Lee H. Hamilton, Co-Chairs, December
6, 2006, Recommendation 44, p. 51, available at http://www.usip.org/isg/iraq_study_group_report/report/1206/
One thing that has changed over time is the strategic intent of the training mission. As the word
“transition” in MNSTC-I’s name suggests, the initial stated goal of MNSTC-I and the ISF
training effort in general was to transition security responsibility to Iraqis. The sooner the Iraqis
were capable of providing security for themselves, the sooner U.S. and other coalition forces 352
could go home. Accordingly, embedded teams worked with their Iraqi counterparts with a view
to the earliest possible independence of those Iraqi units.
In early 2007, in keeping with the Administration’s New Way Forward strategy and the surge
emphasis on “population security” as a prerequisite for complete transition, the emphasis of the
training and embedding mission shifted. The ultimate goal was still to transition security
responsibility to Iraqis, but the timeline was relaxed. The primary focus, in the near term, would
be working with Iraqi units to help them better provide population security. Working closely with
U.S. counterparts on real-world missions, Iraqi units would be practicing the skills they would 353
need to operate independently.
Under MNF-I, several key subordinate bodies share responsibilities for training and advising
Iraqi Security Forces and their respective headquarters institutions.
MNSTC-I’s broad mandate is to generate and replenish the ISF, improve their quality, and
support the institutional capacity development of the security ministries—the Ministry of
Defense, the Ministry of the Interior, and the Counter-Terrorism Bureau. Looking forward, U.S.
military officials and outside experts project that MNSTC-I may evolve into a large version of a
typical Office of Security Cooperation, focused on mil-to-mil partnership activities, capacity-354
building in the security ministries, and foreign military sales.
In practice, MNSTC-I shares some of these responsibilities with the Multi-National Corps-Iraq
(MNC-I), the three-star operational command that also reports directly to MNF-I. In working
with the ISF, MNC-I’s focus is operational, managing transition teams that embed with the Iraqi
Army, the Department of Border Enforcement and the National Police, while MNSTC-I’s focus
includes both operational and institutional issues.
Under MNC-I, the Iraq Assistance Group (IAG), a one-star command created in February 2005,
is the “principal coordinating agency for the Iraqi Security Forces” within MNC-I. Originally, the
IAG “owned” the transition teams that embed with Iraqi units, but a major change was made in
mid-2007. At that time, transition teams, while still assigned to the IAG, were attached to the
brigade combat teams, also under MNC-I, which were responsible, respectively, for the areas in
which the teams were working. As previous IAG commander Brigadier General Dana Pittard
In his memoir, Ambassador Bremer provides a clear example of the early focus of ISF training on transition, citing
verbatim a memorandum from Secretary Rumsfeld to himself and General Abizaid: “Our goal should be to ramp up the
Iraqi numbers, try to get some additional international forces and find ways to put less stress on our forces, enabling us
to reduce the U.S. role. The faster the Iraqi forces grow, the lower the percentage will be of U.S. forces out of the total
forces.” Ambassador L. Paul Bremer III, My Year in Iraq: The Struggle to Build a Future of Hope, New York: Simon
and Schuster, 2006, pp. 162.
353 Conversations from MNF-I, MNC-I, and MNSTC-I officials, Baghdad, January 2008.
354 Interviews with MNF-I, MNSTC-I, and MNC-I officials, August 2008.
explained, the change provided “unity of effort and unity of command in a brigade combat team’s 355
area of operations.”
The IAG continues to serve as the executive agent for transition teams throughout Iraq, ensuring
they have the training and support they need. This includes synchronizing the curricula at the
transition team training sites inside and outside Iraq, providing the teams with equipment and
related training, and supporting the teams’ Reception, Staging, Onward Movement, and
Integration (RSOI) as they arrive in Iraq. The IAG also directly supports transition teams working
with three Iraqi headquarters staffs: the Iraqi Ground Forces Command, the National Police
headquarters, and the Department of Border Enforcement headquarters. And the IAG is helping
spearhead the creation of an Iraqi Non-Commissioned Officer (NCO) Corps—including training 356
Iraqi NCOs to run a new NCO training course.
Transition teams have been called the “linchpin of the training and mentoring effort.”357 The
teams vary in size, composition and focus, based on the needs of the Iraqi forces they partner with
and the specific local circumstances, but the theory of the case is consistent: the teams
simultaneously “advise, teach, and mentor,” and “provide direct access to Coalition capabilities 358
such as air support, artillery, medical evacuation and intelligence-gathering.” They also provide
continual situational awareness to coalition forces about the status of the ISF.
Transition teams work with units in each of the Iraqi military and police services, with key
operational headquarters, and with the security ministries. Due to resource constraints, coverage
of Iraqi units by training teams has not been one-to-one.
In 2008, as ISF capabilities grew, several shifts were underway, if unevenly across Iraq, in the
focus of the embedded transition teams: from basic skills to more sophisticated capabilities, from 359
lower-level units to higher-level headquarters, and from training to advising.
In general, the embedded advisory effort is highly dynamic—work with any Iraqi unit is expected
to be temporary. According to U.S. military officials, as of fall 2008, the embedded training effort
was far from completed—while many Iraqi units had already “graduated” from the need for
embedded advisors, others Iraqi units had just entered that form of partnership, and other units 360
were still being generated by the Government of Iraq.
U.S. Central Command Press Release, “Iraq Assistance Group Supports the Feature Performance,” May 17, 2007,
available at http://www2.centcom.mil/sites/uscentcom2/FrontPage%20Stories/th
Iraq%20Assistance%20Group%20Supports%20e%20Feature%20Performance.aspx. The IAG has been led since June st
2008 by Brigadier General Keith Walker, Assistant Deputy Commander (Operations) for the 1 Infantry Division.
356 Interviews with IAG officials, January 2008.
357 See Major General Carter Ham, “Transition Team’s Role in Iraq,” Military Training Technology, Vol.12, Issue 1,
April 10, 2007, available at http://www.military-training-technology.com/article.cfm?DocID=1972. Then-MG Ham st
wrote this piece while serving as the Commanding General, 1 Infantry Division, which was assigned responsibility for
preparing transition teams to serve in Iraq and Afghanistan. LTG Ham now serves as the Joint Staff Director for
359 Interviews with MNC-I officials and subordinate commanders, August 2008.
360 Interviews with MNF-I, MNSTC-I, and MNC-I officials, and subordinate commanders, August 2008.
For Ministry of Interior forces, the Department of Defense reported that as of August 2008, there
were 27 border transition teams (BTTs) working with about two-thirds of Department of Border
Enforcement units at battalion-level or above; and 41 National Police Transition Teams (NPTTs)
which were partnering with about 80% of National Police units at battalion-level or above. For
the Iraqi Police, there were 223 of 266 required Police Transition Teams (PTTs) working with 361
Iraqi police at local, district and provincial levels.
The Police Training Team mission is supported by a U.S. Military Police brigade, complemented
by civilian International Police Advisors (IPAs) who provide expertise in criminal investigation
and police station management. The IPA contracts are funded by DOD and managed by the
Department of State. As of August 2008, MNSTC-I noted that about 400 IPAs were deployed in
Iraq, at academies and with some units. Some contemporary observers have suggested—echoing
the CPA’s Ambassador Bremer—that military forces, including MPs, are not optimally suited to 362
train civilian law enforcement personnel, and have urged the expansion of the IPA program.
Some U.S. military officials, while strongly supporting the IPA program, caution that some IPAs
have more relevant backgrounds than others—a police officer from a relatively quiet U.S. town
with a 30-member police force may not have the background to train and mentor “big city cops” 363
preparing for a counter-insurgency fight.
Approaches to police training have varied over time, and by U.S. battle space in Iraq. In Anbar
province, for example, Multi-National Force-West (MNF-W), led by the Marines, decided early
in the effort to triple or quadruple the normal size of the embedded PTTs. As one commander
noted, “You need to be able to leave Marines at the police station while others are out on patrol.”
But by mid-2008, based on analysis of 109 police stations, MNF-W concluded that around-the-364
clock PTT presence at the level of the local station was no longer necessary.
In general, by mid-2008, the focus of the police training effort had shifted, in many locations,
from basic policing to the professionalization of the force. As local police mastered basic skills
such as carrying out patrols, PTTs increasingly emphasized higher-end skills, including police
intelligence and forensics. To help with this new focus, for example, in summer 2008, MNF-W 365
brought in experts from the Royal Irish Constabulary.
For Ministry of Defense forces, the Iraqi Navy is supported by a Maritime Strategic Transition
Team (MaSTT) advising the headquarters, and a Naval Transition Team (NaTT) embedded with
See Department of Defense, “Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq,” September 2008, p.42.
362 See for example the Report of the Independent Commission on the Security Forces of Iraq, September 6, 2007, p.18,
available at http://www.csis.org/media/csis/pubs/isf.pdf. The Commission noted: “U.S. military officers rather than
senior civilian law enforcement personnel lead the Coalition training effort for the Iraqi Police Service; this
arrangement has inadvertently marginalized civilian police advisors and limited the overall effectiveness of the training
and advisory effort.” “... The number of civilian international police advisors is insufficient.” DOD apparently agrees—
and refers to the low level of funding for, and availability of, IPAs.
363Interviews with MNSTC-I officials, August 2008.
364 Interviews with MNF-W officials, January and August 2008.
365 Interviews with MNSTC-I officials, and MNF-I subordinate commanders, August 2008.
sailors at the Umm Qasr Naval Base. The Coalition Air Force Transition Team (CAFTT) provides
advisory teams to the Iraqi Air Staff, Air Operations Center, and individual squadrons.
