Mansoor presents expert’s view on Iraq

NEW ULM – If anyone understands the Surge that brought about the end of the war in Iraq, it would be Dr. Peter Mansoor. He was there.

Thursday night the New Ulm Public Library hosted a presentation from Mansoor, a New Ulm native who served as executive officer to General David Petraeus during the 2007-2008 surge in Iraq. Mansoor has published two books on Iraq. His first book was titled “Baghdad at Sunrise: A Brigade Commander’s War in Iraq.” His second book was the subject of the night’s presentation. “Surge: My Journey with General David Petraeus and the Remaking of the Iraq War” details the US counterinsurgency operation in 2007 that turned around the war in Iraq.

Mansoor explained he began writing his latest book following a 2010 conference in which leading experts on counterinsurgency attended to discuss the war in Afghanistan. The discussion turned to the Surge in Iraq, and as the conversation proceeded Mansoor realized few people had a complete understanding ofit.

“If these are the leading counterinsurgency experts in the United States and they didn’t understand what went on in Iraq, then neither did the American people,” Mansoor said.

The beginning of the book details the problems in Iraq that made the surge in 2007 necessary. According to Mansoor, the first mistake the U.S. made in Iraq was assuming that it would be a war of liberation and that the infrastructure would remained intact. “There was a failure in our plans to plan for a longer term occupation.”

Following the aftermath of major combat, Mansoor cited three major political mistakes. The first was the attempt to completely remove the Ba’ath party from power in Iraq. Mansoor believed this could have worked with the top tier party members, but by removing 10,000 individuals from the government led to greater problems down the road. Many of the Ba’athists removed from the government were Sunni, causing some to fear the loss of Sunni power and ultimately create the a political base for insurgency.

The second error was to disband the Iraqi Army that was well regarded in the Iraq society. Mansoor believed it would have been beneficial to reform the Army to help maintain order. Instead, many of the soldiers were then without jobs, but still had their weapons. Many Sunni officers were ostracized by these decisions and were deprived of their pensions and political ambition. This led to the military base of the insurgency.

The third political mistake was empowering sectarian politics. Rather than creating a governing body from the ground up, the Iraq Governing Council was filled with ex-patriots that had been out of the country during Saddam Hussein’s rule. The effect was to create a non-representative governing body that began replacing long term government administrators with their own political followers.

“It’s no wonder the Country began falling apart in the Summer 2003,” said Mansoor.

Major uprisings began to spring up in 2004. Mansoor described the campaign in Fallujah as the most intense urban combat since Vietnam. A third of the city was destroyed fighting the insurgents. However, in other areas combats units were have better success using counterinsurgency tactics by integrating with the community. With the U.S. working with and protecting the civilians, the insurgents could not gain territory. The policy, however, was not adopted nationwide.

The insurgency in Iraq reached its peak in 2006 with an estimated 3,500 Iraqis killed each month from ethno-sectarian violence. It became clear to the US that the conflict in Iraq was headed for defeat. This lead to numerous strategic reviews to develop a new policy in Iraq. President Bush decided to approve the Surge into Iraq using a new counterinsurgency plan that was first implemented in January 2007.

The cornerstone of the counterinsurgency plan was to protect civilians, but also to create alliances with various tribes against Al-Qaeda. The Iraqi Army was slowly rebuilt. During the Surge (January 2007-July 2008) the Iraqis added 135,00 Army and Policeman to the battlefield. In Baghdad, gated communities were established. Traveling through the gated communities required fingerprint scans which allow neighborhood census and prevented the flow of terrorists and militias.

An added benefit of the fingerprint scans was the opportunity to apprehend insurgents that had placed road side bombs. Bomb fragments were scanned for prints which were added to the database. According to Mansoor, 2,500 people responsible for planting bombs were caught at these checkpoints.

Rehabilitation programs were established in detention camps. The worst offenders were taken to maximum security facilities while the others were given job training and eventually released. Mansoor said the program was very successful as only one percent of rehabilitated prisoners rejoined the insurgency.

Overall Mansoor felt the US change to a counterinsurgency doctrine was effective and he is disappointed by the current state of the Country. Mansoor believes the withdrawal of troops from Iraq has weakened the country.

Mansoor summarized the Bush Administration and Obama Administrations handling of Iraq in terms of previous wars. Bush saw Iraq as South Korea and Obama saw it as Vietnam. In South Korea, the US has maintained a presence for over 60 years and it has led to a thriving democracy. Obama viewed Iraq as a war the US needed to depart from as soon as possible.

“For those of us that had been there, we had a lot of angst about the withdrawal of US forces,” said Mansoor, believing the status force agreement could have been re-negotiated if Obama would have applied the need political capital.

Following the presentation, Mansoor took question from the audience. Responding to questions on the Syrian Civil War, Mansoor stated he was against supporting the rebels at this time. His concern was that among the rebels were a number of Jihadists who were more dangerous to the US than the Syrian president.

On the subject of General Petraeus, Mansoor believed he would return to the public eye, suggesting that he could possible be given a cabinet position with the next Presidential Administration.

The presentation closed with question concerning the decision to enter Iraq in the first place. Mansoor stated that at that time it was not necessary, saying the existing strategy to contain Iraq and Iran was working. Mansoor recited a line from the close of his book, saying “When you roll the iron dice to go to war, so many unpredictable things can happen. You better go to war for the right reasons.”

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