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The Third Iraq War
USNI News ^ | June 25, 2014 2:33 PM | Cmdr. Daniel Dolan

Posted on 06/25/2014 7:01:01 PM PDT by robowombat

Opinion: The Third Iraq War

By: Cmdr. Daniel Dolan Published: June 24, 2014 12:57 PM Updated: June 25, 2014 2:33 PM

In the Naval War College’s Strategy and Policy course students have an opportunity to critically analyze both Operation Desert Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF). These two historical case studies are commonly referred to by students and faculty alike as the First Iraq War and the Second Iraq War. Now, before us we see the Third Iraq War unfolding. Despite what some pundits and former administration officials are saying America is still playing an active role in Iraq’s wars.

An overlooked fact is America’s wars in Iraq make the conflict the longest war in U.S. history. Like two geographer friends of mine that like to argue over whether the Amazon or Nile is the longest river on the planet—it all depends on where you start. Most historians would put the date that America’s wars with Iraq began as 8 August 1990 when then President George H.W. Bush gave his famous “line in the sand speech.” It has been 24 years from that line to today.What has America learned in a quarter century of direct, and often kinetic, engagement in the cradle of civilization?

From the military historian’s armchair, watching the news unfold on the situation in Iraq today feels like watching a documentary about Vietnam backwards; in Vietnam America escalated its involvement from a few advisors to heavy conventional operations, but in Iraq we moved from heavy conventional operations to advisors that are reluctant to get too involved in combat operations.

The large conventional operations that typified the first two Iraq wars will not be ours to own this time. Clarifying this point, on June 19, President Obama spoke about the ensuing crisis stating specifically, “American forces will not be returning to combat in Iraq, but we will help Iraqis as they take the fight to terrorists who threaten the Iraqi people, the region, and American interests as well.”The boots on the ground will be Iraqi soldiers with America providing intelligence, training, assistance, and perhaps a few drone strikes for what can best be described as a full blown sectarian civil war.

In an odd twist, many of the Iraq and Syria Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) forces that we will be helping the Iraqi Army fight are the same militants that just a few months ago many on Capitol Hill were pleading to arm and equip. This however was when these same Sunni militants were in Syria fighting against the Alawite and Shia Syrian government forces. As long as they were fighting Shia forces in Syria they were being promoted by some American leaders as the Sunni militant good guys that needed our support, but now that they have turned their attention against the Shia controlled Iraqi government they the world’s most dangerous terrorists. If you are confused by all of this, don’t worry—you’re not alone. Take it as an indication of just how complex the situation is in Iraq and Syria today.

Naval War College students also learn that civil wars are among the most violent and intractable of all forms of warfare. Our own Civil War is a good example–Britain and the other European powers of that era steered clear of getting involved. America did not create the deeply rooted sectarian hatred that is central to the Third Iraq War, but they certainly helped to create the conditions that are fueling the fire.

In the long list of strategic oversights and blunders leading up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq the most glaring and obvious is that America was prepared to replace Saddam’s secular Sunni regime with the first Shia government of an Arab nation. Why this should have given pause to the planners of OIF is because an Arab Shia controlled nation has never existed in modern times — never. History matters, especially in the cultural context of any conflict. Nowhere in the Middle East was the divide between Sunni and Shia more bitter than in Iraq. Yet somehow this was overlooked?

As a result of this regional context of Shia vs. Sunni, it is unlikely that any coalition of fellow stable Sunni controlled Arab allies will form a coalition to help Shia controlled Iraq defend against the radical Sunni militants. Thus by deduction, in the Third Iraq War, Iraq is calling on its only two allies that have a shared interest in preserving the current structure in Iraq—the U.S. and Iran. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said the U.S. has had “very brief discussions” about Iraq and the threat posed by ISIS on the sidelines of the ongoing nuclear talks in Vienna.

The shifting alliances in the region, enemies becoming friends overnight, and the seemingly endless warfare echoes George Orwell’s novel 1984. How is it possible that the U.S. and Iran may wind up working together to restore order to Iraq? Well, it all depends on where you start.


TOPICS: Foreign Affairs; Government; News/Current Events; Politics/Elections
KEYWORDS: alqaedaspring; iraqmeltdown; iraqwar; iraqwariii; obamadoctrine; obamaforeignpolicy
Cmdr. Daniel Dolan is assigned to the Naval War College where he teaches Strategy and War and serves as the Deputy Manager of the Chief of Naval Operations Professional Reading Program. He is an EP-3/special mission P-3 Naval Flight Officer and frequent contributor to Proceedings. The views expressed are his alone and do not represent an official position of the Naval War College, Department of Defense or the U.S. government.
1 posted on 06/25/2014 7:01:01 PM PDT by robowombat
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To: robowombat

An earlier offering by Cmdr. Dolan:

Opinion: U.S. Air Power Won’t Defeat ISIS

By: Cmdr. Daniel Dolan
Published: June 17, 2014 7:28 AM
Updated: June 17, 2014 7:29 AM

As Iraq and Syria Islamic State (ISIS) insurgent forces advance on Baghdad, some American political leaders, led by Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), have urged that the United States begin airstrikes immediately to stop the growing unrest in Iraq. Although air power may be the only expedient and politically acceptable option, there are several reasons why that all-too-familiar impulse to use our asymmetric advantage in airpower will not defeat ISIS.

In fact, history is almost devoid of examples of air power—when used alone—achieving anything resembling a decisive result. The 1999 NATO punitive bombing operation against Serbia stands as one of the only successful uses of air power alone in achieving a stated political objective.

