A brief look at Coalition Progress in Iraq

November 9, 2003

Contributed to Defense and the National Interest by Fabius Maximus, an amateur military historian.

What progress has the Coalition made in Iraq? Great progress, in many important areas. With our western passion for numbers, we have measured many aspects of our construction programs. The significance of these accomplishments, however, seems more difficult to determine.

Some things we can say with confidence, if not precision. See links at the bottom for more information.

  1. Local utilities now function at approximately pre-war levels in most of Iraq, with more improvements underway.

  2. The Coalition has established operating local governments throughout Iraq. These operate most smoothly in the Kurdish and Shiite regions. Public order appears restored in most areas outside of the “Sunni triangle.”

  3. Oil production has attained pre-war levels. Refinery operations also show considerable progress, as do exports thru southern Iraq ports. But Coalition officials no longer give confident and specific dates for the resumption of oil exports through the northern Iraq pipelines. Planning proceeds to greatly expand oil production over the next five years.

  4. Many Coalition-led efforts throughout Iraq have improved public infrastructure, such as schools and hospitals.

  5. The Coalition has begun to rebuild Iraq’s police, security, and military forces. Reports differ on the total numbers involved, and on their level of training. Important questions remain about their loyalty: At what point will they see Coalition forces as occupiers? To what degree have insurgent forces infiltrated these organizations?

Coalition reconstruction efforts have just begun. Much of the economy remains in ruins, with large numbers unemployed.

Intelligence and Tactics

Public sources tell us little about Coalition progress in developing effective intelligence and tactics. We have only fragments of news and opinion about Coalition activities and local reactions. Here’s an attempt at drawing a few reasonable conclusions.

What do we know of the enemy?

There are former regime members who want to disrupt the successes achieved here in the north," Major General David Petraeus, commander of the 101st Airborne Division, said. There are also "criminals ... who are willing to be guns for hire," in addition to "some foreigners who have come in small numbers and have been involved in this as well. Associated Press article, 11/9/03

His opinion deserves respect. But describing insurgents as bandits goes back to the Chinese revolution, and probably beyond. Perhaps natural bravado, but lack of respect for one’s opponents is a bad sign. Especially given their progress in achieving objectives and their growing tactic skills.

If they continue to develop at this rate, soon “insurgency” will no longer be a correct label. Per Webster’s: a condition of revolt against a government that is less than an organized revolution and that is not recognized as belligerency.

How have our tactics and intelligence adapted to the rapid evolution of the insurgency?

News reports like the following broad sweeps through Iraq towns and almost random displays of violence suggest little progress, and less useful intelligence.

Military in Iraq Deepens Resentment of US, Associated Press article: http://www.bayarea.com/mld/mercurynews/news/special_packages/iraq/7216013.htm

Worse, reports like these foreshadow a next (perhaps distant) phase for the insurgency where insurgents have effective control of some areas, into which only well-armed Coalition forces can penetrate.
“U.S. Grip Loosens in the Sunni Triangle” http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A14024-2003Nov7.html


What do Coalition successes mean in the context of Iraq culture, in a fourth generation war? At this point, public sources give more questions than answers.

Whose OODA loops run faster, the Coalition’s or the insurgents?

In the absence of a definite exit date for Coalition forces, with Iraq national leaders clearly subordinate to Coalition officials, what fraction of the Iraqi people consider the Coalition as occupiers?

If so, to what extent will they tolerate our presence in exchange for public order, improved material conditions, and greater personal freedom?  Also, as Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld asked in his famous 10/16 memo, to what extent does anger at Coalition security and military operations offset gains in other areas?

Links to most current US Department of Defense charts on various subjects:

Numbers of Coalition & friendly Iraq forces: http://www.defenselink.mil/news/Nov2003/031106-D-6570C-003.jpg

Reconstruction of Iraq government: http://www.defenselink.mil/news/Oct2003/031028-D-6570C-007.jpg

Iraq’s Health Care infrastructure: http://www.defenselink.mil/news/Oct2003/031028-D-6570C-005.jpg

Iraq’s Educational infrastructure: http://www.defenselink.mil/news/Oct2003/031028-D-6570C-004.jpg

Iraq’s electrical generation infrastructure: http://www.defenselink.mil/news/Oct2003/031028-D-6570C-002.jpg

Iraq’s economy: http://www.defenselink.mil/news/Oct2003/031028-D-6570C-008.jpg

Updates and additional information:  http://www.defenselink.mil/news

War in Iraq: New developments & implications, November 22, 2003

A one month follow-up to my September "posting":  October 31, 2003

How well are we doing in Iraq? How well is our opposition doing? September 22, 2003