March 23, 2013

Letters to the editor: After 10 years, lessons of the Iraq war

March 19 (March 20, Baghdad time) marked 10 years since the start of the Iraq war. Some 4,500 American service members lost their lives, and more than 33,000 were wounded.

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A photo is attached to the back of the tombstone of Army 1st Lt. Thomas J. Brown, a casualty of the Iraq war, in Arlington National Cemetery. “The war had three unique phases, each requiring a change in political and military policies,” says a Marine veteran.

The Associated Press

It is important that we use this benchmark to reflect and learn from our successes and our failures and that America uses these experiences to better assist in future policies of wars to come.

As a Marine veteran who deployed twice to Iraq, in 2003 and in 2004, I have had firsthand experiences of some policies that worked and those that didn't.

It is important to recognize that the war had three unique phases, each requiring a change in political and military policies as the war progressed.

The first phase began with the initial crossover into Iraq and its engagement of Iraqi military forces, eventually leading to the toppling of Saddam Hussein's regime. America and its partners had won and the Iraqi citizens became free from the atrocities of an oppressive regime.

This was a war that America had experience with: It was a war between two military foes, and our top brass used proven military tactics to win.

Around late summer of 2003, America's military mission had changed into the fugitive apprehension of Saddam. Units became cross-trained, Marines were being used as occupational forces, and the National Guard units became part of the main force.

They were performing duties that they were not designed for, and in the process the unit's specialties became normality. Policies that worked in the past were not conforming to the needs of the time, lessons were learned and lives were sacrificed.

Eventually, the apprehension of Saddam led to the progression from fugitive apprehension to missions of peacekeeping, a role not normally suited for Marines and better suited for experienced peacekeepers such as the U.N.

Nevertheless, we answered the call; I hope our policymakers have listened.

Marshall Archer


In a 1988 essay published in my book "Musings of an Absentminded Gadfly," I wrote, "The state of continual war that Orwell described in '1984' proved to be his most accurate prediction. He referred to it as a tacit agreement between the superpowers ... that any actual fighting shall occur only in 'vague frontiers' ...

"These 'vague frontiers,' these third-world countries thus became pawns in the power politics of the superpowers, each claiming to be freeing those countries from the puppet dictatorships of the other, each claiming to be 'concerned' about the conditions there and getting involved only in order to give the country back to the people, and to halt the spread of the other's influence.

"Actually, both superpowers couldn't care less about those people and their living conditions. For once their confrontation with each other had moved on to another 'vague frontier' this one would be left devastated, with many of its people dead or homeless and its economy in shambles."

Today we see the devastation of Iraq, its infrastructure smashed, its services, food, water, electric, its schools, hospitals, libraries mere skeletons of their past splendor. There are close to a million dead, including 300,000 children, and 5 million Iraqis displaced.

The various factions within Iraq are presently at war with each other, bombing, attacking and counterattacking, with any peace quite out of the question, and with any possibility of all those many millions of displaced Iraqis returning to their former lives and homes not to be.

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