Review: The Occupation of Iraq: Winning the War, Losing the Peace

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Amazon Page
Amazon Page
5.0 out of 5 stars Phenomenal–Ref A Relevant to Everywhere Else
December 21, 2009
Ali A. Allawi
The author has achieved extraordinary synthesis and summation, with gifted straight-forward language.This book is not only a capstone reference, but demonstrates why we need to LISTEN–none of us could learn–in a lifetime–all that this author has in his head. That's why multinational engagement is a non-negotiable first step toward the future.

Key notes and quotes:

+ Bush Senior should not have left Saddam Hussein off the hook in Gulf I, should have finished off the regime while we had enough troops on the ground to make the peace.

+ US blew Gulf II from the moment of victory onward. “Incoherent” is a word the author uses frequently in describing virtually every aspect of US operations in Iraq. The one element that gets high marks from him is the U.S. Agency for International Development (AID) but the fact that the bulk of the “reconstruction” money was mis-managed by the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) makes AID's excellent a footnote in this sorry tale.

+ Book covers 2003-2006; the author was Minister of Defense and then Minister of Finance during the reconstruction period.

+ “Too few Americans actually cared.” Fred Smith (parent agency not clear) gets high marks from the author for caring and competence as the CPA-appointed advisor to the Ministry of Defense in the 2004 timeframe.

+ Up front the author identifies 33 key Iraqis and 14 key Americans, and I am struck by the fact that not a single one of the Americans is a uniformed US military officer on active duty.

+ Great map of 74 tribal districts. Very interesting when you remember that we were told to ignore the tribal chiefs and imams for the first four years, and that Maj Gant's paper “One Tribe at a Time” is now respected–just eight years too late.

+ Invasion extraordinary for “complexity of motive and ambiguity of purpose.” Wow.

+ Snapshot of the 1960's through the 1980's focuses on US indifference followed by sideline role in Iran-Iraq war [during which some will recall that we gave Saddam Hussein bio-chemical weapons that he was quick to use on the Kurds as well as the Iranians]

+ Citing Robert Merton, author of Social Theory and Social Structure among many other works, he lists the five contributing factors to unintended consequences:
— 01 Ignorance of tr5ue conditions pertaining
— 02 Error in inference
— 03 Primacy of immediate interests
— 04 The ideological imperative (or the imperative of ‘basic values')
— 05 Self-fulfilling prophecy (the author says this phrase was coined by Merton).

QUOTE: In official Washington, the ignorance of what was going on inside Iraq before the war was monumental.”

QUOTE: The State Department, supposedly a citadel of realist thinking, had little first-hand experience of the country, instead relying on inference and analogous reasoning when trying to unravel the possible outcomes in the postwar period.”

QUOTE: The invasion and occupation of Iraq comprised an index of errors of commission and omission. It would be difficult to catalog them. There were just too many. … The range, number, and pernicious effects of these errors was astounding.


+ PHENOMENAL accounting of the indigenous open sources of information that were precise, relevant, and IGNORED.

+ Chalabi is treated relatively kindly, and given credit for forecasting the invasion of Kuwait.

+ First serious Iraqi opposition in exile conference in 1992

+ Fascinating account of the deliberate emergence of Shia consciousness from 1988 [same year that Saudi Arabia started funding Bin Laden and radical Wahhabism world-wide), Shia emergence accelerating in 1992 (US did not notice)

+ Iraqi opposition was ostracized in the Middle East less Kuwait and Iran.

QUOTE: The entire process of planning for a post-war Iraq was mired in ineptitude, poor organization and indifference. The ‘Future of Iraq Project' was a half-hearted and unreal attempt to tackle the issues that would confront the overseers of a country with a devastated economy and a dictatorial political culture.”

QUOTE: The Bush administration's position on Iraq, in the immediate aftermath of the war, was riddled with expedient decision-making, departmental infighting, conflicting strategies, and policy incoherence.”

+ General Erik Shinseki and Senator Joe Biden get high marks from the author for being intelligence and realistic. Garner is considered “well-meaning” but lacking the organization to be effective.

