Back to Iraq (a reprint)

Eight months ago when Iraq was not in the headlines our own Joe Bruns saw it coming with this article for us on the impending meltdown. It bears repeating. — Craig

Joe Bruns
Joe Bruns

By Joe Bruns (Oct. 21, 2013) — The United Nations mission in Iraq reports that 979 Iraqis were killed and another 2133 wounded in acts of terrorism and violence just in the month of September, bringing the death total to 5740 so far this year.

In Baghdad, on September 30 alone, there were 15 car bombs detonated as the violence continued to wreck devastation on what is left of the country. Car bombings have become a way of life, averaging more than two per day, with multiple coordinated car bombings frequent.

Nor is the violence confined to Baghdad. Just this week, suicide bombers, probably Sunni, killed 19 people of the small Shabak sect in attacks near the city of Mosul. And on September 29, ten people were killed and 62 injured in bombings in the generally peaceful Kurdish autonomous region.


Violence in Iraq is pervasive and comes from multiple quarters. The traditional animosity between Sunni and Shia has existed for centuries. Regional differences have diced the country into ethnic enclaves often under the control of local militias. The Kurdish autonomous area is becoming virtual Kurdistan. Even within sectarian groups, sub-factions battle for control. In Sadr City, Moktada al-Sadr finds himself in a power struggle with Asaib al-Haq, who has ties to Iran and has sent support to Syria to aid President Bashar al-Assad. Added to this are the professional insurgents, Baathists (dead-enders as they were once known), Iranian backed Hezbollah, resurgent al-Qaeda related groups, and clans seeking to settle old grievances. While the violence has not yet reached the stage of the bloody years of 2006-2007 when there was a virtual civil war it is increasing.

Iraq Ethnic and Religious Distribution -- WorldPress
Iraq Ethnic and Religious Distribution — WorldPress

Meanwhile, the Nouri al-Maliki government celebrates oil production goals and buys Russian war materials. But al-Maliki’s regime is rife with corruption, is unable to regularly provide basic services and, importantly, lacks an independent judiciary. In an act the United Nations human rights chief Navi Pillay called “obscene and inhuman,” the al-Maliki regime this month carried out mass executions of 42 prisoners. Ms. Pillay went on to characterize Iraq’s justice system as too corrupt to warrant use of the death penalty at all, let alone on such a large scale.

An American Legacy

Ten years ago, the United States invaded Iraq for the purpose of overthrowing Saddam Hussein, securing his [non-existent] weapons of mass destruction, and establishing a democratic beachhead in the middle east.

It is not a neocon pipedream … that Israel, Palestine, Turkey, Afghanistan and Iraq can create [democratic] momentum that Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, and … even Syria or Iran would find hard to resist,” said Victor Hanson (Hoover Institution) in 2005.

This grand crusade began with a spectacular display of American military might: shock and awe.

March 19- 20, 2003 Shock and Awe in Baghdad (Photo BBC)
March 19- 20, 2003 Shock and Awe in Baghdad (Photo BBC)

General Tommy Franks commanded the invasion, and executed it with precision, demonstrating the particular strength of the American led coalition forces in striking hard and fast. The southern oil fields were quickly secured, and resistance the invading forces, while at times fierce, was quickly overcome. By April, Baghdad fell.

By May 1, the invasion of Iraq had gone so well that President Bush declared on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln, “Major combat operations have ended. In the battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed.”

USS Abraham Lincoln (5/1/2013)
USS Abraham Lincoln (5/1/2013)

But we quickly learned that defeating an opposing army and bringing peace, stability and democracy to a complex country were two quite different things. The problems started almost immediately.

The very nature of the invasion strategy left the coalition ill prepared to stabilize the country in the aftermath of military victory. We deliberately went in ‘light.’ Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric K Shinseki in Congressional testimony estimated that an occupying force of several hundred thousand troops would be necessary to secure Iraq post-invasion. Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz ridiculed Gen. Shinseki’s estimate, sticking by an earlier estimate of about 100,000 troops. We will never know if even Gen. Shinseki’s number would have stabilized Iraq. What we do know is that the troop level was insufficient to create civil order. Perhaps more important than sheer numbers, troops specialized in civil administration were insufficiently mobilized, and Arabic language speakers were in short supply. This, when combined with purge of Baathist bureaucrats and skilled workers and the administrative ineptitude of the Coalition Provisional Authority under Pro Consul Paul Bremer soon led to rioting, looting, and outright insurgency. By 2004, a full-scale civil war was breaking out.

