After 4-year study, US military study concludes Iran was 'only victor' in Iraq war

The report criticised almost all aspects of the US military and diplomatic campaign and traces much of the current instability in the Middle East to their failures.
Saturday 02/02/2019
More wrong done than right. US Army Chief of Staff General Ray Odierno speaks at the Pentagon in Washington, DC. (AFP)
More wrong done than right. US Army Chief of Staff General Ray Odierno speaks at the Pentagon in Washington, DC. (AFP)

WASHINGTON - A study by US military leaders concluded that Iran was “the only victor” in the US-led invasion and occupation of Iraq and that the US effort to establish democracy and stability in the Middle East was largely a failure.

“An emboldened and expansionist Iran appears to be the only victor,” the recently-released two-volume study concluded. “Iraq, the traditional regional counterbalance for Iran, is at best emasculated and at worst has key elements of its government acting as proxies for Iranian interests. With Iraq no longer a threat, Iran’s destabilising influence has quickly spread to Yemen, Bahrain and Syria, as well as other locations.”

The conclusions had to some extent been acknowledged previously, particularly under US President Donald Trump, publicly critical of the invasion in 2003 and US military presence through 2011.

However, the document carries unprecedented authority because of its 1,500-page length and its authorship by the US Army War College, a research centre for the US Army.

The study was commissioned by Army General Ray Odierno, the top US military commander in Iraq from 2008-10 and more recently the army’s chief of staff. Written over four years, the study relied on 30,000 pages of classified documents and interviews with President George W. Bush, who ordered the invasion, and other top officials, including former US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, defence secretaries and military advisers.

The report criticised almost all aspects of the US military and diplomatic campaign and traces much of the current instability in the Middle East to their failures.

As fighting spilled from Iraq into neighbouring countries, “the Iraqi-Syrian border was effectively erased” and Syria “plunged into a vicious civil war that devolved into a brutality only seen in the worst conflicts of the 20th century,” the report states.

Kurdistan evolved from a “proto-state” divided between Iraq, Syria and Turkey into a “de facto nation” that threatens the Turkish government. The threat of a regional conflict between Sunni and Shia Muslims with “potentially globally destabilising effects, is now greater than at any time since the original schism” in 632.

Among failures identified in the study was an inability to stop Iran and Syria from giving “sanctuary and support” to Shia and Sunni militants, who waged attacks across Iraq that destabilised the country. US commanders mistakenly believed that Iraq’s parliamentary elections in 2005 “would have a ‘calming effect’ but those elections instead exacerbated ethnic and sectarian tensions.”

Although it might seem unusual for the US military to criticise its own actions so sharply, such “after-action reports” are common and considered essential to improving performance.

Retired Army Colonel Frank Sobchak, one of the study’s co-editors, told National Public Radio (NPR) the study “can be perceived as being overly critical [but], from another perspective, it's the military reviewing itself to try to make sure that, if this ever happens again, that we are better prepared… We need to learn from this.”

The study even criticised Odierno for not understanding “the importance of winning the [Iraqi] population over” to the American side during the invasion and occupation, Sobchak said.

“Frankly, more went wrong than went right,” Sobchak told NPR. “Now, with Iraq severely weakened and with elements of its political class as supporters of Iran, Iran is clearly in a much stronger situation just strategically and I think we see that playing out through its expansionism and kind of adventurism occurring in Syria, Yemen and other locations."

The study partly justifies the decision of US President George H.W. Bush not to topple the government of Saddam Hussein in 1991 after US-led forces ousted the Iraqi military from Kuwait following its invasion in 1990. Many US politicians and analysts at the time said the United States should have invaded Iraq and removed Saddam instead of letting him stay in power.

Sobchak said US leaders stopped short of a coup against Saddam because of “the geopolitical balance of having Iraq as a bulwark or counterweight to Iran.”

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