The Fall of Tikrit, Mosul, and Some Thoughts on What it Means.

Updated: June 13, 2014


By RU Twisted

I spent most of 2009 in the Tikrit AO. What I saw then and how it applies to the recent news that Tikrit fell to al Qaeda may piss some people off, but it’s my honest assessment and it needs to be made.

I’m not surprised in the least.

Here’s the thing. I’ve said this since 2008 when I got to the Salah ad-Din Province and I will say it again now: it would not have mattered if we had pulled out in January of 2009, a year later, or a decade later—we would have seen the same results we are seeing right now.

This brings up several questions, responses, and emotion, of course. And as well it should—many men and women sweat and bled for that territory and now it all seems like a waste considering the state of things.

I don’t believe for a second that it was a waste, but I will get back to that in a moment. First the questions that immediately arise when hearing of news such as this, such as who’s at fault, could it have been prevented, and should we be doing anything about it now? alQaeda

Who is at fault? A lot of people are going to start screaming about Obama-this or Bush-that, but those are, at best, distractions. Implicit in this question is also the one of whether or not it could have been prevented, and to that I offer a resounding no.

Coalition Forces did the job. Of that there can be little question. But addressing the issue of whether or not this could have been prevented requires answering the question of what—if anything—could have been done to ensure a different outcome.

Was there some magical strategy that, if employed, would have guaranteed that the Iraqi people worked hard to secure their country against AQI and other threats? Was there a certain tactic that Coalition Forces should have used, but didn’t, to help foster a stable Iraq?

Furthermore, if these strategies were not employed—or, perhaps, employed but for not a long enough time frame—how long would it have taken for them to “stick”? In other words, was there a magical amount of time we needed to stay in order for it to work out perfectly?

The sad reality is that it never mattered how long we stayed past about 2008 (one could easily argue even earlier). We could have stayed another week, month, decade, or century; all we would have succeeded in doing the longer we stayed is spending more taxpayer dollars.

Argue with me if you will, but everyone I knew—from battalion commander down—who operated in the Tikrit AO (as well as the rest of Iraq) in 2009 said the same thing: it didn’t matter if we stayed another day or decade, the ultimate result would be the same. Iraq would be a state where “the strongest tribe” would rule the day and another Saddam-like despot would take power. I’ve simply never heard a solid argument as to how our presence there for any extended period of time would have changed that.

warpolitics-2I think one of the biggest problems regarding these questions is the fact that most people fear that an admittance of Iraq’s degraded state is somehow reflective of the United States military as a whole or its mission there. A great many people believe that if we say the state has failed that we are therefore implicating all those who served there as having fought for nothing.

Let me be very clear when I state this, for the record: I do not in any way associate the failures of Iraq as a safe place with the responsibility of the United States military, or the forces from other countries who lent their support. The men and women who put their lives on the line in places like Tikrit and Mosul can hold their heads high because they did their jobs and did them well. Insomuch that a military could succeed, ours did so with honor.

I can state this with confidence for two simple reasons.

One, no politician ever had a realistic, definable goal as to what “success” in Iraq would look like. “Democracy” was thrown out numerous times, but everyone who has spent more than five minutes talking to Iraqis knows that their definition of that word is wholly different than our own, as is the very concept of personal freedom.

Was it ever really possible to make a free, democratic Iraq? Not from a military perspective, no. We kicked the crap out of Saddam’s army, stayed around long enough to get torn up, and whupped ass on the guys who did that, too. But that doesn’t mean that the people who live and work in Iraq are willing to do what it takes to ensure that those victories have lasting meaning.

Two, the United States military and Coalition Forces proved that they fight for one another, even in the shittiest of circumstances. I can’t tell you how many people—both in the Officer Corps and NCOs alike—uttered the rhetorical question “what are we doing here…” only to go out, roll up their sleeves, and do the job anyway.

Some may argue that this is blind allegiance. I for one argue that it bred a whole generation of warfighters that now understand better than their leaders the true cost of war and what that means to our society as a whole.

Yes, there has been suffering; yes, we have lost too many. But no, it was not for nothing. The United States military proved once again that its true strength comes from its people, not its technology. That its power stems not from the best tanks or planes, but from individuals coming together as a brotherhood to accomplish a task as well as it can be done.

That the “leadership” in this country—both past and present—had a flawed sense of reality concerning different cultures and their own ability to turn a gift into a shit sandwich should in no way be considered a failure on the part of Coalition Forces. We did the absolute best we could with the situation—probably far surpassing what was previously believed possible, to be fair.

What will happen to Iraq? Will it fall into chaos and end up with Iran coming in to pull security? I don’t know, and frankly I don’t think it’s my place to know.

What my position does entail, however, is one of realistic commentary on what it was and what the possibilities were and still are. Can a military make a Middle Eastern country peaceful? Can a foreign power force democracy? Frankly, that’s not what militaries do—so why should it be surprising if it didn’t work in a place that apparently never wanted those things to begin with?