You break it, you own it” — Colin Powell on the danger of regime change in Iraq.

Second Battle of Fallujah, November 2004 (photo BBC)
Second Battle of Fallujah, November 2004 (photo BBC)

By the time the United States withdrew in 2011, as many as 461,000 Iraqis had died, although this figure is disputed. What is not disputed is that American and allied forces suffered 4804 deaths. More than 32,000 American troops were injured. According to Associated Press, an astounding 45% of the 1.6 million veterans of Iraq an Afghanistan have filed disability claims with the Veteran’s Administration.

Wars also leave impressions on the national psyche. In any war there are examples of jaw-dropping heroism as well as disgusting examples of atrocity. Unfortunately, it is the atrocities that we easily remember. Lynndie England and Abu Ghraib come easily to mind, but many other worse atrocities have been documented. Far less well known are the individual acts of heroism, including the four Americans – a Marine, two Soldiers and a Navy Seal – who were awarded the Medal of Honor, all posthumously. Wars also lead to new tactics and technology. World War I gave us air combat and poison gas, WWII gave us Kamikaze flights, the blitzkrieg and the atomic bomb, Viet Nam offered large-scale irregular warfare, napalm bombings and Agent Orange. Iraq introduced improvised explosive devices, the surge and the widespread use of drones that have now found new use for killing terrorists wherever they hide, along with too many innocent civilians. Like poison gas, the atomic bomb and napalm before it, the use of drones has become an issue of moral debate.

Wars have unforeseen consequences. World War I led inevitably to World War II, as well as the unfortunate configuration of the Middle East. WWII led to the division of Europe and the Cold War. Defeating Iraq’s army and overthrowing Saddam Hussein was the easy part. It was a mission for which our military was designed. Nation building is the hard part, and is one that our army is ill-suited for, even when supplemented by vast support of contractors and multiple civilian agencies. The overthrow of Saddam and subsequent instability in Iraq has clearly changed the balance of power in the Middle East, and particularly with regard to Iran. It may also have contributed to the “Arab Spring,” with outcomes still unsettled—just like our own legacy in the region.

We have spent trillions of dollars equipping and manning the most powerful armed force the world has ever known. Our machines can defeat their machines, our men and women can outfight any foe. What we continue to demonstrate, though, is our inability to win hearts and minds — to win the peace.

— Joe Bruns is Trail Mix Contributor

52 thoughts on “Back to Iraq (a reprint)”

  1. WaPo’s David Ignatius writes,

    Nouri al-Maliki, the Shiite prime minister of Iraq, is a polarizing sectarian politician who has lost the confidence of his army and nation. … Maliki’s failure has been increasingly obvious since the elections of 2010, when the Iraqi people in their wisdom elected a broader, less-sectarian coalition. But the Obama administration, bizarrely working in tandem with Iran, brokered a deal that allowed Maliki to continue …”

  2. New Yorker’s Robin Wright,

    Washington and Tehran suddenly find that they have common cause in preventing Iraq’s abrupt disintegration. For both, their longtime strategies toward Iraq appear to be failing, as a few thousand thugs in the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) burn their way across the country.

  3. Today from Robert Reich

    I’m here in Florida visiting my father, Ed Reich, who, at the young age of 100 and a half, just came up with one of the most incisive assessments I’ve heard of what’s happened in Iraq: “George W. Bush and the crooks he hired are responsible for this. If they hadn’t lied to the American people about weapons of mass destruction we wouldn’t have lost nearly 5,000 American lives and god knows how many Iraqi lives, and stirred up this hornet’s nest. Obama has spent his entire administration cleaning up Bush’s shit, like someone with a giant pooper scooper.” Dad has lived during the administrations of 17 presidents. “Bush was the worst,” he says. “Reagan the second worst.”

  4. Joe Bruns:

    This is a really excellent piece of in-depth analysis, as good (or better) than what can be seen in the major U.S. newspapers. It reads like an article in the “New York Times.” The amount of research that you did for this contribution is incredible.

    This is truly professional quality political writing. I only wish I could write this well.

  5. I think the only solution to have any kind of long-term stability is to let the Kurds, Sunnis, and Shiites each establish their own independent states and stop trying to maintain the idiotic fiction of “a country called Iraq.”

    Trying to hold these three groups together, in a culture where “representative democracy” is unknown, is impossible. Each group will always try to assume complete dictatorial control over the government and then oppress the other two groups.

  6. httpv://

    Sunday Serendipity.

    Some amazing singing! Enjoy.