For the Iraqi Army, as of September 2008 there were 183 Military Transition Teams (MiTTs) 366
working with Iraqi units from battalion to division level. At the Iraqi division level, the
standard pattern calls a 15-member team led by a Colonel (or equivalent); at the brigade level—a
10-member team led by a Lieutenant Colonel; and at the battalion level—an 11-member team led
by a Major. The teams, though small, include a wide array of specializations—including 367
intelligence, logistics, maneuver trainers, effects, communications, and medical expertise.
The MiTTs—like the PTTs—have varied, over time and by battle space, in number and 368
composition. MNF-W consistently chose to use larger MiTTs—with 30 to 40 people. In some
instances, U.S. Army MiTTs have also been augmented to form larger teams.
In 2008, one major transition in the Iraqi Army training effort was a shift of focus from basic
skills to enablers. MNC-I Commanding General LTG Austin made ISF logistics a top priority. To
that end, MNC-I created Logistics Transition Assistance Teams (LTATs), drawing on Corps
assets, to help jumpstart the development of Iraqi Army logistics capabilities. In mid-2008, U.S.
commanders also stressed the Iraqi Army’s continuing need for combat enablers, such as ISR, and 369
the ability to call forward and adjust fires.
A second major transition was a shift of focus from lower-level to higher-level Iraqi headquarters.
Both U.S. Army- and Marine-led multi-national divisions are shifting some of their advisory 370
efforts to the Iraqi brigade and division level, focusing on leadership and staff organization.
A third transition was the shift, in the rhetoric of U.S. commanders, from “training” to “advising.”
In practice, that can mean decreasing the rank of the members of the embedded U.S. teams, and 371
assigning them “liaison” rather than structured training functions.
The methodology for forming the MiTTs and preparing them for their assignments has evolved
significantly over the short duration of the program. Initially, in the push to field trainers quickly,
teams were pulled together from individual volunteers and trained at seven different locations in
the United States, without specific standards.
Subsequently, the Army consolidated a training program for Army, Navy, and Air Force transition st
team members, under the auspices of the 1 Infantry Division at Ft. Riley, Kansas. The program
Department of Defense, “Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq,” September 2008, p.51.
367 IAG and other officials note that it would be difficult to streamline the teams any further, given their small size and
the array of expertise they include.
368 Interviews with MNF-W officials, January and August 2008. The Marines argue that this approach to training helps
explain the success to date of the “two best Iraqi Army divisions”—the 1st and the 7th, which were established in Anbar
369 Interviews with MNC-I officials and subordinate commanders, August 2008.
370 Interviews with MNC-I subordinate commanders, August 2008. MNF-W noted that as early as February or March
2008, based on the improved capabilities of the Iraqi Army, they wanted to “de-MiTT,” that is, withdraw their teams,
from the battalion and brigade level. One commander said, “It’s time to take the training wheels off of everything Iraqi,
to get them off of the driveway and on to the street.”
371 For example, MNF-W, led by the Marines, had previously assigned Colonels to lead teams embedded with Iraqi
divisions, but dropped the seniority to Lieutenant Colonel.
included 72 days at Ft. Riley, including 12 days of inprocessing and 60 days of training, followed
by a theater orientation at Camp Buehring, Kuwait, and then by further counter-insurgency
training and hands-on equipment training at the Phoenix Academy at Camp Taji, Iraq. The
program sent new team leaders out to the field for a brief visit, at the very beginning of their
training at Ft. Riley, and it solicited “lessons learned” from Transition Team members both mid-
tour and at the end of their tours in Iraq.
While the program of preparation improved markedly, the participants were still individual
volunteers, who could come from any occupational specialty. As one program leader commented,
the curriculum at Ft. Riley includes a measure of “move, shoot, and communicate” skills, as a 372
refresher for all the “professors and protocol specialists” who volunteer.
The Marine Corps created a separate program to prepare trainers—the Marine Corps Training and
Advisory Group (MCTAG). Its mission is to “coordinate, form, train and equip Marine Corps 373
advisor and training teams for current and projected operations.” According to a senior Marine
commander in Iraq, the individuals selected for the program are the “first team,” with recent 374
experience in command or in combat jobs such as battalion operations officer.
The majority of MiTTs in Iraq are “external” teams—that is, they come out of the Ft. Riley and
MCTAG systems. However, to help meet demand, about 20% of the MiTTs are “taken out of 375
hide,” or “internal”—that is, their members are pulled from U.S. units already serving in Iraq.
The experiences with providing large-scale training to indigenous security forces in Iraq and
Afghanistan prompted debates within the Department of the Army and DOD more broadly about
likely future requirements to provide such training in general, and, more specifically, the best 376
ways to continue to source the Transition Team mission in Iraq.
In 2008, in addition to the work of embedded transition teams, the practice of “unit partnering”—
that is, a one-to-one matching between a U.S. unit and an ISF unit of similar larger size—grew
substantially. Unit partnering is an opportunity for U.S. units to provide an example of how a
headquarters functions, how decisions are made, and how efforts are coordinated. The “lessons”
are provided by fellow combat units that, like their Iraqi partners, practice the “curriculum” daily.
Conversation with training official, January 2008.
373 See Corporal Margaret Hughes, “USMC Forms MCTAG, Consolidates Reconnaissance Training,” Marine Corps
News, November 14, 2007, available at http://www.marines.mil/marinelink/mcn2000.nsf/
374 Interview with MNF-W official, August 2008.
375 The balance varies both by area and over time—for example, in January 2008, in MND-Center, a much higher
percentage of training teams had been “taken out of hide.” In August, in its area of responsibility, MND-B had 83
transition teams, of which 53 were external and 30 were internal.
376 Interviews with MNF-I officials, January 2008. The “Iraq” training debate has helped fuel a larger, on-going debate
about sourcing the full array of future training requirements. Most provocatively, Army Lieutenant Colonel John Nagl
has proposed that the Army create a permanent, standing Advisor Corps, of 20,000 combat advisors, to develop the
security forces of international partners. The three-star-led Corps would be responsible for doctrine, training, and
employment, and would be prepared to deploy as needed. See John A. Nagl, “Institutionalizing Adaptation: It’s Time
for a Permanent Army Advisor Corps,” The Future of the U.S. Military Series, Center for a New American Security,
CNAS website http://www.cnas.org/en/cms/?145.
Many U.S. commanders in Iraq describe unit partnering as the opportunity to “show,” not just 377
“tell.” In August 2008, one commander observed that there was “greater energy from 378
partnering, than from the transition teams.”
While unit partnering became much more widely institutionalized in 2008, the practice had been
used by some U.S. units in the past. In 2007, for example, in the turbulent area of Mahmudiyah ndth
and Yusufiyah south of Baghdad, Colonel Mike Kershaw, Commander of the 2 Brigade of 10 th
Mountain Division, tasked his entire field artillery battalion to embed with the 4 Brigade of the th
6 Iraqi Army Division and its battalions. The de facto transition team—350 soldiers, staff, and
all of their enablers—was far more robust than a MiTT, and had the added value of providing a
visible example of how a U.S. battalion is organized and functions. The results in terms of Iraqi
operational capabilities were apparently positive. Near the end of the brigade’s tour, COL
Kershaw reported, “We really conduct almost no operations where we do not have Iraqi forces 379
either embedded with us, or where they are in the lead.”
Unit partnering is most common—and the closest “fit”—with the Iraqi Army. In mid-2008, for
example, both Multi-National Division-Center and Multi-National Division-North assigned a 380
brigade to partner with each Iraqi Army division in their respective battle spaces. Some stth
brigades, in turn, such as the 1 BCT of 10 Mountain Division in Kirkuk, assigned one battalion 381
to partner with each Iraqi Army brigade. As of mid-2008, across Iraq, some U.S. units were
also partnering with units from other Iraqi security forces—a brigade in Baghdad, for example, 382
described a growing partnership with the Iraqi police. However, unit partnering is both time-
and personnel-intensive, and in some cases operational requirements have not permitted U.S. 383
forces to unit-partner with all of the ISF in their battle space.
Like ISF training in general, unit partnering is a dynamic endeavor—it is designed to boost the
capabilities of Iraqi units, and at some stage of improvement a unit’s need for a close partnership
diminishes. As of fall 2008, ISF units had reached quite varied stages of development—some, in
the views of U.S. commanders, were very proficient, while others had just been formed, and the
Government of Iraq has stated the intention to form still others.
More so than the use of embedded teams, unit partnership requires a robust U.S. forces presence,
and it will become more difficult to practice as U.S. forces in Iraq draw down. It seems that U.S.
commanders, in more widely institutionalizing unit partnerships in 2008, decided to make
maximum use of time and presence remaining in Iraq—whatever that might be. As one senior
Interviews with MNF-I officials and subordinate commanders, August 2008.
378 Interview with MNC-I subordinate commander, August 2008.
379 Department of Defense Press Briefing, Colonel Mike Kershaw, Pentagon, October 5, 2007, available at
380 Interviews with MNC-I officials and subordinate commanders, August 2008. For a description of a unit partnership
with the Iraqi Army, see Department of Defense News Briefing, Colonel Tom James, February 22, 2008. COL James’ thrd
brigade, the 4 BCT of the 3 Infantry Division, in northern Babil province under MND-Center, established a robust th
partnership with the 8 Iraqi Army Division, with regular leadership contacts at brigade and division level, in addition
to the work of the embedded MiTT teams.
381 Interviews with 1st BCT/10th Mountain officials, August 2008.
382 Interviews with 2nd BCT/101st Airborne Division officials, August 2008.
383 For example, in August 2008, MND-North noted that it would be useful to extend unit partnering to forces from the
Department of Border Enforcement, but that operational requirements—including ongoing combat operations in Diyala
and Ninewah provinces—had so far made that difficult.
commander noted, “If we partner with the Iraqis for the next six to nine months, then maybe they 384
will be good enough.”
