Iraq, 2003–2011: succeeding to fail

Contributing USMA Research Unit(s)

Modern War Institute, Social Sciences

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Small Wars & Insurgencies

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This study examines the US experience during the Iraq war, from the planning phase that began in 2001 to the withdrawal of US forces in 2011. It reveals a dearth of planning and intelligence leading up to the invasion; reluctance by conventional coalition military forces to conduct reconstruction, political and security capacity-building; and, later, full spectrum counterinsurgency operations. These forces took on some missions traditionally reserved for special operations forces, and they increasingly assumed diplomatic roles as they interfaced with the Iraqi leadership and local kingpins. Although these efforts yielded some impressive organizational learning and limited operational successes, they were hampered by lack of adequate preparation, a poor understanding of the human terrain, shortsighted strategies, and ultimately a dearth of political will to stay the course. The outcome was far from the model Middle East democracy envisioned by the invasion’s architects, and the American experience in Iraq instead became a cautionary tale for military intervention.

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