    Happy Father’s day.

  7. Craig,

    Tried to send Joe’s wonderful article to Facebook & Twitter and they aren’t forwarding properly. Another thing for the tech guys to check out.

  8. jace, an excellent choice for Fathers Day.

    Looking at his name, don’t you think Windgassen should have been a baritone instead of a tenor?

  9. Many G.I.s will miss our friend Casey Kasem who passed away this morning. He kept us company in many isolated parts of the world on AFRTS before he went national. RIP, Casey.

  10. Jamie, I logged out of twitter, then clicked the share button above and logged back in, got it to work. Obviously it shouldn’t be like that, but that’s how I got it sent to my twitter feed, still investigating.

  11. If Bush’s minions had only read a history book or two they’d have learned that western imperialist countries, no matter the ‘reason’, do not fare well in incursions into the middle east. There’s no such thing as a quick war. And public opinion can be manipulated so easily. It’s starting again. All those talking heads trying revisionist history — It used to be that a generation had to pass before history got changed by ‘experts’.. now they try it within the next administration. And this morning, someone had the gall to ask Wolfowitz what HE thinks. So tired of it all.

  12. Jamie,
    thanks for that robert reich father’s day tribute. his dad’s centenarian wisdom deserves repeating:

    “George W. Bush and the crooks he hired are responsible for this. If they hadn’t lied to the American people about weapons of mass destruction we wouldn’t have lost nearly 5,000 American lives and god knows how many Iraqi lives, and stirred up this hornet’s nest. Obama has spent his entire administration cleaning up Bush’s shit, like someone with a giant pooper scooper.”

  13. Jace (at 11:01) posted a link to a really good article that explains why the GOP has moved steadily to the right for 40 years.

    That’s the best long-term analysis of the GOP I’ve read in quite a while.

    Thanks for the link, Jace.

  14. Nash 2.5,

    Unfortunately no mention of the role the Koch Bros play in the “tea party” (I refuse to accept the meme that that group is separate from the Republican Party) growth. They are the ones who hired the group that was bussed from city to town to city to “rally” around the tea party flag. The phony rallies were always well covered, scratch that, they were not well covered until more $ were added by the Koch Bros to ensure media coverage.

    The talking point of the far right being “forced” far right because of “free market” idealism is very hard to accept too. Free market to the Koch Bros is to bring their Keystone pipeline through the middle of our country. Free market to the Koch Bros is to have their refineries and oil-gas shipping ports serviced without regard for environmental and any other safety restraints.

    To discuss “free market” and “tea party” in one sentence is to have a discussion of the Koch Bros.

    From everything I have read and heard about Cantor and his campaign, it was not that Brat overcame all odds to win. It was that Cantor had a failed campaign and his campaign staff should forever be banished to suck swamp gas in the James River estuary. Candidates rely on their campaign managers to win. His failed with a spectacular flair.

  15. The “neocon pipedream” is filled with cheap oil & military contracts. We are to deliver some sort of military jet to Iraq soon. Maybe not a good idea. Also under the heading of “not a good idea,” bombing the insurgients on the way to Bahgdad; that was the discussion on TV this morning.

    Happy Father’s Day to those who’ve lost children in this nonsensical endeavor, and to those children whose fathers were lost during the last decade at war, who have no one to whom the can say, “Happy Father’s Day.”

    It’s time to learn from history. The Mideast is a lost cause. Let their kids fight it out in the sandbox alone. Let our kids stay home. Our cat turds (military equipment) add nothing to a good end over there. They are really, expensive cat turds, paid for by the middle, for the benefit of the 1%.

    Corporations are not people. Life should not be exchanged for the possibility of cheap oil. Wind & solar & efficient tech are the way. It’s like a horror movie; we all know where the monster is, but we can only watch.

  16. Nash,

    I thought the Frank article was a good and informative read.

    He may have to update his book to read ‘What’s the matter with Kansas, Oklahoma,Texas, etc. etc. etc.?’

  17. Flatus:
    jace, an excellent choice for Fathers Day.

    Looking at his name, don’t you think Windgassen should have been a baritone instead of a tenor?


    Looking at his name Windgassen, seems like it could have been an appropriate title for a Wagner opera.

  18. Flatus: Many G.I.s will miss our friend Casey Kasem

    The man kept us “up” on the music we could not hear in many places we were stationed. The irony for me is that I did not hear the repeats of his programs until just a few years ago on Sirius Radio. When I first listened the time period was the late 70’s. Cool.