MNF-I noted that as of August 2008, there were about 592,000 assigned members of the Iraqi 385
Security Forces. The Department of Defense reported that as of March 19, 2008, the following
numbers of Iraqi Security Forces, by category, had been “authorized” by the Government of Iraq, 386
“assigned” based on payroll data, and “trained.”
Table 1. Iraqi Security Forces as of September, 2008
Component Authorized Assigned Trained
Ministry of the Interior
Police 327,380 305,713 204,404
National Police 46,707 41,305 52,382
Border Enforcement 47,750 39,294 35,886
Total MoI 421,837 386,312 292,672
Ministry of Defense
Army 171,225 186,957 235,606
Support Forces 15,583 20,066 21,144
Air Force 3,603 1,988 2,799
Total MoD 193,954 210,909 261,043
Special Operations 4,733 4,159 4,564
Total ISF 620,524 601,380 558,279
Source: Department of State, “Iraq Weekly Status Report,” December 3, 2008.
The three categories—authorized, assigned, and trained—are not a continuum. Some of those
“trained” may not currently be “assigned”—on the payroll—for example due to casualties, or
having left the service for other reasons. Further, in some cases the numbers “assigned” have
outstripped the numbers “authorized.” In some cases, this due to hirings at the provincial level not
yet approved at the national level.
The overall numbers of Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) continue to grow, driven by revised estimates
by the Government of Iraq of the forces required to provide security; by provincial-level requests
Interview with U.S. commander under MNF-I, August 2008.
385 Information from MNF-I, August 2008.
386 The chart does not include Ministry staff. The chart also does not reflect the Facilities Protection Service (FPS), an
armed, uniformed service with about 100,000 members that provides critical infrastructure protection for ministries and
other government organizations. An anticipated FPS Reform Law is expected to direct the consolidation of the FPS
under the Interior Ministry, but accordingly to MNSTC-I, the consolidation process was incomplete as of August 2008.
for more police forces; and by the consolidation of forces from other ministries under the Defense
and Interior Ministries.
MNSTC-I and MNF-I estimate that the ISF numbers are likely to grow further in the future.
According to MNSTC-I in August 2008, the GoI’s target size for the ISF is between 600,000 and 387
The total numbers of ISF alone provide only a partial gauge of progress toward the broadly
recognized ultimate goal of independent and self-sustaining Iraqi security forces. Recent
qualitative assessments of capabilities and gaps, by current officials and outside experts, provide
a more complete picture.
Both internal and external assessments of the ISF point to growing evidence of demonstrated
operational capabilities, but raise some questions about some institutional capabilities, and thus
about how close Iraqi forces and their oversight ministries are to completely independent and
Over a year ago, one of the most comprehensive external assessments of the ISF was carried out
by the congressionally mandated Commission on the Security Forces of Iraq, led by retired 388
Marine Corps General James Jones (the “Jones Commission”). The commission benefitted
from the participation of many senior leaders with years of experience in policing as well as
military matters, and from spending considerable time in Iraq with the ISF. In its September 2007
Report, the commission concluded, somewhat pessimistically, that “... in the next 12 to 18
months, there will be continued improvement in their [ISF] readiness and capability, but not the 389
ability to operate independently.”
Later that year, retired General Barry McCaffrey concluded that the picture had improved
somewhat, and that the ISF were making operational contributions. He wrote after the trip that
while the Iraqi police were “a mixed bag,” and “much remains to be done” in the Iraqi Army,
Interviews with MNSTC-I officials, August 2008. In its September 2008 report, DOD reported that the ISF was
projected to grow to between 601,000 and 646,000 by 2010, see Department of Defense, “Measuring Stability and
Security in Iraq,” September 2008, p.34.
388 See The Report of the Independent Commission on the Security Forces of Iraq, September 6, 2007, available at
http://www.csis.org/media/csis/pubs/isf.pdf. The Report was required by the U.S. Troop Readiness, Veterans’ Care,
Katrina Recovery, and Iraq Accountability Appropriations Act of 2007, Public Law 110-28. Section 1314(e)(2)(A)
mandated DOD to commission an “independent private sector entity” to assess three things: (i) the readiness of the ISF
to assume responsibility for maintaining the territorial integrity of Iraq, denying international terrorists a safe haven,
and bringing greater security to Iraq’s 18 provinces in the next 12 to 18 months, and bringing an end to sectarian
violence to achieve national reconciliation; (ii) the training, equipping, command control and intelligence capabilities,
and logistics capacity of the ISF; and (iii) the likelihood that, given the ISF’s record of preparedness to date, following
years of training and equipping by U.S. forces, the continued support of U.S. troops would contribute to the readiness
of the ISF to fulfill the missions outlined in clause (i).
389 Ibid, p. 12.
overall, the Iraqi Security Forces were “now beginning to take a major and independent 390
successful role in the war.”
By early 2008, U.S. commanders on the ground in Iraq were describing an operationally
increasingly competent Iraqi force. As one leader with multiple tours in Iraq noted, improved ISF 391
capabilities were the single biggest difference between January 2008 and several years earlier.
Operationally, another leader observed, “The Iraqis are holding their ground, responsible for their 392
own turf.” Every day, at MNC-I’s Battle Update Assessment, Division Commanders described
to the MNC-I Commander operations carried out unilaterally, or with coalition tactical overwatch,
by Iraqi forces.
By fall 2008, U.S. commanders on the ground in Iraq were consistently praising the tactical-level 393
capabilities of their Iraqi counterparts. The Department of Defense argued in June 2008 that in
operations in Basra, Mosul and Sadr City, the ISF “demonstrated their capability to conduct 394
simultaneous extensive operations in three parts of the country.” One senior commander noted, 395
“They can move themselves around the battlefield.”
Among Iraqis themselves, there appeared to be a range of views concerning the readiness of the
ISF to operate independently. According to MNC-I, Iraqi operational commanders stress that they 396
still want a close partnership with U.S. forces. In August 2008, one Iraqi Army division
commander asserted that the United States should maintain combat forces in Iraq for another five 397
years, to work with Iraqi counterparts. In contrast, according to some U.S. officials, the
perception of some senior Iraqi civilian officials is that the ISF are ready, or very nearly ready, to
maintain security independently. At a press conference in September 2008, seemingly striking a
middle path, Minister of Defense Abd al-Qadir noted that the Government of Iraq expects to have
a security force completely able to provide security to the Iraqi people on its own, by 2011 or the 398
beginning of 2012.
In the views of many coalition advisors, the biggest long-term challenges faced by the Iraqi
Security Forces as a whole may be institutional, rather than operational. These include improving
ministerial capacity and effectiveness; clarifying chains of command; and crafting long-term,
integrated force modernization plans for personnel and equipment.
In early fall 2008, MNF-I and MNSTC-I officials stressed the critical importance of civilian
ministerial capacity. The practical challenges of growing and developing the Iraqi force are likely
to continue for many years, they noted. But if the right, able civilian leadership is in place, they 399
will be able to make needed decisions and solve problems as they arise.
General Barry R. McCaffrey, USA (ret), “Visit to Iraq and Kuwait, 5-11 December 2007, After Action Report,”
December 18, 2007.
391 Communication from an MNC-I leader, January 2008.
392 Communication from an MNC-I leader, January 2008.
393 Interviews with MNC-I officials, and subordinate commanders, August 2008.
394 Department of Defense, “Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq,” June 2008.
395 Interview with MNC-I official, August 2008.
396 Interviews with MNC-I officials, August 2008.
397 Interview with Iraqi Army Division Commander, August 2008.
398 Minister of Defense Abd al-Qadir, Multi-National Force-Iraq press conference, September 10, 2008.
399 Interviews with MNF-I and MNSTC-I officials, August 2008.
Current de facto chains of command within and among the Iraqi Security Forces reflect the
exigencies of the GoI’s ongoing counter-insurgency (COIN) efforts. To help coordinate the efforts
of the various ISF in given geographical areas, the GoI created regional operations commands 400
that report up directly to the office of the Prime Minister. For some observers, the Prime
Minister’s direct access to the operations commands has raised concerns about potential misuse
of the ISF for personal or even sectarian purposes.
In some cases, the operations command arrangements have created tensions with provincial-level
officials, who would ordinarily exercise greater control over some provincial-level security 401
forces. The arrangements have also created some tensions with parent ministries in Baghdad—
and in particular with the Interior Ministry, which apparently views the operations commands as 402
“MoD-centric.” The commands also create some practical confusion, since units still rely on
their parent organizations for supplies and logistical support. For example, Baghdad is divided
into two area commands: “Karkh” and “Rusafa.” Under each are two Iraqi Army (IA) divisions
and one National Police (NP) division. Each division staff includes representative of the IA, NPs,
and the Iraqi Police. Both IA and NP brigades fall under both IA and NP division headquarters.
U.S. commanders who work closely with these Iraqi units report that this Iraqi experiment with
jointness works well at the tactical level, but becomes complicated when units turn to their 403
respective ministries for support.
Long-term force modernization planning and execution is another challenge for the ISF. The
current force continues to train and prepare for the ongoing counter-insurgency fight against
Sunni and Shi’a extremists. Eventually, it is envisaged that the force will shift into a more typical
division of labor—and train and equip themselves accordingly—in which MoD forces focus
externally, and the Iraqi police, backed up by the National Police, provide domestic security.
For civilian and military leaders of the ISF, one major challenge is balancing near-term security
challenges with long-term requirements. In August 2008, Iraqi ground commanders were focused
completely on the current fight, while senior civilian ministry officials were looking out toward 404
the future division of labor. At a press conference in September 2008, Minister of Defense Abd
al-Qadir, speaking about the Iraqi police, stated that “it is their job to protect the citizen and our 405
job to protect the frontier.”