History’s one example of such success embodies two lessons that can be drawn for comparison with the situation in Iraq/Syria. First, in the self-declared ISIS there is no recognized government that can be coerced into negotiation. That suggests that complete annihilation of the group will be necessary to return control to the Iraqi government. Which leads to the second point: Even if air power can achieve a measure of success, securing the peace after ISIS forces are defeated will require boots on the ground. Iraq’s Ambassador to the United States, Lukman Faily, stated on National Public Radio’s 16 June evening news program that “Iraq does not want, or need U.S. boots on the ground. . . . Iraq will provide the soldiers.” He went on to say that what Iraq needs to prevent what would be “one thousand [Osama] Bin Ladens” setting up camp in Iraq is U.S. “air supremacy, training, and assistance.”

The ISIS insurgents probably do not care that the United States moved another carrier strike group (CSG) into the Persian Gulf. If the United States can sort out the complex situation and actually determine what targets to hit in the dense ISIS-ontrolled urban territory, the mufti-clad insurgents will only hug the civilian population closer. Sorting out the bad guys will be a daunting task from 10,000 feet.

Our regional allies and the American public may appreciate the gesture of an extra CSG, but lawless insurgents are concerned only with local optics. Back to Kosovo, it was only when NATO realized that stopping a few Serbian military forces in Kosavar villages armed with cans of gasoline and a pack of matches was a tough mission for an F-15 that they began picking off important economic and infrastructure targets. It was then that the Serbian government agreed to negotiations. One must wonder of the wanna-be nation of ISIS: What are the economic and infrastructure targets that matter to a terrorist-led group that longs for the good old days of A.D. 900?

Finally, the most popular counter-factual argument being voiced by pundits is that if the United States had left a counterterrorism task force in Iraq, then crisis either wouldn’t have happened (because the insurgents would have feared the U.S. military), or the insurgents could have been easily defeated. If that is valid, then why is the flow of foreign fighters and motivated insurgents still a problem in Afghanistan? And why did it remain a persistent problem throughout our seven-plus years in Iraq? We have total air supremacy in Afghanistan and had it in Iraq, but that did not yield a decisive victory in either conflict. Air power alone did not win those wars—why then would it win this one?

The urge for the United States to apply some measure of expressive power is understandable, and assuming it can find someone or something worth blowing up, that is arguably the correct response. However, if the United States and its allies wish to preserve the shape of the world as depicted in the map that Sykes-Picot drew in 1916, a much larger and far more costly commitment to defeating ISIS will be required. Perhaps our ability to provide responsive air power is the best way to buy time for the reeling Iraqi government and security forces to catch their breath and prepare for the counteroffensive.


2 posted on 06/25/2014 7:03:00 PM PDT by robowombat
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To: robowombat

As long as we kill beaucoup ISIS/Al Qaeda and Sunni extremists, mainly from the air, it’s a win/win situation for us.

Meanwhile the Muqtadr/Mahdi Army and the Iran Republican Guards will do the brunt of the ground fighting in the initial stages of combat against ISIS. This means we get those bastards killed off en masse too.

Another Win/Win situation. Finally the Iraqi Army will start to function more efficiently and hopefully take over the main fighting against what is left of ISIS and company.

The Iraqi key will be air power (and anti-MPAD defensive systems). ISIS supply lines to Syria are very vulnerable to air attack, esp. if the IAF can operate at night (with targetting liaisons with US SFs). A few Iraqi Spookies wouldn’t hurt either.

The Kurds will pick off invaders and stragglers, if just for practice.

ISIS may control a lot of territory and cities, but how long can they remain an effectively supplied (material) force if their supply lines are under constant interdiction?

Perhaps I’m an optimist, but I learned in Vietnam that we could have won if we used the right tactics (An NVA general told me to bomb Haiphong because his divisions couldn’t survive on the Ho Chi Minh Trail and in Cambodian sanctuaries without major supply systems in play). He was right.

ISIS may be winning now, but once the Shiites get their SHIT together, it will be the 1980’s all over again, but this time with better weapons.

When our enemies kill each other, it is our sworn duty to assist them to be successful. (hattip to Gen. Patton).


3 posted on 06/25/2014 7:15:13 PM PDT by MadMax, the Grinning Reaper
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To: MadMax, the Grinning Reaper
‘ISIS may be winning now, but once the Shiites get their SHIT together, it will be the 1980’s all over again, but this time with better weapons.’

Hopefully so. Right now ISIS forces numbering in the hundreds are routing terror stricken Iraqi government forces numbering in the thousands. ISIS has also captured two enormous weapons dumps. This looks a good bit like the Sudan in 1885 without a Gordon.

4 posted on 06/25/2014 7:19:31 PM PDT by robowombat
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To: robowombat
I'm not so sure that ISIS forces are "routing" Iraqi government forces. I would assume that the Iraqi government forces are thoroughly compromised by Sunni infiltrators whose loyalties are with their tribes and not with their military leaders.

This is like a battle where the enemy doesn't have to bother laying siege to a castle because they are going to be let in through the front gate.

5 posted on 06/25/2014 7:40:08 PM PDT by Alberta's Child ("What in the wide, wide world of sports is goin' on here?")
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To: robowombat
In fact, history is almost devoid of examples of air power—when used alone—achieving anything resembling a decisive result.

Ha....tell that to the Japanese..

6 posted on 06/25/2014 9:41:48 PM PDT by spokeshave (OMG.......Schadenfreude overload is not covered under Obamacare :-()
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