BOTTOM LINE: Dick Cheney personally, and bureaucratic infighting between State and Defense, combined with the complete and utter ignorance of US intelligence about Iraq, destroyed Iraq, whose fragile state was not understood in the slightest.

+ BREMER is considered by the author to have been a second-string player, a hasty compromise, to which I would add, sending him on a one-year tour was criminal, but then that was Dick Cheney's nature.

+ This entire book is an indictment of the idiocy, criminality, and lack of intelligence of the entire US Government but especially the White House, DoD, State, and CIA.

+ Discovery of mass graves (tens of thousands) was a vastly under-estimated cause for ethnic anguish and the revival of centuries old antipathies.

+ Bremer's first two decisions, the de-Bathification of the government and the dissolution of the only respected institution in the country, the military-police (vice Gestapo), destroyed whatever hope there might have been of avoiding a prolonged occupation and the total immolation of the society and economy.

+ Saddam Hussein's main focus was on Shia uprising not on US invasion.

+ US failed to integrate and listen to Iraqi leaders at all times.

+ Core divide: Sovereignty first, elections later (Iraqi view) versus US view of vice versa.

+ US crudeness inflamed tribes.

+ Marshall Plan was huge and multinational, Iraq “aid” was tiny and unilateral.

+ CPA's three key failures: no price and subsidy reform; no food distribution reform; no state-owned enterprises financial reform.

+ Saudi considerations of the invasion: fear of insurgents FROM Iraq; Iraq as proxy for Iran; Iraq as oil challenger; revival of Shia.

At Phi Beta Iota, the Public Intelligence Blog, I provide a number of quotes that will not fit here, and a link to my cluster of 33 other reviews on Iraq, one of 98 categories within which I read.

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114.  The Coalition and exile opportunists' ignorance of the actual conditions inside Iraq on the eve of invasion was one of the gravest errors of omission committed.
123-124.  The economic policy of the CPA was a blend of wild-eyed and hopelessly unrealistic readical reforms, supposedly to introduce a liberal market economy, and a sober, methodical attempt to g et the main engines of Iraq's economu gradually functioning again.
132.  For the first time in modern history, the fall of the regime confronted Iraqis with the question of where their true loyalties and identities lay.  The public airing of community differences and grievances had previously been taboo.
152.  But like most of the CPA's pronouncements, there was a great deal of wishful thinking, poor implementation and insufficient consideration regarding the consequences of the Order.
189.  The early counter-insurgency campaign was notably ineffective.  Indeed some have concluded that the faulty US counter-insurgency strategy and t actics played a part in cementing the insurgency.  A combination of blinkered and dogmatic framework for analyzing Iraq, and an inflexible military doctrine conspired to produce a unique ineffective counter-insurgency operation.
456.  The law of unintended consequences broke out in Iraq with a vengeance.  The US invasion and occupation of Iraq broke the thick crust that had accreted over the country and region as a whole, and released powerful subterranean forces.  The emergence of the Shi'a after decades, if not centuries, of marginalization was perhaps the most profound outcome, closely followed by the massive spur given to the drive for a Kurdish nation.  On another level, the divisions within the world of Islam became far more pronounced.
459.  America's ‘civilising mission' in Iraq stumbled, and then quickly vanished, leaving a trail of slogans and an incomplete reconstruction plan.  The billions that America had spent went unrecognized, and therefore not appreciated.
460.  Time is running out.  The monumental patience3 of the Iraqi people has nearly ended.  They have endured so many hardships and broken promises, but they have still kept the light of hope flickering.  They are very near a terminal breaking point.
460.  Bush may well go down in history as presiding over one of America's great strategic blunders.
Other book reviewed tagged Iraq: Iraq (34).  Use Reviews menu to explore other related categories.
Phi Beta Iota: Had our flag officers recognized the insanity of the neo-conservative campaign to invade Iraw on the strength of 935 lies and with a force too light to be effective, this might all have been avoided.  The checks and balances in government, including the failure of Congress to make an informed and independent decision, failed.

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