Recommended Readings on the War In Iraq

Also see: Readings in Counterinsurgency

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In the Company of Soldiers: A Chronicle of Combat

Rick Atkinson

Atkinson, author of An Army at Dawn and a military writer for the Washington Post reports on his experiences as a journalist accompanying Gen. David Petraeus and the U. S. Army's 101st Airbourne Division during the invasion of Iraq. This book was written and published immediately after the invasion, while Petraeus was working on the Counterinsurgency Field Manual with Nagl and before anyone knew Petraeus would become the commanding general in Iraq and then Commander, U.S. Central Command..

Atkinson spent about two months with Petraeus. Shortly before Atkinson left Iraq, the day before the Pentagon announced an end to "major operations" in the country, Petraeus' ADO (Assistant Division Commander, Operations), told Atkinson "you're probaby closer to him than anyone in the division" (283). Even allowing for a certain level of hyperbole, Atkinson was well positioned to provide insights to Petraeus' background, education, personality, command style and sense of history; and to do so with well told anecdotes.

Excerpting from his description of the fight for al Hilla:

Darkness had fully enveloped Camp Eagle by the time [Petraeus' driver] pulled up ... at 8 P.M. Petraeus grabbed his map board, shut the Humvee door, and turned to walk inside.

"Embrace the suck," he called to me over his shoulder.

"Yep," I said, "What else are you going to do with it?"

He paused for half a second before continuing to the tent. "I must confess," he said, "I still am wondering how it's going to end."(271)

Of course, he is not alone in that, even now.

Cobra II: The Inside Story of the Invasion and Occupation of Iraq

Michael R. Gordon and General Bernard E. Trainor

In contrast to the tactical, ground-level view offered in Atkinson's In the Company of Soldiers, Gordon and Trainor concentrate on the strategic planning that went into the American invasion of Iraq, or rather the lack of same.

Cobra II convincingly documents and verifies the early obsession on the part of the George W. Bush administration with Iraq even before the attacks of September 11, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's insistence on invading before adequate planning could be completed and suffcient logistical support could be put in place, Rumsfeld's persistent meddling in tactical planning to insure that the invasion was conducted with a minimum of force without regard for American casualties and Iraqi outcomes, and the administration's refusal to recognize and plan for the challenges that the post-invasion occupation would present. Other than that, as we all saw, things went pretty well.

At McKieran's headquarters, there was a gnawing worry [well before the invasion] that the land command could find itself short of the forces it needed for the postwar phase of the campaign. For even if the Pentagon flowed all the troops [...] that McKieran had asked for, he would not have enough forces to seal Iraq's borders, impose order throughout the country, protect the nation's infrastructure, and carry out myriad other tasks to stabilize the new Iraq. He would have his hands full just securing Baghdad and southern and northern Iraq. Western Iraq -- including Anbar Province, where Sunni Fallujah and Ramadi were located, and which stretched to the Syrian border -- would be an "economy of force" operation (104).

Appendices include a chronology of the war prepared for the president 6 May 2003, a project plan prepared by the "Coalition" Forces Land Component Command and briefing notes (apparently ignored by the administration) on the need for a civilian constabulary to keep order in postwar Iraq.

Gordon is the chief military correspondent for The New York Times and was with the Allied land command during much of the early part of the war.

Trainor is a retired United States Marine Corps lieutenant general and former director of the National Security Program at Harvard University.

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