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ON POINT II: Transition to the New Campaign

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


The US Army in Operation IRAQI FREEDOM
May 2003 to January 2005

There were reasons for great optimism among US Soldiers in Iraq on 30 January 2005. Eight million Iraqis—roughly 60 percent of the electorate—had just voted in the first truly democratic elections in the nation’s history. The US Army had helped make that event possible. By January 2005 approximately 250,000 American Soldiers had served or were serving in Iraq. Much of their effort had been directed at this day. US Army units that assisted in establishing good governance had helped establish a foundation on which the Iraqis built the electoral system. The Iraqi Security Forces, which American Soldiers had helped equip, train, and advise, provided most of the front-line security for those elections. And American Soldiers, along with other US and Coalition forces, had set the proper conditions for the elections by destroying insurgent safe havens and suppressing the insurgent network overall so the polls could operate on that January day. General George W. Casey Jr., commander of Multi-National Force–Iraq, told Coalition Soldiers they had “shaped history” and that their “presence and preparations allowed the Iraqi people to defy terrorism and to embrace democracy as a way ahead for the nation of Iraq.”*

The optimism at the beginning of 2005 also stemmed from the advances made by the Coalition over the previous 18 months. Having arrived in Iraq in 2003 with almost no preparation for conducting postconflict operations, the Coalition had by January 2005 established a broad, full spectrum campaign designed to assist with the reconstruction of the country, facilitate the generation of representative forms of government, and provide the new Iraqi state with loyal and effective security forces. While there had been significant difficulties in 2003 in initiating this new campaign, by mid-2004 the Coalition had passed full sovereignty to the Iraqis and created a new political-military command structure that featured a theater strategic military headquarters designed and manned to assist the new Iraqi state on its path to greater political and social stability.

In the same period, and without great fanfare, American Soldiers had begun a journey down a new road. It is no exaggeration to state that during 2003 and 2004, the US Army reinvented itself. The US Army had entered Operation IRAQI FREEDOM (OIF) in March 2003 as a force that had mastered high intensity combat operations as part of the joint team. By the end of 2003, the Army had transformed itself into an organization that conducted full spectrum operations in which conventional combat was only one mission and, arguably, of less importance than other missions within that spectrum.

Driving this transformation were the realities on the ground in Iraq. With major gaps in planning for the postconflict phase of OIF and without a large influx of resources from non-Department of Defense (DOD) agencies and nongovernment organizations (NGOs), Soldiers as well as US Marines and Coalition counterparts were left with the tasks of remaking much of Iraq’s physical and political infrastructure and establishing the country’s security forces. Considering the lack of preparation, guidance, and resources, it is striking how quickly and professionally American Soldiers began the rebuilding process. Indeed, the story of the 12 months that followed the fall of the Saddam regime is dominated by tactical units improvising, finding ways to enact a broad-based campaign focused on simultaneously defusing a mounting insurgency and building popular support for the Coalition’s program in Iraq. The creation of the Commander’s Emergency Response Program (CERP) and the neighborhood advisory councils (NACs) and district advisory councils (DACs) that units rapidly established in the post-Saddam political vacuum are only two dramatic examples of Soldiers’ willingness to find innovative means to give Iraqis a chance for a new future. Privates, sergeants, junior officers, and senior officers from every branch of the Army extended the reputation for the inventiveness and flexibility earned by their predecessors in conflicts of the past. Difficult in any circumstances, the type of campaign the US Army began in May 2003 was complicated further by halting efforts at levels far above the Soldier where the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) and Combined Joint Task Force–7 (CJTF-7) struggled to create unity of command and unity of effort and where the Coalition grappled with the divisive, and at times violent, realities of Iraqi politics.