As a rule, the operations commands cover a single province. An exception is the Samarra Operations Command,
responsible only for the city of Samarra in Salah ad Din province, which was created in the wake of the Golden
401 In August 2008, MNF-W officials noted that in al Anbar province, both the Governor and members of the
Provincial Council were frustrated by their loss of direct influence, after the Anbar Operations Command was
established. MND-N reported similar tensions with northern province Governors. Also in August 2008—after the
seemingly successful operations in March of that year—the Governor of Basra expressed frustration that security
control had been taken away from provincial officials. Interviews, August 2008.
402 Interviews with MNC-I officials and subordinate commanders, August 2008. In August 2008, MND-N, for example,
noted that in practice, the Ninewah Operations Command definitely commanded Iraqi Army forces in the province, but
that its relationship with MoI forces was “less clear.” In Baghdad, since the establishment of the Baghdad Operations
Command, which formally has command over Interior Ministry forces in Baghdad, U.S. commanders have reported
tensions between the BOC and the MoI.
403 Interviews with MND-B officials, August 2008.
404 Interviews with Iraqi Army commanders, August 2008.
405 Minister of Defense Abd al-Qadir, Multi-National Force-Iraq press conference, September 10, 2008.
By mid-2008, the Iraqi MoD had demonstrated keen interested in buying equipment for a future,
outward-looking force—including tanks and fighter aircraft. Senior U.S. advisors have expressed
concerns about still-nascent Iraqi abilities to effectively identify, fund, and contract for future
requirements. Some add that the approach of some Iraqi officials appears to be based on
traditional “bazaar culture,” in which the goal is getting the lowest price, with little consideration 406
for long-term maintenance or interoperability.
Some coalition advisors have noted that one of the greatest challenges for the ISF may be
overcoming lingering sectarianism. The ISF as a whole is one of the most powerful national-level
Iraqi institutions. A resurgence of sectarianism in the ranks could potentially turn key tools of the
Iraqi government—the capabilities of its security forces—into potential threats to the unified 407
Some Iraqi government officials, in turn, have expressed concerns about the size and scope of the
ISF compared to other Iraqi government institutions. The more resources dedicated to the ISF, the
more powerful the ISF will become, and the fewer resources that will be available for other
government institutions. One provincial Governor added, “I fear the ISF. They are recruiting too 408
many people. They are a big draw on the state budget and they have too much power.”
Both the size and the overall capabilities of the Iraqi Army (IA) continue to grow. The
Department of Defense reported that as of August 1, 2008, the Iraqi Army had 153 combat
battalions conducting operations, with an additional 18 battalions currently planned or in force 409
generation. MNSTC-I noted that as of August 2008, altogether, the IA had 12 division 410
headquarters, 49 brigades, and 170 battalions.
In December 2006, the Iraq Study Group provided a very cautious overall assessment of the
Army’s capabilities, noting: “The Iraqi Army is making fitful progress toward becoming a reliable 411
and disciplined fighting force loyal to the national government.” Nine months later, in
September 2007, the Jones Commission noted more positively that the Iraqi Army was
increasingly effective at COIN, and increasingly reliable in general, but that progress among units 412
By the end of 2007, coalition commanders in Iraq pointed to further improvements Iraqi Army
operational capabilities. In December 2007, Major General Joseph Fil, the out-going commander
of Multi-National Division-Baghdad (MND-B), commented on the status of the Baghdad
Operational Command, which has responsibility for Baghdad province and the two Iraqi Army
Interviews with MNSTC-I officials, August 2008.
407 Conversations with coalition advisors, January 2008. See CRS Report RS22093, The Iraqi Security Forces: The
Challenge of Sectarian and Ethnic Influences, by Jeremy M. Sharp.
408 Interview with Iraqi provincial Governor, August 2008.
409 Department of Defense, “Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq,” September 2008, p.36.
410 Interviews with MNSTC-I officials, August 2008.
411 See James A. Baker, III, and Lee H. Hamilton, Co-Chairs, The Iraq Study Group Report, December 6, 2006, p.12,
available at http://www.usip.org/isg/iraq_study_group_report/report/1206/iraq_study_group_report.pdf.
412 The Report of the Independent Commission on the Security Forces of Iraq, September 6, 2007, p. 14, available at
divisions then under its command. MG Fil noted, “They are making good tactical decisions. They
are planning true operations that involve multiple forces, combined operations that are frequently 413
intelligence-driven.” In January 2008, the Commanding General of Multi-National Division-
North (MND-N), noted that the four different Iraqi Army divisions he partnered with were
“growing in size and capacity every day.” He commented, “Where we can’t be, they can be, and 414
in many cases we’re conducting operations with them.”
By early 2008, some IA units had also developed the ability to move themselves across Iraq. As rdst
part of Operation Phantom Phoenix, the 3 Brigade of the 1 Iraqi Army Division deployed
independently, with less than a week’s notice, from Al Anbar province in the west to Diyala in the 415
east to support combat operations in the Diyala River Valley. According to MNF-I leaders,
while not as attention-grabbing as combat operations, the move demonstrated a different but very
important set of capabilities that Iraqi units will need to master, to operate independently in the 416
In August 2008, U.S. commanders noted that most of the IA units that had participated in
operations in Basra, Sadr City, Amarah, Diyala, and Mosul had performed very well at the tactical 417
level. The Commanding General of Multi-National Force-West (MNF-W), in Anbar province,
using a phrase common among U.S. forces, stated that the IA was not just “Iraqi good enough”—418
it was “Iraqi very good.”
The list of the major developmental challenges faced by the Iraqi Army—building a strong
leadership cadre, and developing key enablers such as logistics—has remained relatively
consistent over time, although commanders and advisors on the ground point to specific 419
incremental marks of progress in each area.
Like all the other Iraqi security forces, the Iraqi Army has faced the challenge of quickly
developing a capable leadership cadre. As many U.S. military commanders in Iraq point out, a
basic problem is that leadership abilities depend in part on experience—their production cannot
easily be “accelerated.” The IA’s leadership challenge may be more acute than that faced by the
other security forces, since it is both large and, unlike the Iraqi Police, a nationally based service
whose leaders must be able to command diverse mixes of soldiers in all regions of Iraq.
Department of Defense News Briefing, Major General Joseph Fil, December 17, 2007, available at
414 Department of Defense News Briefing, Major General Mark Hertling, January 22, 2008, available at
415 See Press Briefing, Lieutenant General Ray Odierno, January 17, 2008, available at http://www.defenselink.mil/
416 Conversations with MNF-I leaders, January 2008.
417 Interviews with MNF-I and MNC-I officials, and subordinate commanders, August 2008.
418 Interview with MNF-W, August, 2008.
419 Concerning the consistency of the challenges, see Department of Defense Press Briefing, Colonel H.R. McMaster,
September 13, 2005, available at http://www.defenselink.mil/transcripts/transcript.aspx?transcriptid=2106. COL
McMaster, describing his partnership with Iraq Army units in Tal Afar in September 2005, commented that the Iraqi
army needed “... the ability to command and control operations over wide areas ... greater logistical capabilities ... more
experienced and effective leadership....”
In December 2006, the Iraq Study Group pointed out simply that the Iraqi Security Forces lacked 420
leadership. In September 2007, the Jones Commission also noted that the Army was “short of
seasoned leadership at all levels,” and pointed in particular to “marginal leadership at senior
military and civilian positions both in the Ministry of Defense and in the operational 421
commands.” In congressional testimony in January 2008, Deputy Assistant Secretary of 422
Defense Mark Kimmitt indicated that the most important gap was in mid-level leadership—
non-commissioned officers and field grade officers, who are required in far greater numbers than
senior leaders. To help redress the situation, the Iraqi Army launched several initiatives, including
accelerated officer commissioning for university graduates, waivers to time-in-grade or time-in-
service promotion requirements, and recruitment of former Army officers and Non-423
Commissioned Officers (NCOs). It is possible that it will prove easier to generate leaders “on
paper,” than to accelerate generation of leadership qualities.
In practice, the quality of IA leadership varies somewhat. MND-N noted in August 2008 that the 424
Commanding Generals of the four IA divisions in their area of responsibility were “very good.”
One of the more impressive IA leaders, according to U.S. officials, is Major General Oothman, th
the Commanding General of the 8 IA Division, headquartered in Diwaniyah, in Qadisiyah
province. In August 2008, echoing U.S. military counter-insurgency thinking—and helping
institutionalize it in the IA—MG Oothman stated, “Today’s fight is a 360-degree battlefield,” and
explained that “once you clear an area, you have to put in Iraqi Police, the Iraqi Army and 425
coalition forces to hold it.”
On the other hand, MND-B officials noted that leadership selection processes varied in quality. In th
August 2008, the newly selected commanding general of the newly formed 17 IA division was a
well-regarded, competent brigade commander—a good choice. But in some other cases, MND-B
officials noted, the choices have been “terrible”—reflections not of competence but of political 426
connections that make the selected leaders “untouchable” by their military chains of command.
Another major challenge to the continued progress of the Iraqi Army is developing key enablers,
ranging from intelligence to logistics—which are absolutely essential to an Army’s ability to 427
In December 2006, the Iraq Study Group pointed out that the Iraqi Army lacked logistics and 428
support to sustain their own operations. Later, in September 2007, the Jones Commission called
James A. Baker, III, and Lee H. Hamilton, Co-Chairs, The Iraq Study Group Report, December 6, 2006, available at
421 Report of the Independent Commission on the Security Forces of Iraq, September 6, 2007, p.14 and p.9, available at
422 Mark Kimmitt, Testimony to the House Armed Services Committee, January 17, 2007.
423 Department of Defense, “Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq,” June 2008, p.51.
424 Interview with MND-N, August 2008.
425 Interview with MG Oothman, August 2008.
426 Interview with MND-B officials, August 2008.
427 Virtually every famous military commander in history has made note of the crucial role of logistics—some of them
quite memorably. Alexander the Great is credited with observing, “My logisticians are a humorous lot—they know that
if my campaign fails, they are the first ones I will slay.”
