American reporting on Iraq focuses on the eternal now, such as the rise of ISIS or recent battles in Tikrit. Rarely is any context given to these events, and rarer still is any accounting of the costs of war (still rising) to the Iraqi people.
Let’s return to 2003 and the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Before the invasion, the U.S. Army War College accurately predicted what was to come. A report co-authored by Conrad C. Crane and W. Andrew Terrill warned that U.S. forces would have “to prevent Sunnis from fighting Shiites, secular Iraqis from fighting religious ones, returned Iraqi exiles from fighting non-exiles, Kurds from fighting Turkomans or establishing an independent state, tribes within all these groups from fighting one another, Turkey from invading from the north, Iran from invading from the east, and the defeated Iraqi army–which may be the only national institution that can keep the country from being ripped apart–from dissolving,” as summarized in “After Saddam,” a short article in “Primary Sources” in the Atlantic Monthly in June 2003.*
Read that last bit again: America’s military experts stated the Iraqi army had to be preserved so as to prevent Iraq from devolving into factionalism and chaos. So what did America’s proconsul for Iraq, L. Paul Bremer III, proceed to do when he took over in 2003? He dissolved the Iraqi army! Under the orders of the all-wise Bush Administration.
In a much longer article for the Atlantic Monthly, James Fallows detailed how the Bush Administration went “Blind into Baghdad” (January/February 2004). Fallows concluded that Bush/Cheney (and Rumsfeld/Wolfowitz) oversaw “a historic failure” in Iraq precisely because they “willfully” disregarded “a vast amount of expert planning.” Whether this was by design or not is still disputed, but one must recall Cheney’s rosy prediction that Iraqis would welcome U.S. troops as “liberators.”
Hubris is one explanation for such folly. Other commentators suggest a deliberate policy to destabilize Iraq. Whatever the case, the big winner of Iraq’s decline and near fall was Iran, followed by various forms of Islamic extremism that arose from the ashes of violence and civil war.
By the spring of 2004, as the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) headed by Bremer prepared to return “sovereignty” to the allegedly newly-democratic Iraq, American officials who hadn’t drunk the kool-aid recognized that civil war was coming. A friend of mine, an Army major, was at that time serving with the CPA in Baghdad. He wrote to me at the time that:
“The emperor has no clothes … corruption, private militias, insecurity, and coming civil war [in Iraq] is accepted as given amongst the CPA staff. The focus is on making some sort of transition on 30 June  to whatever ‘government’ we can get in place by then. Anything after 30 June is ‘we’ll get to that when we can.’ This whole operation is a train wreck waiting to happen, and the [Bush] administration simply refused to acknowledge it, much less do anything about it.”
Ominously, my friend concluded that “Even the Iraqis who welcomed us after Saddam [fell] have lost patience with us and are pursuing other routes to power and national control.” This was because the U.S. was throwing its support behind an Iraqi regime “which is seen as completely illegitimate by the people it’s supposed to rule in the name of democracy.”
In short, the CPA and Bush Administration were selling a lie in 2004, and they knew it. But Bush won reelection later that year, so who really cares if the U.S. lost, in the words of my friend, “serious credibility” in the region as a result?
For informed Americans not suffering from amnesia, the above narrative shouldn’t come as a total surprise. By its actions and inaction and lies, the Bush Administration brought endless civil war to Iraq. The U.S. essentially created the conditions for the rise of ISIS and similar extremist groups. But the U.S. media has cloaked this hard reality in a shroud of myths about the “decisive” Petraeus Surge of 2007 (really a temporary lull in the civil war) or various other “mission accomplished” moments promoted by both Bush and Obama.
Mission accomplished? A magnificent victory? Only if the “mission” was the dismantling of Iraq, and “victory” is measured by more and more war.
*The report, dated February 2003, was “Reconstructing Iraq: Insights, Challenges, and Missions for Military Forces in a Post-Conflict Scenario.”