While the Army’s transformation in Iraq was striking, the American Soldiers’ efforts to deal with Iraqi realities were not enough by themselves to achieve the Coalition’s objectives for Iraq. No one—neither Soldier nor civilian, neither American nor Iraqi—could look at Iraq in early 2005 and see a nation that fully enjoyed the prosperity and security that was at the heart of the Coalition vision for the country. On several occasions and in multiple areas of Iraq during 2004, Sunni insurgents and Shia militias had risen up in open defiance of the emerging Iraqi Government. And while the Coalition militarily defeated their actions, both elements continued to mount opposition to Iraqi and Coalition forces. The large majority of Sunni Arabs, feeling threatened by a new political system in which they would lose their historical control over matters of state, refused to participate in the January elections. Worse was that even with the Iraqi police and military forces securing much of the country, there were close to 300 terrorist attacks on Election Day, resulting in 45 deaths and many other casualties. These were the realities that diminished the optimism of that day, and they made it clear that the journey on which the new Iraq had just embarked remained arduous.

Because of the obvious challenges in Iraq’s security environment, it was clear in January 2005 that the US Army would remain in the country for some time. As of this writing, American Soldiers and their Coalition and Iraqi counterparts are still in the midst of the campaign to secure Iraq. In 2007, in fact, President George W. Bush reinforced the American commitment to Iraq by deploying an additional five brigade combat teams to establish greater security in Baghdad and its environs. With the Coalition project in Iraq unfinished, this study is not in the position to offer any final historical judgment on the US Army’s efforts in the country. The authors of this work have always recognized that this proximity to actual events in Iraq was a limitation on their ability to completely understand the context in which political leaders made decisions and Soldiers took actions. They also recognize that in the interest of providing a history of this early part of the campaign in Iraq in an expeditious manner, they may have made mistakes of fact, interpretation, and omission. For example, for reasons of classification, most of the sources that reveal the actions of US Special Operations Soldiers in this period of OIF were not available, leaving that important element of the campaign’s story essentially untold. However, the authors have balanced these concerns with their desire to provide the Army a study of its operations in Iraq that will highlight the past actions of its Soldiers and hope that it will become an early discussion in a historical dialogue about OIF that will continue for many years.

Final comments in a history of this type should be dedicated to the hundreds of thousands of American Soldiers who served in Iraq between May 2003 and January 2005. OIF became the central mission of the US Army after May 2003. In the 18 months that followed, close to a quarter of a million Soldiers served in Iraq, and the Army began to focus its training, education, finances, and other resources on achieving victory in that nation. Fighting with and working alongside Soldiers were tens of thousands of Marines, Airmen, Sailors, DOD civilians, and American contractors. Their story is not told in this book, but without their courageous service, the Army could not have accomplished what it did. The same is true of the millions of Iraqis who, in partnership with Coalition forces, tried in the face of incredible hardships to build a new future for their country. For American Soldiers in this period, professional and private lives began to focus on Iraq as most units began to rotate into Iraq for 1-year deployments to be followed by another year spent at home station preparing to redeploy to Iraq once again. This study is a tribute to the hard work and commitment of these Americans, and especially to those who were wounded or lost their lives in Iraq.

On Point II is also a testament to the things these Soldiers created while participating in the campaign. After deposing a tyrannical regime, these men and women began rebuilding Iraq for the benefit of its population. Through this effort, the Soldiers of OIF became the heirs of the millions of American Soldiers who helped liberate Europe and Japan during World War II and then remained in those places to reconstruct economies, governments, and societies. From the vantage point of 30 January 2005, American Soldiers in Iraq could look back with a great deal of pride in their work that had similarly focused on establishing prosperity, stability, and a representative government. While most recognized that the road ahead was not certain and that there were still significant challenges remaining to the creation of a new Iraqi state, they could take satisfaction from how they had transformed the Army and made it the force that remained on point in America’s continuing campaign in Iraq.

*John D. Banusiewicz, “Commander in Iraq Thanks Troops Who ‘Shaped History,’” American Forces Information Service, 3 February 2005, (accessed 4 November 2006).

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