Political intrigue and military maneuvers

'Barack Obama pulled the US army out of Iraq, but George W. Bush set the stage.'

Former US president George Bush 370 (photo credit: REUTERS/Larry Downing)
Former US president George Bush 370
(photo credit: REUTERS/Larry Downing)
In July 2007, Jim Hickey was briefing General Raymond Odierno on Operation Phantom Thunder, a major offensive that was part of the “Surge” of American forces designed to destroy the insurgency in Iraq.
Hicket showed the general a “blob map,” which illustrated where al-Qaida was operating in Iraq and where it was strongest. The map showed the insurgency was dominant in northwest Iraq as well as along several corridors from Jordan to Baghdad. “Odierno was impressed enough that he had Hickey give the same briefing to [General David] Petraeus.”
It is fascinating that, four years into the war, the American high command had not thought of something as simple as a visual representation of where the enemy was operating. But this goes to the heart of the war in Iraq after 2003: It was marked by Band-Aid type approaches seeking to stem the insurgency and please both Iraq politicians and the American administration back home.
Michael Gordon and General Bernard Trainor, who previously collaborated on major books about the US army under Bill Clinton and on the 2003 invasion of Iraq, have produced a seminal work that provides a full history of the US involvement in Iraq from beginning to end.
Subtitled “from George W. Bush to Barack Obama,” almost the entire book is about the Bush administration’s role in the war. “That the Obama administration brought the war in Iraq to an end is true, but only because of terms already negotiated by his predecessor,” they write.
It isn’t that the authors are biased against Obama, their view is simply that very little took place in Iraq from January 2009 to the final withdrawal of the last troops in December 2011.
Endgame is a masterful blend of political and military history. Those interested in the minute-by-minute stories of military operations will find plenty of material to chomp on, while those more fascinated by the political backslapping and maneuvering in Washington between Donald Rumsfeld and Condoleezza Rice will also be pleasantly surprised.
The only problem with such a wide-ranging narrative is that it must necessarily leave some things outside the box.
For instance, the story of Abu Ghraib, where US forces committed abuses against Iraqi detainees, is not retold in excruciating detail.
The book is primarily a lesson in how the US got bogged down in the Iraqi quagmire and how it took almost four years to realize a plan to defeat a growing insurgency by Sunni members of al-Qaida and Shi’ite militias who were living off Iranian support. It tells the broad story of the battles for Falluja, and the subsequent failure to prevent insurgent attacks and takeovers in Mosul and Tal Afar.
It also goes into detail about some strange episodes in the war. In 2005, for instance, Lt.- Gen. Pete Chiarelli was read his rights for violating something called the Anti-Deficiency Act. According to charges he had spent $60,000 of his army division’s funds to redesign a patch worn by the 1st Cav in Baghdad.
A “cavalry” unit, the Cav had seen action in Vietnam using helicopters and was present in Iraq. However its patch, depicting a horse’s head, was such that when worn on the right sleeve the horse faced backwards. Chiarelli felt it was time to simply reverse the image. For that he was accused of “wrongful government expenditures.” A talented general, his career was nevertheless almost destroyed.
One of the main narratives throughout is how Iran was able to infiltrate Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein.
“The Iranian role was not a surprise. Soon after the American invasion, Iran’s two intelligence arms... including the Quds Force, had stepped up their intelligence gathering....
In December 2003 the Quds Force moved a section of its headquarters to the border city of Mehran.”
From then on the Iranians supplied Shia fighters, such as the Mahdi army, with intelligence and also logistical support.
With friendly Shia coreligionists in the Iraqi administration the Mahdi army militia was even able infiltrate Baghdad’s international airport, where it took down details of Sunnis who came and left the country, so they could be kidnapped, murdered or pressured in some way.
A hefty tome, Endgame is worth reading for anyone interested in the US role in Iraq. It provides valuable insights into counter-insurgency and the need to be vigilant about outside actors such as Iran. It also fills an important historical chapter, both in Iraq and in America.