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Counterinsurgency Lessons from Iraq (Military Review, March-April 2009)

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The military war in Iraq ended in 2008, although political conflict among Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds will continue for decades. At the same time, the war in Afghanistan has heated up, with more American troops committed to battle. This article, based on 15 extended trips I made to Iraq and interviews I conducted with 2,000 Soldiers and Marines, reviews the causes of the turnaround in Iraq and their importance for doctrine development and for success in the war in Afghanistan. A Two-Front War Imperiled From 2003 through 2008, two separate fronts accounted for about two-thirds of all American fatalities. In the west, the Sunni province of Anbar emerged as the heartland of a sectarian resistance that was gradually taken over by Al-Qaeda in Iraq AQI. Anbar accounted for 42 percent of all U.S. fatalities in Iraq from 2004 through 2006. 1 To the east, the Baghdad region accounted for 27 percent of the fatalities in 2004-2006. 2 It increased to 44 percent in 2007. 3 Violence in and around Baghdad erupted in the spring of 2004, then subsided inside the capital city in 2005. U.S. brigades pulled out of the city during this false lull. However, behind the scenes, the Shiite militias were conniving with the Ministry of Interior and the police to create death squads. When those squads surged out of the Shiite strongholds in Baghdad in early 2006, U.S. forces were caught out of position, while the Shiite-controlled government was both unwilling and unable to support a joint effort to restore order. So by mid-2006, the coalition was losing on both fronts. In Anbar, according to an on-scene assessment, Al-Qaeda controlled the population. In Baghdad, a civil war was raging and the Sunnis were being driven from their homes. Yet, a year later the tide of war was flowing in the coalitions favor.

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  • Government and Political Science
  • Unconventional Warfare

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