428 James A. Baker, III, and Lee H. Hamilton, Co-Chairs, The Iraq Study Group Report, December 6, 2006, available at
logistics the Army’s “Achilles’ heel,” and observed: “The lack of logistics experience and
expertise within the Iraqi armed forces is substantial and hampers their readiness and 429
capability.” The Commission further concluded that the Army would continue to rely on
coalition forces for combat support and combat service support—though the Commission did not
estimate for how long that reliance would continue.
Testifying before Congress in January 2008, then-MNSTC-I Commander LTG Dubik agreed that 430
the Army “... cannot fix, supply, arm or fuel themselves completely enough at this point.” As of
March 2008, the Army was able to feed itself—a key component of life support. As of June 2008,
the Army’s maintenance backlog continued, but the backlog had been “stabilized” and the IA had 431
better visibility than previously on what needs to be repaired. As of August 2008, the IA was
continuing to develop a national-level maintenance and supply system, including the new
National Depot at Taji, to serve as the “centerpiece” for national supply and maintenance
services. The Depot is scheduled to be completed by mid-2009—a target date that has slipped 432
In June 2008, MNC-I Commanding General Lieutenant General Austin confirmed that the IA still
had substantial room for improvement:
There are still some things that need to be done, and those things include developing combat
enablers that will enable them to do things like call for and adjust fires and integrate those
fires into their formation, support themselves logistically, use their own intelligence,
surveillance and reconnaissance assets to create intelligence and then be able to use that 433
intelligence to plan operations. So there’s some work to be done yet.
Iraqi counterparts agree with this assessment. In August 2008, MG Oothman stated flatly, “I see
no progress in logistics.” He explained that the Iraqi Army started building its forces by
concentrating first on operations, not on logistics or other enablers, such as repairing 434
HMMWVVs, or providing spare parts, or building military hospitals.
As of August 31, 2008, the Iraqi Air Force had 1,971 personnel on its payrolls, up from 1,300 in 435
March 2008, out of 3,433 authorized personnel. According to MNSTC-I, the plan is for the Air 436
Force to grow to 6,000 personnel by December 2009.
Report of the Independent Commission on the Security Forces of Iraq, September 6, 2007, p.14 and p.13, available
430 Lieutenant General James Dubik, testimony before the House Armed Services Committee, Washington, D.C.,
January 17, 2008.
431 Department of Defense, “Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq,” June 2008, p.51.
432 Department of Defense, “Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq,” September 2008, p.38.
433 See DOD News Briefing, LTG Austin, June 23, 2008, http://www.defenselink.mil/transcripts/
434 Interview with MG Oothman, August 2008. MG Oothman tells a story about the consequences of the lack of
military hospitals: During military operations in al Kut, against Shi’a extremist militias, a young Army Lieutenant was
wounded in the fight. He was sent to the local community hospital in al Kut. But the loyalties of that hospital staff were
apparently not with the national government. They picked up the Lieutenant and put him on the floor, without treating
him, so that they could tend to a wounded militia member. The Lieutenant died.
435 Department of State, “Iraq Weekly Status Report,” September 17, 2008.
As of August 2008, the small Iraqi fleet included 74 aircraft: 16 UH-1HP “Huey-II” helicopters
and 15 Ukrainian Mi-17 helicopters for battlefield mobility; 3 C-130E “Hercules” aircraft and 1
King Air 350 light transport aircraft, for airlift; 3 Cessna Grand Caravans, 8 CH-2000 aircraft,
and 2 King Air 350’s for ISR; and 8 Cessna 172’s, 3 Cessna 208’s, 5 Bell Jet Rangers and 10 OH-
By any measure, the Iraqi Air Force is still a fledgling institution in the early stages of recruiting,
training, and development. The effort to develop the Iraqi Air Force in earnest began at the start
of 2007, and coalition advisors note that it takes three to five years to train pilots, air traffic
controllers, and maintenance personnel—longer than it takes to train ground forces.
The initial—and exclusive—focus of Iraqi Air Force training was counter-insurgency, including
first of all battlefield mobility. In September 2007, the Jones Commission assessed that the Air
Force was “well designed as the air component to the existing counterinsurgency effort, but not 438
for the future needs of a fully capable air force.” By August 2008, MNSTC-I noted that Air
Force training had expanded to include “kinetic air to ground attack capability,” and ISR 439
In August 2008, the Iraqi Air Force was flying about 230 sorties per week, up from about 150
sorties per week one year earlier. The number had fallen slightly from a peak of over 300 sorties
per week, in April and May of 2008, due to a combination of weather, sustainment challenges, 440
and the grounding of Cessna 172s used for training.
In 2008, regular Air Force training was augmented by real-world experience supporting Iraqi
Army operations. During the Basra operations in March 2008, the Iraqi Air Force flew 353
missions, transporting personnel and cargo, dropping leaflets providing information to the local 441
population, and helping provide ISR.
An open question for the future is what sort of air force—with what capabilities, personnel, and
equipment—the Iraqi Ministry of Defense will determine it needs, to meet its full spectrum of
security requirements. In February 2008, then-Commander of the Coalition Air Force Transition
Team, Air Force Major General Robert Allardice, noted that like all of Iraq’s MoD forces, the
Iraqi Air Force is eventually expected to turn its attention to external threats. The final stage of
development would include the use of jet aircraft to defend Iraq’s air space. He estimated that
Iraqis could have a self-sustaining Air Force with that capability “in about the 2011 or 2012 442
timeframe,” depending on the investments they make.
436 Interviews with MNSTC-I officials, August 2008.
437 Interviews with MNSTC-I, August 2008.
438 Report of the Independent Commission on the Security Forces of Iraq, September 6, 2007, p.9,15, available at
439 Interviews with MNSTC-I officials, August 2008.
440 Interviews with MNSTC-I officials, August 2008.
441 Department of Defense, “Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq,” June 2008, pp.56-7.
442 Brig. Gen. Robert R. Allardice, Council on Foreign Relations, interview by Greg Bruno, February 5, 2008, audio
tape available at http://www.cfr.org/publication/15421/allardice.html?breadcrumb=%2Fregion% 2F405%2Firaq.
Other senior U.S. officials have raised questions about the capabilities that a future, externally
focused Iraqi Air Force might really need. One official suggested that air defense capabilities may
be more important than fighter aircraft. One challenge, he added, is that Iraqi Air Force senior 443
leaders are former fighter pilots eager to have a fleet of fighter aircraft.
A number of senior U.S. officials point out that most senior Ministry of Defense officials have an
Army background—the Minister of Defense himself is a former tanker. That background,
officials argue, together with the exigencies of the ongoing COIN fight, leaves them with
relatively little time and attention for guiding the long-term development of their air and maritime 444
Like the Iraqi Air Force, the Iraqi Navy is still in the early stages of development. As of August 445
includes 499 former Iraqi Army soldiers, who joined the Iraqi Navy to form the 2 Iraqi Navy
Marine Battalion. The small Navy is based primarily in the southern port city of Umm Qasr, and
includes an operational headquarters, one squadron afloat, one support squadron, and two 446
battalions of Marines.
The missions of the Iraqi Navy as a whole include protecting Iraq’s coastline and offshore assets.
One of the Marine battalions provides port security at Um Qasr and Az Zubayr. The other Marine
battalion provides oil platform security and conducts vessel boarding and search and seizure. As
of July 2008, the Iraqi Navy was conducting a total of 42 patrols per week. As of August 2008,
the fleet included 15 vessels—5 small patrol boats, and 10 fast assault boats. The Iraqi Navy 447
expects to acquire an additional 21 vessels in 2009-2010.
In December 2008, the Iraqi Navy spearheaded an early mil-to-mil partnership with one of Iraq’s 448
neighbors—joint patrols with counterparts from Kuwait.
One challenge the Iraqi Navy faces, according to MNSTC-I officials, is conducting the
preparations required to more than double its fleet—ensuring that the infrastructure is in place,
and the proper training conducted.
A longer-term challenge for the Iraqi Navy, and the MoD, is crafting a realistic and appropriate
“future force vision” for the Navy. U.S. advisors note that, like the Air Force, the Navy faces the
challenge of working for a Ministry that does not see their Service as a high priority, and that may
not be “sophisticated enough” to define requirements and build a Navy. Iraqi Navy officials
Interview with MNF-I official, August 2008. The initial interest expressed by Iraqi MoD officials in F-16’s, in
summer 2008, seemed to reflect this perspective.
444 Interviews with MNSTC-I officials, August 2008.
445 Department of State, “Iraq Weekly Status Report,” September 17, 2008.
446 Department of Defense, “Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq,” September 2008, p.54.
447 Interviews with MNSTC-I officials, August 2008.
448 “Iraq, Kuwait on Joint Patrols,” Washington Post, December 3, 2008.
themselves are reportedly eager to continue working with coalition advisors, and do not want to 449
build a force that would be likely to lead them into conflict.
Iraqi Special Operations Forces (ISOF) were an early priority for Iraqi and coalition forces 450
leaders. As of August 31, 2008, ISOF included 4,043 assigned personnel, of 4,733 authorized.