    Then a program from a certain time in 1972. I ended up in my shrinks office. The music was triggering. I have often heard that humans live and learn with music. It is a part of our primitive brain; with socialization and rhythmic teaching the way we learned and survived.

    He was a veteran too. Drafted and sent to Korea. He knew what active duty is.

    His program was important for keeping in touch with America. That he had to end the way he did is tough. I hope he was given music to listen to as he breathed his last.

    Sirius Radio ch.7 and online is doing a 24 hr run of his weekly programs.

  19. Big Oil doesn’t want ‘cheap oil’. It wants oil to be expensive. Eliminating Iraqi production was the point of the war, and they Accomplished that Mission. Big Oil’s bush war drove the price of gasoline from 98c/gal to $4.00/gal, crushing our economy under a hidden tax paid at the pump.
    The price of oil rose from $16/bbl to nearly $150/gal, an 800% increase. For futures speculators, the profits could be as high as 20,000 %. Big Oil harvested $$$TR!LL!ON$ from the war, figures that dwarf the revenue of the Military/Industrial Complex. And the biggest winners in this were not the USAF or the Marines, but the saudis, who sit on the largest privately owned pool of oil in the world.

  20. While I disagree with Blue on the origin of Iraq Fiasco II, I concur entirely with the conclusion.

    If in the future fox and it’s saudi master want to cut oil production, make them do it by themselves.

  21. David Carr : “Eric Cantor’s Defeat Exposed a Beltway Journalism Blind Spot”

    “They got a million of ’em” – Jimmy Durante

  22. Is Cantor out of politics? From what I am reading and hearing he is finally figuring out what went wrong and it has to do with his voters not voting.

    He is young, smart and a good learner. It is what he is not that is key. He did not go out because of misbehavior or slimy activity or even playing with an intern or somebody else’s wife.

    He is not a Christie and not a witch. He did not switch parties or come out of the closet. He is not a fruitcake. He did nothing wrong as a Republican.

    Cantor will be back. And, with a new campaign staff or he better have a new campaign staff if he wants to win. Sometimes a tour of the woodshed makes for a smarter politician.

  23. blue bronc: Cantor will be back. And, with a new campaign staff or he better have a new campaign staff if he wants to win. Sometimes a tour of the woodshed makes for a smarter politician.

    yep, but only if he also loses that sickly smirk and whiney delivery…. but then a good campaign staff would have told him that as well as the finer points of schmoozing the local constituency.

  24. Iraq Partitions as Predicted
    I think Iraq will end up split in three parts as many predicted was inevitable (even under Saddam Hussein). The Kurds will own the North, Sunnis the center and Shiites to the East adjacent to Iran.

    This has been the USA’s biggest mistake since Vietnam…

  25. Joe, excellent article (I thought that the first time it ran). What a disaster for the US to have caused. The irony in all this is it looks more and more like Biden was right when he suggested that the Kurds, Shiites and Sunnis could not coexist under a central government. Of course he was ridiculed at the time, and now Bremer is making the rounds (ignore that the “reforms” he engineered have fallen into the dustbin of Iraqi history now) opining about the US being the only actor onthe world stage able to fix Iraq. Really? Never trust anyone who wears desert combat boots and a suit. His opinions are likely to be as dumb as his fashion sense.


    Well, XR, if what I heard over the weekend on the talkies is right, Iraq is producing big time again. (Your observation about oil prices is correct, but oil markets are opportunistic and respond to perception of possible instability in supply more than actual supply interruptions from what I’ve heard from people who seem to know much more about this than I). That view would be consistent withthe production chart down the page on the link below.

    According to USEIA, at 3 Million Barrels per day it is behind only Saudi Arabia and Iran in the region (and surpassed Iran’s production in late 2012) and ahead of Kuwait, Qatar, UAE, Libya & Algeria. Iraq’s production went to the cellar following DS for about 5 years and took only a brief dip following shrub’s adventure there and now produces more than id has inthe past 21 years. Now as far as those 3rd party US oilfield contracts go, you may be right.

  26. Pat, you are right about Cantor, smirk and whine. I think he’s an opportunistic puke. And he better lose the forking entourage, too. Shit, Prince William and Kate have fewer people following them around (at least fewer that are obvious in press coverage). Who does he think he is, the Queen?

  27. Cantor will become a lobbyist for the heath care corps like his wife

  28. So we don’t repeat the mistakes of the past shouldn’t we be holding hearings on Shrub’s policy in Iraq

    Paul Bremer blames Obama

    Only a totally biased and corrupt newsroom would give Bremer a platform. The man is incompetent and probably criminally negligent for what happened in Iraq. How much of the missing $$$$ is in his pocket.

