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ON POINT II: Transition to the New Campaign

The United States Army in Operation IRAQI FREEDOM May 2003-January 2005

Part II

Transition to a New Campaign

Chapter 7
Fighting the Battle of Ideas in Iraq



Using information as an enabler in the broader campaign was by no means a new concept for US Army commanders and planners during OIF. However, the imperative of merging the various core and related components of IO into a unified whole during the campaign presented a serious obstacle to the US Army and Coalition forces. As such, the battle of ideas in Iraq in 2003 and 2004 can be viewed as one of the most daunting operations in the history of the US Army. As was the case with other aspects of the transition to full spectrum operations after April 2003, US civilian and military commands in Iraq were not fully prepared to implement a synchronized IO strategy after the regime change. Both the CPA and CJTF-7 struggled to find suitable organizational structures, resources, and personnel to conduct effective IO activities in support of their political, economic, and security objectives.

Army IO doctrine and practice continued to evolve over time to adapt to the reality of postinvasion operations in an unfamiliar culture. Army units at every echelon in CJTF-7 and MNF-I devised ad hoc methods to conquer those challenges and those techniques became increasingly integrated into the Coalition’s campaign by mid-2004, progress that was best demonstrated by the tactical-level IO successes in support of military operations in Fallujah and Samarra. PA specialists also made important contributions to the creation of an independent media that could provide significant assistance to the Iraqi Government’s fledgling PA efforts. All of these efforts, however, took the better part of a year to develop. At the theater-strategic level of war, US commanders tried various means to organize and integrate the activities of IO in their headquarters to improve their ability to persuade the fence sitters in the Iraqi population to support the Coalition’s efforts to create a new Iraq. MNF-I’s establishment of the Directorate of Strategic Communications represented one such attempt. Nevertheless, the Coalition’s general lack of preparation for the campaign that began in May 2003 meant that IO at this upper level struggled to find the right mix of messages that could win over Iraqis in an increasingly unsecure environment.

Telling the Army story to the American people was equally challenging. Army PA officers can be proud of the introduction of the embed program—a particularly successful effort that shined during the invasion of Iraq as well as during the elections of 2005. With the acceptance of embedded media, the Army decisively resolved the sharp historical oscillation between unfettered and tightly controlled media access to military operations in favor of openness during OIF. America’s Army had a positive story to tell as it performed its role in support of the nation’s foreign policy, and needed and wanted the media to help it communicate with the American public and other audiences. After the invasion of 2003 and as the security situation deteriorated in 2004, US media outlets decreased the use of embedded reporting and relied more on other means of gathering information. This change created a significant obstacle to objective and comprehensive reporting about the Army’s involvement in a complex and dangerous campaign that featured few signs of progress and almost no dramatic victories.

Whether well-prepared and wholly-integrated IO and PA programs launched immediately after the fall of the Saddam regime in April 2003 would have significantly altered the 18-month period under study is questionable. Iraqis themselves were heavily divided about their vision of the political, economic, and social future of Iraq after Saddam. Terrorists and insurgents competed with the Coalition and the Iraqi Government for the loyalty of ordinary Iraqis. No single vision put forth by the Coalition, the US military, or the emerging Iraqi Government could command the loyalty of all or even most Iraqis. The fact that most Sunni Arab Iraqis boycotted the January 2005 elections is evidence of this fundamental challenge. While Coalition forces could rightly claim a number of IO successes in 2003 and 2004, these were just individual engagements in the larger battle for ideas in Iraq. As Iraqis went to the polls in early 2005, that battle still raged and the Coalition could at best be described as conducting a holding action.


Chapter 7. Fighting the Battle of Ideas in Iraq

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