Detailed Analysis of the Iraq War: 'A Masterful Work'

By Atkeson, Edward B. | Army, August 2004 | Go to article overview

Detailed Analysis of the Iraq War: 'A Masterful Work'


Atkeson, Edward B., Army


Detailed Analysis of the Iraq War: 'A Masterful Work' The Iraq War: Strategy, Tactics, and Military Lessons. Anthony H. Cordesman. The Center for Strategic and International Studies Press. 572 pages; maps; $25.

Once again Anthony Cordesman has provided the military community with an authoritative piece of work, detailing the initiatives and reactions of the participants in a war of novel dimensions. Unfortunately, the book was put to press in 2003, rendering the title somewhat misleading. While it covers the "strategy, tactics and military lessons" of the maneuver phase of the conflict in Iraq quite well, it does not make it to the subsequent months of guerrilla or asymmetrical warfare.

Particularly disappointing is the minimal mention of the U.S. 4th Infantry Division (4ID) (Mechanized), which did not close in theater until Baghdad had been overrun. In the littie space afforded to the 4ID, Cordesman expresses some criticism at the planning for the overall offensive, which envisioned a two-front war, with heavy ground forces driving on the enemy capital from both north and south. As he points out, the division had more advanced versions of the Ml tank and the M2 Bradley than other forces, and some 140 AH-64 Apache attack helicopters. Further, it was the most digitized division in the U.S. Army. he quotes senior American officers to the effect that the absence of this unit significantly "increased the risk in executing the battle plan."

Another disappointment is a rather narrow discussion of the weaknesses of American intelligence, at both the tactical and strategic levels. Again, this is less the fault of the author than of the schedule for publication. The great debates and investigations in Washington, D.C., and London over how thin was the reliability of information underpinning the very raison d'etre of the war (Iraqi possession of weapons of mass destruction and Saddam Hussein's connections with the al Qaeda organization) had not yet occurred.

With respect to the tactical and theater levels, the U.S. Department of Defense did not release its admissions of poor intelligence support for air strikes until June 2004. A number of strikes initially hailed as "shock and awe" operations to "decapitate" the Hussein regime also turned out to be based on information from unreliable sources. To his credit, in his 50-page chapter devoted to intelligence, Cordesman warns the reader that subsequent revelations would be possible. We can only hope that the author will continue his work to bring us his analysis of the trials of the coalition forces following the premature declaration of "mission accomplished" by the President of the United States in May 2003.

Nevertheless, this is an excellent book for professionals, drawn largely from the papers and pronouncements of the professionals who executed the war. It is not an easy read for historical dabblers, but excels as a reference work of clarity and analysis. Nor is it a document without candor in its assessments. For example, Cordesman writes, "The state of the Marine Corps' tactical intelligence collection is well behind the state of the art. Maneuver units have limited ability to see over the next hill, around the next corner or inside the next building. …

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