As of August 2008, the single ISOF brigade included one counter-terrorism battalion and five
commando battalions, as well as support units. Four regional commando battalions are currently 451
in generation, to be based in Basra, Mosul, Diyala, and Al Asad.
According to both U.S. commanders in Iraq and outside assessments, the ISOF are extremely 452
competent. Since ISOF’s inception, the selection process has reportedly been very competitive, 453
and training—conducted by U.S. SOF—highly demanding. In September 2007, the Jones
Commission reported, “The Special Operations brigade is highly capable and extremely 454
effective.” In August 2008, a senior MNSTC-I official confirmed, “ISOF is very capable, and 455
ISOF has its own chain of command, separate from the Ministry of Defense. It reports to the
Counter-Terrorism Command (CTC), an operational-level command that reports, in turn, to the
Counter-Terrorism Bureau (CTB), the ministerial-level body under the Prime Minister that sets
policy. Although this is not an uncommon arrangement in the region, one possible issue for Iraqi
leaders in the future will be ensuring adequate integration of the ISOF and Iraqi conventional
forces. Other observers have expressed concern that the ISOF, despite its several layers of
headquarters, might be used by the Prime Minister for personal or political ends.
Looking ahead, the next practical challenges for the ISOF include continuing to improve its
capabilities. U.S. advisors note that the ISOF is eager to have access to the assets they have seen
U.S. SOF counterparts employ, including specialized rotary air assets, ISR, and signals
intelligence (SIGINT). One official noted in August 2008, “They’re more conscious than others 456
of how much they need US enablers.”
The Iraqi Police Service includes three categories—patrol police, station police, and traffic police.
All are based on the principle of local recruitment and local service. The GoI’s broad future
vision is that the Iraqi Police (IPs) will eventually assume responsibility for providing internal
Interviews with MNSTC-I officials, August 2008.
450 Department of State, Iraq Weekly Status Report, September 17, 2008.
451 Interviews with MNSTC-I officials, August 2008.
452 Communications from MNC-I leaders and Division Commanders, January 2008.
453 See for example Monte Morin, “Turning Iraqi Recruits into Commandos,” Stars and Stripes, March 14, 2006.
454 Report of the Independent Commission on the Security Forces of Iraq, September 6, 2007, p.16, available at
455 Interview with MNSTC-I official, August 2008.
456 Interviews with MNSTC-I officials, August 2008.
security, backed up by the National Police, while the Iraqi Army turns its focus toward external
As of August 31, 2008, 298,369 Iraqi Police (IPs) were assigned, of 330,880 authorized. At that 457
date, 196,781 personnel had been trained, leaving a training backlog of over 100,000. (The
backlog could be greater, since not all of those trained are necessarily still serving as IPs.) The
backlog has real-world implications—for example, a shortage of IPs, in August 2008, to help
“hold” areas of Diyala province that had been cleared by Iraqi and coalition forces. As one senior 458
U.S. official noted, “We’ve overwhelmed the system.”
According to MNSTC-I, the GoI intent is to catch up on the training backlog by July 2009. One
approach has been to condense required training into a shorter period—the 240 hours of IP
training usually take eight weeks but have been compressed into four weeks. In addition, recruits 459
who already have a degree in another field are offered an accelerated process.
In terms of IP capabilities, in September 2007, the Jones Commission concluded that the IPs were
improving at the local level, particularly when the IPs were locally recruited from relatively 460
ethnically homogenous neighborhoods. In December 2007, General McCaffrey similarly
observed that “many local units are now effectively providing security and intelligence 461
penetration of their neighborhoods.”
In early 2008, a number of U.S. military commanders in Iraq described recent examples of
specific operations planned and carried out in their areas of responsibility by Iraqi Police,
stressing that these capabilities to plan and act independently—and successfully—had emerged
relatively recently. Commanders also stressed the importance of the visible presence of the IPs at
police stations and on patrol in local neighborhoods, and together with Iraqi Army and coalition 462
forces at joint security stations, in helping provide population security.
By early fall 2008, U.S. commanders noted that in general, the IPs were competent in basic
skills—enough that the focus of embedded training and advisory efforts, and unit partnering, was 463
shifting from basic policing skills to the professionalization of the force. In Baghdad, the GoI
and MND-B were in the process of handing over security responsibility, neighborhood by
neighborhood, to the IPs. As one U.S. commander observed in August 2008, using common 464
coalition parlance, the IPs are “Iraqi good enough.”
Department of State, Iraq Weekly Status Report, September 17, 2008.
458 Interview with MNSTC-I officials, August 2008.
459 Interviews with MNSTC-I officials, August 2008.
460 Report of the Independent Commission on the Security Forces of Iraq, September 6, 2007, p.9, available at
461 General Barry R. McCaffrey, USA (ret), “Visit to Iraq and Kuwait, 5-11 December 2007, After Action Report,”
December 18, 2007.
462 Information from U.S. commanders, January 2008. In one example, the local IP commander briefed the multi-
national division commander in detail on the IPs’ plans for the upcoming Ashura holiday. The plans included some
coalition ISR assets—requested at the initiate of the IPs.
463 Interviews with MNF-I, MNC-I, and MNSTC-I officials, and subordinate commanders, August 2008.
464 Interview with MNC-I subordinate commander, August 2008.
For their part, in early fall 2008, Iraqi Army commanders recognized the importance of the IPs as
part of the total effort, but still had some doubts about their capabilities. As one IA commander
observed, “Without coordination between the IA and the IPs, there would be no security. But,” he 465
added, “the soldiers are more effective than the police.”
One long-standing concern of practitioners and observers, still unresolved, is infiltration of the
IPs. In September 2007, the Jones Commission noted that the IPs were “... incapable today of
providing security at a level sufficient to protect Iraqi neighborhoods from insurgents and
sectarian violence,” in part because they were “compromised by militia and insurgent 466
infiltration.” In June 2008, DOD stated that “militia and criminal intimidation and influences” 467
were among the serious challenges still faced by the IPs. In August 2008, U.S. military officials 468
confirmed that “there’s some terrorist and some nationalist infiltration” of the IPs.
The Iraqi National Police (NPs), unlike the IPs, are intended to be a national asset, not a
regionally based one. While they initially focused on Baghdad, the Interior Ministry’s plan is that
the NPs will “regionalize,” eventually establishing a presence in every province, where they will 469
provide backup for the IPs. DOD reported in June 2008 that Prime Minister Maliki had 470
directed the formation of a new, third NP division, to be based in Salah ad Din province. As of
early fall 2008, the NPs were still generally based in Baghdad, under the Baghdad Operations
The Department of Defense reported that as of July 31, 2008, 44 NP battalions were operational,
of which 13 were judged to be “capable of planning, executing, and sustaining operations with 471
coalition support.” As of August 31, 2008, there were 41,829 National Police assigned, of
may include some who were removed from service or are no longer serving for other reasons.
Particularly in their early days, the NPs more consistently prompted concerns about competence,
corruption, and sectarian bias, than any other Iraqi security force. In June 2007, out-going
MNSTC-I Commander Lieutenant General Martin Dempsey testified to Congress that the NPs 473
were “the single organization in Iraq with the most sectarian influence and sectarian problems.”
In September 2007, the Jones Commission stated flatly: “The National Police have proven
Interview with Iraqi division commander, August 2008.
466 Report of the Independent Commission on the Security Forces of Iraq, September 6, 2007, p.18,10, available at
467 Department of Defense, “Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq,” June 2008.
468 Interview with MNC-I subordinate commander, August 2008.
469 Information from MNSTC-I officials, January and August 2008.
470 Department of Defense, “Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq,” June 2008, p.45.
471 Department of Defense, “Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq,” September 2008, p.44.
472 Department of State, “Iraq Weekly Status Report,” September 17, 2008.
473 Lieutenant General Martin Dempsey, testimony to the House Armed Services Committee, Subcommittee on
Oversight and Investigations, June 12, 2007, audio transcript available at http://www.house.gov/hasc/
operationally ineffective. Sectarianism in its units undermines its ability to provide security; the 474
force is not viable in its current form.”
Outside experts suggested several possible remedies. The Iraq Study Group recommended
moving the NPs from the Interior Ministry to the Ministry of Defense, and giving them closer 475476
supervision. The Jones Commission recommended disbanding the NPs altogether.
The Iraqi leadership opted for a different approach. One step was replacing NP senior leaders.
Between late 2006 and January 2008, both of the NP division commanders, all 9 brigade 477
commanders, and about 18 of 28 battalion commanders were replaced. The other major step
was retraining—or “re-bluing”—both leaders and ranks, with the help of Italy’s Carabinieri,
under the rubric of the NATO Training Mission-Iraq.
In early 2008, some U.S. commanders in Iraq confirmed that there had been serious problems
with the NPs, and suggested that the leadership changes and re-education had so far produced 478
mixed results. As one Brigade Commander noted, “The National Police have been terrible!”
One Division Commander praised the work of one NP brigade in solving problems in his area of 479
responsibility, while noting that another NP brigade actually is the problem. One coalition
leader credits Iraqi National Police Commander Major General Hussein with recognizing the
challenges the NPs faced and with making this remark: “The National Police has two enemies—480
the insurgency, and our own reputation.”
In August 2008, MNSTC-I noted that the re-bluing process had been accelerated by boosting
capacity from 450 to 900 students at a time. MNSTC-I added that the new NP commander is a 481
“tremendous officer.” U.S. commanders in Baghdad added that the NPs were being used very 482
much like the Iraqi Army forces. One official added that the NPs were “pretty damned good!”
Looking ahead, one future challenge for the Iraqi National Police will be transitioning from an
Army-like counter-insurgency role to a high-end policing function.