    Where is a congressional investigation when you a really need one

    who can forget the post bush iraq chorus –le’s not place blame let’s move forward

    what happened to that idea
    Obama’s mistake was not placing blame

  29. The Obama Administration should accept absolutely no responsibility for the Iraqi debacle. Instead they should say words to the effect,”If the Iraqi central government would not negotiate a Status of Forces Agreement with us, their friend, that would have enabled a minimal continuing presence, then, clearly, they can not begin to negotiate themselves out of this mess. Under the circumstances, there is absolutely no basis for our presence for what was, from the beginning, nothing more than a circle jerk.”

  30. Ya know the thing I hate about Iraq is that all those dire predictions that were made in 2003 are all coming true.
    Joe a good article but 6 months out of date. While we have been asleep things have gotten scary, Sunni regions are controlled by a radical Islam group that are well enough organized that they they have developed funding from the land by taxing and selling power and maybe oil. we can no longer do the Biden solution it is not really an option.
    Iran has troops on the ground in Iraq helping Iraq fight the ISIS and the Kurds are just waiting to see which side gives them the best deal so they can grab off as big a chunk as they can.
    Here is a great article and as I said more than just a little scary and yeah Obama owns his share of the mess.

  31. Flatus

    He can’t do that, he owns part of it and has to take the heat for his miss steps and mismanagement too.
    There is plenty of blame to go around.


  32. whskyjack,

    I’m sorry to be delayed in responding, Jack. Was playing chauffeur for my grandson Jasper whose car has just been put in the garage for major hail damage.

    Of course Mr Obama shares some responsibility; primarily for misusing his military advisors. He has no military knowledge. I suspect like many new civilians having oversight responsibility, he wanted to set the stage by showing that he was both the producer and the director. That the chiefs were there not to offer seasoned advice, but to do whatever he and his whiz kids decided upon.

    Unless I get my dander up, I’lll let others talk about his terrible relations with the Congress, etc.

  33. paul bremmer was the least competent boob in the bushes’ Iraq Fiascos. If Gen. Franks had only stayed a little longer, he would have had to reconsider calling doug feith the dumbest sumbidge he’d ever met.

  34. I don’t know if oh,bummer is as greedy as the bush crime family.

    If he is, the ‘blind trust’ (they may be blind but these trusts aren’t aren’t deaf) will go long on 2016 delivery oil at the biggest possibly margin. Then we’ll invade and shut off the oil again, and you can figure $8.00/gal, or worse, gas prices, a recession, and more dead and wounded vets.

  35. Obama probably never had a chance between the mess Shub left and the goopers trying to pretend Shrub never happened and just generally being obstrutionist jerks how could he make any progress.

    There is no way in hell he could have left troops in Iraq.

    This is all Prick Cheney and Rummy and their ilk

  36. From Craig’s twitter feed

    David Sirota @davidsirota
    Maybe those who pushed us into the Iraq War shouldnt be portrayed by media as credible voices in the debate about what to do in Iraq now

  37. I get tired of pundits talking about “airstrikes” as an “option” in Iraq. Airstrikes means piloted aircraft.

    Planes can get shot down, then the pilots get captured.

    The they would become hostages or the main characters in a grisly beheading posted on youtube.

    Airstrikes are a BAD idea.

    Drones or cruise missiles, OK, but please, no aircraft with pilots.

  38. Joe, terrific piece, thanks.. The comments from everyone are terrific as well..

    Jamie, thanks for the Reich quote, excellent and so true..

    I agree President Obama has spent most of his term cleaning up after the Bush/Cheney wars, economic collapse and too many other disasters to mention.. Sadly, Obama and Pelosi/Reid choose to look forward instead of investigating Bush for lying us into a war..

  39. Hard to lay the fiasco in Iraq at Obama’s feet in my opinion. George Bush did everything possible to make sure that whomever succeeded him would be stuck with Iraq.

    Paul Rosenberg seems to think that a refresher is in order. I am inclined to agree.

  40. Yes flatus,Eugene tends to talk sense. What do those holding the sticks beating the drumbeat for war propose, exactly? Airmen in the air? And whole what do they bomb? Do we such good ground Intel that we know who is who and where they are? Then why not drones or cruise missiles? If why not boots on the ground? What are they suggesting? Or is this just another opportunity to criticize he who never was?

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