If you fought in Iraq, hold your head high. You worked to give the people there a better life. Don’t let it get you down that they couldn’t get off their asses to make the most of it.





  1. Cobalt Spider

    June 13, 2014 at 8:08 am

    I’ve served and would gladly serve again. Coalition operations in Iraq were carried out with professionalism and efficiency. We did our job as soldiers and served our country when called.

    That being said,the Iraqi people didn’t as us there. When we “liberated” them from Saddam, all they knew was brutal dictatorship. He kept power and peace thru killings and swift retribution of his enemies. IMHO, the elections were their form of “who wants to be the next dictator?” contest. Al-Malaki won and did nothing to build bridges and forge a democracy. He also couldn’t kill people, like in the old-days. His enemies grew bold.

    Our worldview is completely different. Here in America, we don’t cooperate among Republican / Democrat lines. We also don’t have death squads running around killing people when our side doesn’t win an election. The Iraqi people do. Reprisal killings are normal there. Have been for centuries. It’s a mess. You can’t undo a culture with soldiers. No matter how many you bring.

    Marginalize enough people in a terrorist-friendly country and you get ISIS to appear. Malakai filled the army with yes-men and paid relatives, you get what you get. They had the best gear and military trainers on the planet = OURS. Nobody had any loyalty. All that weaponry is useless when it’s lying on the ground next to a policeman who just pissed himself.

    We can’t babysit them forever. Eventually, when you leave self-destructive corrupt leaders in charge… they burn their own house down. Remember them asking us to leave? You went every last American troop gone?? Okay buddy. You’re in charge. Once the car leaves the dealership, they’re responsible if they wreck it.

    Going BACK into Iraq would be a mistake. No money, no weaponry, no food/medial aid. I sound cruel, but I’m practical. This would be the Military Equivalent of the Goldman-Sachs Bank Bailout. Remember that??


  2. James Black

    June 13, 2014 at 9:50 am

    I have a very interesting view of the Iraq war. When I was there the country had been liberated and there was a feeling of hope, even with the extreme pucker factor. And when I left Iraq I believed that in a few years (actually a couple decades) I could return to Iraq as a tourist or even an investor. But, now I don’t believe that is ever going to be a reality.

    As much as i WANT to disagree with Mr. Twisted and state that Iraq can be saved, i realize that his point is all too true and far too necessary. The US Military are hunters, we are the most successful when we are hunting down the enemies of our people and destroying them in their holes. When we went static in Iraq the dynamic changed. We were now in our holes, our adversaries knew where we were and could maneuver around us. The new mutated version of al Qaeda in Iraq are some slippery fish.

    The punks, now known as ISIS, couldn’t face us directly. So they worked to destabilize the country and create sectarian violence. By inciting a civil war they knew they would be able to warp any good that we had done in Iraq. They knew we would leave, and then when we did they could create their neo-facist / jihadist nation. The truth is that we are still not out of the fight, but the people we need to go after are not in Iraq. We know where they are but are too afraid to go hunting again, at least our politicians are too afraid.

  3. Allison

    June 13, 2014 at 10:17 am

    I agree with your first point – there was no true end point (and there isn’t in Afghanistan either; there are a bunch of moving goal posts there too). That being said, I don’t think the value of giving human lives can be summed up as “demonstrating our power to come together as a brotherhood to get (some undefined) job done”. If that’s what we call a military success, I have to say there is something very wrong with our military culture. That we have to give (and take) lives to prove that we, as a nation, can work together to accomplish objectives is a real problem.

    There are *literally* thousands of ways to demonstrate that which don’t cost us lives (both literally and figuratively, for the veterans we have created who will never be the same again). We do it every time we respond to natural or man-made disasters.

    No one doubts the ability of our military to work together to accomplish an objective. If that’s all Iraq proved, which is your benchmark for “success”, you should really look at redefining your benchmarks.

    • Mr. Twisted

      June 13, 2014 at 10:52 am


      Thanks for the comment.

      My point is not that we should use military success to define success as a country necessarily, but rather that, in this situation, the men and women in the US Military should not feel that their efforts were in vain simply because political forces had unrealistic goals to begin with.

      I agree wholeheartedly with your statement that there are numerous ways to demonstrate our greatness; that is unquestionable. This piece was not intended to address the topic of whether or not the Iraq war was itself justifiable or the right thing to do. It’s premise was accepting that it happened whether we like it or not, and the outcome would have been the same had we left two years ago or two decades from now, but that Coalition Forces did everything they could and can still consider that honorable.

      The military was successful in all that it could have been successful in. That the people of Iraq couldn’t make the most of that success or that we should/shouldn’t have been there to begin with falls outside the parameters of our military doing its job.

      • Cobalt Spider

        June 16, 2014 at 7:54 am

        I agree Twisted. Grunts don’t build water lines and electrical grids. Nation building is done thru citizens working together. Nation destroying is done thru Soldiers.

        It sucks that our politicians feel the need to use our military to clean up and repair all the countries our leadership has felt the need to destroy and occupy. Roll in. Wreck shit. Roll out.