The Department of Border Enforcement (DBE) faces the daunting task of protecting Iraq’s 3,650
kilometers of land borders, some of it rugged and mountainous, against apparent infiltration by
Report of the Independent Commission on the Security Forces of Iraq, September 6, 2007, p.20, available at
475 See James A. Baker, III, and Lee H. Hamilton, Co-Chairs, The Iraq Study Group Report, December 6, 2006,
available at http://www.usip.org/isg/iraq_study_group_report/report/1206/iraq_study_group_ report.pdf.
476 See Report of the Independent Commission on the Security Forces of Iraq, September 6, 2007, p.20, available at
477 Lieutenant General James Dubik, testimony before the House Armed Services Committee, Washington, D.C.,
January 17, 2008. LTG Dubik pointed out that “ten out of nine” brigade commanders were replaced, since two changes
were made to one brigade’s command.
478Information from Brigade Commander, Baghdad, January 2008.
479 Information from Division Commander, January 2008.
480 Information from MNF-I staff, January 2008.
481 Interviews with MNSTC-I officials, August 2008.
482 Interviews with MND-B officials, August 2008.
extremists from some neighbor countries, as well as controlling the usual flow of cross-border
As of August 31, 2008, the DBE had 41,408 assigned personnel, of 47,750 authorized, and of 483
whom only 34,475 had been trained. They were organized into 12 brigades with 44 total
battalions. The training gap—and the relatively low level of training in general—impinge on the 484
DBE’s effectiveness. Given the ratio of distances to personnel, and the current capabilities of 485
those personnel, the DBE—as DOD put it in December 2007—is “stretched thin.” The Jones 486
Commission stated it more flatly in September 2007: “Iraq’s borders are porous.” The numbers
and capabilities of the DBE do not appear to have progressed substantially since that time.
The Iraqi Government’s proposed way forward, over three years, includes constructing up to 712
border forts and annexes, to establish a line-of-sight perimeter, and increasing the use of 487
biometric scan systems and personal information databases.
Some U.S. officials complain that the MoI does very little to support the DBE and that, in the
words of one U.S. commander, the DBE is “grossly under-funded.” For example, in al Anbar
province, instead of giving the DBE fuel, the MoI provided money to buy fuel. But at the long,
remote border, the only fuel available for purchase was from the black market, which cost double 488
the market price.
Both coalition advisors and outside assessments have pointed out that the DBE continues to face
additional challenges from corruption. In early 2008, coalition officials in Iraq agreed with the
assessments by the Jones Commission that the DBE is infiltrated by outside interests, and that 489
some members are apparently involved in cross-border smuggling.
Both coalition advisors and outside assessments have consistently pointed to two serious
shortcomings in the Ministry of Interior (MoI) itself: a lack of capacity and corruption.
Capacity challenges apparently plague most of the Ministry’s activities. The Department of
Defense reported in June 2008: “Coalition advisors continue to report steady but uneven
improvement in the MoI’s ability to perform key ministry functions, such as force management,
personnel management, acquisition, training, logistics and sustainment, and the development and 490
implementation of plans and policies.”
Department of State, Iraq Weekly Status Report, September 17, 2008.
484 Information from coalition advisors, January 2008.
485 Department of Defense, “Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq,” December 2007.
486 Report of the Independent Commission on the Security Forces of Iraq, September 6, 2007, p.20, available at
487 Department of Defense, “Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq,” September 2008, p.45.
488 Interviews with MNC-I officials, subordinate commanders, August 2008.
489 Information from MNF-I officials, January 2008, and Report of the Independent Commission on the Security Forces
of Iraq, September 6, 2007, p.20, available at http://www.csis.org/media/csis/pubs/isf.pdf.
490 Department of Defense, “Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq,” June 2008, p.40.
One particularly serious constraint, according to coalition officials, is that the Ministry of Interior
lacks sufficient capacity to process the large and growing demand for personnel—to screen 491
recruits, to train them, and to continue to account for them. To address this shortcoming, the
Ministry is expanding the capacity of its training base to include 12 new training centers and the
expansion of 6 existing ones; and rapidly generating officers through a recall and training 492
program for former army and police officers. According to MNSTC-I, an additional pressure
on the MoI training system was the absorption, in early 2008, of the “oil police,” whose training 493
to guard pipelines did not, in the words of one official, turn them into “LA cops.”
Corruption—and the perception of corruption—may be the even more difficult challenge for the
MoI to eradicate. In December 2006, the Iraq Study Group concluded flatly that the MoI was
corrupt. In September 2007, the Jones Commission assessed that “... sectarianism and corruption
are pervasive in the MoI,” and that the Ministry is “... widely regarded as being dysfunctional and 494
sectarian.” In January 2008, one coalition advisor stated bluntly that the MoI is filled with 495
The MoI has apparently taken some steps to battle internal corruption. The Department of
Defense reported that in 2007, the MoI had opened 6,652 investigations of ministry personnel. Of
these, 6,159 were closed during 2007, including 1,112 that resulted in firings, 438 in disciplinary 496
actions, and 23 in forced retirement.
In September 2007, the Jones Commission concluded that the Ministry of Defense (MoD) 497
suffered from “bureaucratic inexperience, excessive layering, and over-centralization.” In
September 2008, DOD noted some progress but observed that “significant challenges remain,”
and that “logistics and the sustainment of ISF personnel, equipment, and infrastructure post the 498
biggest problems for the force.”
In early 2008, MNF-I officials suggested that compared to other Iraqi ministries, the MoD is a
model of progress—it has not faced the magnitude of corruption endemic at the MoI, and with
Interviews with coalition advisors, January and August 2008.
492 Department of Defense, “Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq,” September 2008, p.41.
493 Interview with MNSTC-I official, August 2008.
494 See James A. Baker, III, and Lee H. Hamilton, Co-Chairs, The Iraq Study Group Report, December 6, 2006,
available at http://www.usip.org/isg/iraq_study_group_report/report/1206/iraq_study_group_report.pdf, and Report of
the Independent Commission on the Security Forces of Iraq, September 6, 2007, p.17, available at http://www.csis.org/
495 Comment by coalition advisor, January 2008.
496 Department of Defense, “Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq,” March 2008. Through August 2008, DOD
reported, the MoI Directorate of Internal Affairs opened 4,318 cases. Of these, it closed 4,198 cases, from which 377
employees were fired, and 297 were disciplined, see DOD, “Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq,” September
497 Report of the Independent Commission on the Security Forces of Iraq, September 6, 2007, pp.9,12, available at
498 Department of Defense, “Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq,” September 2008, p.47.
close advisory support from the coalition, it has made substantial progress in both management 499
and strategic planning.
One major future challenge for the Ministry of Defense is likely to be clarifying and rationalizing
the chain of command. As the Jones Commission stated in September 2007: “Parallel lines of
direct communication to military units have been established under the control of the Prime
Minister. He is perceived by many as having created a second, and politically motivated, chain of 500
command.” U.S. military officials confirmed this assessment in August 2008, and DOD noted
in September 2008 that “MoD performance is hampered by ineffective coordination and unclear 501
lines of authority, hampering unity of command.”
As of early fall 2008, Iraqi Army divisions reported to the Iraqi Ground Forces Command, which
reported to the Joint Headquarters, which reported in turn to the MoD. However, some forces,
from both the MoD and the MoI, fall under provincial Operations Commands, usually led by a
General Officer from the Iraqi Army, which may report in practice directly to the office of the
Prime Minister. Both ministries and uniformed operational headquarters, according to U.S.
commanders in Iraq, are sometimes left out of the de facto chain of command.
Operations Commands are in theory a temporary measure, designed to closely integrate the
counter-insurgency efforts by all of the ISF in a given geographical area. Commands have been
established in the provinces of Baghdad, Basrah, Karbala, Anbar, Ninewah, Diyala, and (as an 502
exception) in the city of Samarra. Some U.S. and Iraqi commanders have suggested the
possibility that Operations Commands might evolve into three-star Army Corps headquarters, 503
perhaps with a geographic reach wider than a single province. As of early fall 2008, no plans
were in place for such a transition. Further, while the “Corps” concept might be appropriate to the
current internal counter-insurgency fight, an externally focused Army would not ordinarily “own
battle space” domestically.
Another challenge for the MoD to resolve, according to MNSTC-I officials, is centralized
decision-making. As of August 2008, the vast majority of decisions were channeled personally to
the Minister, which hinders efficient functioning. A MNSTC-I official noted that the premise 504
seems to be, “If you don’t make a decision, you can’t get in trouble.”
One further challenge, according to MNSTC-I officials, is the MoD’s difficulty in identifying
requirements, budgeting for them, and obligating and spending the required funds. In 2006 and
2007, GoI spending on the ISF exceeded spending by the Iraqi Security Forces Fund, and that
Conversations with MNF-I officials, January 2008.
500 Conversations with MNF-I officials, January 2008, and Report of the Independent Commission on the Security
Forces of Iraq, September 6, 2007, pp.13, available at http://www.csis.org/media/csis/pubs/isf.pdf.
501 Interviews with MNF-I and MNSTC-I officials, and subordinate commanders, August 2008, and Department of
Defense, “Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq,” September 2008, p.47.
502 Interviews with MNF-I officials and subordinate commanders, August 2008.
503 Interviews with U.S. and Iraqi military officials, August 2008. The commander of the Basra Operations Command
mused that the BaOC might evolve into a Corps headquarters for the adjoining provinces of Muthanna and Maysan as
well as Basra but noted that this was just an idea.
504 Interviews with MNSTC-I officials, August 2008.
trend is projected to continue. The MoD remains hampered, according to MNSTC-I, by the fact 505
that their “direct contracting capability is not fully developed.”
A central tenet of counter-insurgency is reaching out to the local population and securing at least
their acceptance, if not their active support.
In Iraq, a number of U.S. military commanders have pointed to changes in the attitudes and
behavior of the Iraqi population as the most important difference between 2008 and earlier
periods. In December 2007, for example, the out-going commander of Multi-National Division-
Baghdad, Major General Joseph Fil, noted: “I attribute a great deal of the security progress to the
willingness of the population to step forward and band together against terrorist and criminal 506
Coalition and Iraqi government efforts to reach out to the Iraqi population have increasingly
fallen under the broad semantic rubric of “reconciliation.” As of 2008, the term is very broadly
used—from U.S. national strategy, to congressional legislation, to the names of Iraqi government 507
structures and of offices and job titles in coalition headquarters. The term is variously used, but
in the broadest sense, it refers to a multi-lateral reconciliation among all sub-groups and members
of Iraqi society, except the self-designated truly “irreconcilables” and those who may have
disqualified themselves by some egregious action.
In practice, “reconciliation” in Iraq has taken a number of forms, several of which, discussed
below, have played critical roles in shaping the security climate.
Early in OIF, coalition forces recognized the importance of reaching out to disaffected Iraqi
communities, but coalition efforts were constrained by lack of expertise, limited resources, and—
In 2003, some CPA and CJTF-7 leaders recognized the importance and the complexity of tribal 508
dynamics in Iraq. As coalition forces commanders on the ground throughout Iraq frequently
engaged with local tribal leaders, it rapidly became apparent that the coalition lacked detailed
expertise in tribal history and dynamics. The Iraqi Governing Council (IGC)—the first national-
Interviews with MNSTC-I officials, August 2008.
506 Department of Defense News Briefing, Major General Joseph Fil, Pentagon, December 17, 2007, available at
http://www.defenselink.mil/transcripts/transcript.aspx?transcriptid=4107. His comments echoed H.R. McMaster’s
assessment of the role of local population in 3ACR’s successful COIN operations in Tal Afar in 2005.
507 At the national level in Iraq, the key agency is the Implementation and Follow-up Committee for National
Reconciliation (IFCNR), appointed by Prime Minister Maliki.
508 For information about Iraqi tribes, see CRS Report RS22626, Iraq: Tribal Structure, Social, and Political Activities,
by Hussein D. Hassan.
level advisory body, established by CPA in July 2003—included very little tribal 509
In summer 2003, coalition forces launched a concerted outreach effort to Sunni Arab
communities in the restive “Sunni Triangle” in central and north-central Iraq. On August 7, 2003,
CENTCOM Commander General John Abizaid convened community leaders from throughout the
region to urge them to cease all tacit support for insurgents, in exchange for future assistance with 510
reconstruction needs, political representation, and other concerns. However, for most of the rest
of that year, the very limited presence of coalition civilian experts in these provinces, and limited
resources for reconstruction, made it difficult to fully implement the proposed “bargain.”
By early 2004, CPA established an outreach office, to engage directly with both tribal leaders and
leaders of other disaffected groups, including some religious extremists. Also in early 2004, U.S.
national leadership crafted a series of “Sunni engagement strategies” that included “carrots” such
as greater political representation, economic assistance, and detainee releases.
By 2005, coalition leaders in Iraq began to pursue more direct contacts with insurgents and their
supporters—in coordination with, and often brokered by, Iraqi leaders. As a rule, those talks were
reportedly based on a familiar theme—a cessation of violent action against Iraqis and the
coalition, in exchange for benefits that might include amnesty for some detainees, and improved 511
opportunities to participate politically or economically in Iraqi society.
Some critics have suggested that “negotiating” with known or suspected perpetrators of violence
is an ethically ambiguous practice that, moreover, is unlikely to succeed because it depends for its
success on commitments by those who have violated the rule of law.
Coalition leaders confirm that they understand who these interlocutors are. In December 2007,
MNF-I official Major General Paul Newton, a UK officer leading the outreach effort, commented,
“Do we talk to people with blood on their hands? I certainly hope so. There is no point in us 512
talking to people who haven’t.” As an MNC-I senior official with considerable experience in 513
Iraq described it in early 2008, “You reconcile with your enemy, not with your friend.”
In the view of some participants and observers, what may have distinguished the 2007 outreach
from earlier efforts was a change in the perceptions of insurgents and would-be insurgents about
their own prospects. As the MNC-I senior official added, “You can only reconcile with an enemy 514
when he feels a sense of hopelessness.” As MNF-I officials described it in 2008, “At some
point, fatigue sets in, and expediency brings them to the table.”
Some members of CPA admitted that gaining a complete understanding of tribal dynamics and capturing them
adequately in the IGC, in a very short time frame, was simply too complex, and the risks of error too great.
Conversations with CPA officials, 2003.
510 See Ricardo S. Sanchez, Wiser in Battle: A Soldier’s Story, New York: Harper, 2008, see pp.238-9. Sanchez
describes joining Abizaid to meet with tribal leaders and other community leaders, province by province.
511 See for example Rory Carroll, “US in talks with Iraqi insurgents,” The Guardian, June 10, 2005; Ned Parker and
Tom Baldwin, “Peace deal offers Iraq insurgents an amnesty,” The Times, June 23, 2006; and Colin Freeman, “British
general to talk to Iraqi insurgents,” Telegraph, December 11, 2007.
512 See Colin Freeman, “British general to talk to Iraqi insurgents”, Telegraph, December 11, 2007.
513 Communication from MNC-I official, January 2008.
514 Communication from MNC-I official, January 2008.
By 2008, as described by senior MNF-I officials, the outreach effort included not only Sunni
insurgents, the main focus, but also Shi’a extremists. The levers available to the coalition to offer
included possible restoration of stipends, possible restoration of a post in the ISF, or agreements
that the person agreeing to “reconcile” will not be killed. The GoI is “part of the management” of
the reconciliation initiatives. One of the challenges to the effort, MNF-I officials note, is the
possibility that some members of the Iraqi population will misinterpret the initiatives as signs of
sectarian favoritism. Another challenge, officials report, is that coalition influence is simply 515
diminishing—“Iraqis listen much less than in the past.”
Meanwhile, MND-North launched a similar but apparently separate reconciliation initiative,
which started in the Sunni insurgent stronghold town of Hawija, in At Ta’amin province. The
program’s key targets were “economic insurgents”—those who were in it to make money, rather
than ideologues. The program offers them “negotiated surrender,” including being moved to a
“no-target list,” and participants must clear a Board that includes representatives of GoI civilian
leadership, the ISF, and coalition forces. U.S. forces and PRT counterparts have used several
funding sources to try to find civilian jobs for the program’s “graduates.” As of August 2008, the
program had had over 2,100 participants across MND-North. MND-North officials have
described participants as coming forward and saying effectively, “I don’t want to fight anymore. 516
I’m tired of running. I want to sleep in my own home at night.”
In the views of many practitioners and observers, “awakening” movements have powerfully
reshaped the security climate as well as the political climate in many parts of Iraq. While they all
have “ground-up” origins—and borrow from one another’s experiences—they vary greatly in
character, and in likely impact, by region.
The movements got their start in Al Anbar province. As described by Multi-National Force-West
leaders, in the aftermath of regime removal, Al Anbar was a “perfect storm”: The region was
traditionally independent-minded, and relatively secular, but dependent on the central government
for key resources. After the old regime collapsed, the province’s big state-owned enterprises
closed, state pensions were not being paid, De-Ba’athification policies meant lost jobs, and many 517
Anbaris felt disenfranchised and left out of national-level politics.
That context provided fertile ground for Al Qaeda affiliates to infiltrate the region with promises
to “rescue” the population, but their actions proved to be absolutely brutal—including swift and
violent punishment, or even death, for perceived infractions. One observer has called it a
Interviews with MNF-I officials, August 2008.
516 Interviews with MND-N and subordinate unit officials, August 2008. See also Multi-National Force-Iraq press
conference transcript, Major General Mark Hertling, Commanding General, Multi-National Division-North, July 27,
517 Information from MNF-West leadership, January 2008. Information from coalition officials, and Al Anbar
provincial and community leaders, 2003 and 2004.
“campaign of murder and intimidation,” including the murders of prominent local tribal 518
The first rising in Al Anbar took place in 2005—a movement that became known as the “Desert
Protectors.” Members of local tribes in al Qaim and Haditha volunteered to begin working with 519
some U.S. Special Operations Forces and later with the Marines.
The movement that became known as the “awakening” developed later, in Al Anbar’s capital
Ramadi, drawing on the model of the Desert Protectors—including the premise of an alliance
among several key tribes. The initial leading figure of the awakening was Sheikh Abdul Sattar
Buzaigh al-Rishawi, of the Albu Risha tribe, who was killed on September 13, 2007, by a
roadside bomb. In late 2006, he had spearheaded the signing of a manifesto denouncing Al Qaeda
and pledging support to coalition forces. According to MNF-West, by January 2008, of the eleven 520
sheikhs who initially stood up to challenge Al Qaeda, six were dead. The movement, initially
known as Sahawa al Anbar when it formed around a core from the Albu Risha tribe, changed its 521
name to Sahawa al Iraq as more tribes joined the cause.
According to MNF-West, leading sheikhs in the awakening movement describe their relationship
with Al Qaeda as a “blood feud.” The tribal leaders do not want coalition forces to stay forever—522
they simply want help killing Al Qaeda.
During 2007, awakenings began to “spread” through the provinces of north-central Iraq—
Ninewah, Salah ad Din, Kirkuk (At Ta’amin), and Diyala—drawing on the Al Anbar example.
Several aspects of the northern “climate” may have encouraged some Sunni Arabs to self-
organize to protect their interests.
As in Al Anbar, there was an Al Qaeda affiliate presence in the north-central provinces. In t