        You can’t teach unfriendly people how to cooperate and treat each other with common respect using predator drones and bayonets. A crying shame when our army is forced to play translator and policeman to another country for a period of 10 years. You need 10 hours to secure an objective? Yep. We got our guys. You needs 10 days to topple a government? Okay. If Congress agrees and the American people feel strongly. You want 10 weeks to showboat? Meh. That’s when we lose focus gentlemen. War isn’t your re-election strategy. I am not your RISK piece to shuffle around the globe. Politics isn’t a game to those of us who have known deployment during wartime.

  4. Bill Metts

    June 13, 2014 at 10:40 am

    ISIL – who are these guys? Well, they are the experienced Iraqi military (who were a lot better than the current IA leadership), Sunnis, who have been marginalized under the Maliki regime. Partitioning was always the best solution for Iraq. Shia in the South, Karbala and Najaf and half of Al-Kut and everything south. Put the new government in Basra, or even Nasariyah. The Sunnis are going to be coming home – to central Iraq, including Baghdad. The Kurds got a GREAT deal out of this, namely Kirkuk and most likely Mosul, although the Sunni could theoretically make that a shared city. The bottom line is that these are Iraqis taking back their country, without US/Iran/China/Russia/EU/Latvian or any other “supporting forces.” In some ways these men are patriots, in the US sense! Look – violence and war are horrible to the population, but look at what this country endured just last year! With no relief in sight! ISIL will be through Baghdad before I go to work on Monday. Everyone needs to stay the hell out of it, and let the Iraqis FINALLY decide how THEY want to live. My two cents.

  5. leftoftheboom

    June 13, 2014 at 5:59 pm

    There was no real chance for stability. People are often unaware that Saddam played the tribal tentions against each other very well. He did not allow military to serve near their own tribe thus insuring they would obey if ordered against the local populace.

    Without replicating the rule by fear and brutality, something America would never accept or understand, the entire construct would come crashing down.

    We know this from our own history. We used one Indian tribe to help hunt down others but never against their own.

    But the bottom line, we killed many who would have been available elsewhere without the war and we taught our next generation the skills and perils of war.

  6. Randy Turner

    June 14, 2014 at 12:39 am

    As a former grunt (1/75) and a C130 pilot who deployed for almost everything since 1980, I look at history. “Charlie Wilson’s War,” post-Desert Storm, Mogadishu, etc. all have something in common; our future enemies perceived us as being unreliable and spineless. Von Clausewitz said “War is an extension of the political process” but I suspect it was foreign policy he was speaking of and not domestic politics. The last time we had a President who had really smelled the smoke was Teddy Roosevelt, though Eisenhower was close. What’s the point, you ask?

    We keep setting ourselves up. We make commitments that we as a country fail to follow through on. I figured if you wanted to really change the culture in Afghan cities we’d need to occupy that country for five generations. If you did that in Iraq it would be the biggest welfare state on the planet but the oil fields would employ 90% of the TCNs in the region. Someone who has been there, done that might have a different perspective on these foreign entanglements. One not based on the series “Band of Brothers” where when you take the town everyone falls in line but rather understands you will never buy these peoples’ gratitude or loyalty. You will never get them to like us and they will never understand our government nor our way of life.

    Next time, do the Israeli-style surgical ass-kicking and leave. Not the cruise missile pin-prick but the “I turned your base into a smokin’ hole” type. Let Assad and Saddam and Qadaffi keep the nut-jobs under their thumb and off our backs. 13 freaking years there and we didn’t have humint resources to warn us what was going on. Get dirty, take the gloves off and let the public find out about us kicking someone’s ass when they turn on the morning news. And for God’s sake quit using US military lives for political votes.

    Just elect a grunt…other than Hagel, I mean.

  7. Raymond Brown

    June 19, 2014 at 7:49 pm

    In April, 1975 I sat on my couch and watched the TV news as the NVA in their Soviet tanks broke through the gates at the Presidential Palace in Saigon ( on the very same ground where I stood 6 years prior and took a picture of the Palace ) and hoisted the NVA flag above the Palace. I felt as though something had been stolen from me personally. 58,300 dead, 15 years of fighting, billions of dollars spent, turmoil & unrest in the USA, and for what???? My life was changed forever by that war and now I was watching it go under in the comfort of my living room. I know how you Iraqi vets feel; believe me I do. We need all USA wars fought by the likes of US Grant and William T Sherman who knew what it meant to not only defeat the enemy, but to punish them, as well, for having the audacity to even think of challenging the mighty United States of America. Unconditional Surrender, by God!!!

  8. Murphy

    June 24, 2014 at 12:33 am

    I find the entire situation to be an excellent political argument for a Mattis/McRaven ticket in 2016.

    But in the world we live in, I find the points you make to at least give me some logical thoughts to ponder while I sit at home and hope the Kurds finally get something worth all the dying they been doing.
    Thanks, Twist.

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