On March 20, 2003, an event took place that would forever change global history and create a lasting impact for generations to come. It was on that date coalition forces initiated “Operation Iraqi Freedom”. At the end of December 2011, a term of eight years, nine months and eleven days will have passed, as operations currently known as Operation New Dawn, will formally end.
The Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) and subsequent referenda between the United States and the Iraqi government designates December 31, 2011 as the last day of operations in Iraq. The war that arrived roaring like a ferocious lion, or as the official catchphrase poetically euphemized “shock and awe”, leaves like a lamb.
Were military operations within the borders of Iraq successful? How does one measure military success during this, the 21st century? What were our defined objectives in Iraq? To address, intelligibly, these questions; one must glance backward.
During the months preceding these initial events, an enraged nation, 18-months fresh from September 11, sat poised for an alternative action through which to funnel their collective rage. The Afghanistan War, or Operation Enduring Freedom, started on October 7, 2001, did little to appease the bloodlust of a nation, ad manes fratrum, as U.S. forces conducted operations in the barren mountainous regions of a forgotten land. The International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) secured Kabul by year’s end.
In essence, military action in Afghanistan introduced the world to a new form of warfare as the military’s focus fell upon a terror group and members contained therein and not exclusively on a nation-state per se.
Historically, wars erupted over issues such as territorial disputes and partitioning of land rights, over religion. The twentieth-century saw the advent of wars waged on the premise of political ideology. The twenty-first century brought us the war on terrorism.
On a side but related note of much greater significance, it would be the first step in an Orwellian process wherein one could and would be accountable, at times mortally, for one’s thoughts. Logic dictates that military successes more oft occur not as a reactive response, or after the fact; but through preemption and proactive measures.
“Terrorist”, an ambivalent and relative term, served as a template by which active profiling developed. Military personnel and civilians alike sought out, identified suspicious persons and/or behavior. In some bizarre and twisted re-dramatization of the Crucible, neighbor watched neighbor and, at times, took preemptive measures through violence against those who fit this profile. The latter implicitly suggests that one must ascertain another’s thoughts and motives sans any terrorist acts committed.
Thus, we found ourselves in Afghanistan at war with an ill-defined enemy. Incidentally, it was an enemy [in many cases] who carried U.S. supplied armaments and, during the Soviet-Afghan conflict of the 70’s, was accounted heroic.
As a nation, we struggled for understanding in light of this new form of combat. Questions were asked and sometimes not for fear of being labeled a traitor.
Were military actions within the Afghan border enough of a sacrificial rite as to appease the groaning shadows of our brothers and sisters lost? What are the benchmarks for such military actions? How does one measure victory? Questions such as these haunted a wounded nation, a nation that sought solace in vengeance.
We, as a nation, required a villain. Not just any villain would suffice; we needed one that harkened back to a not so distant era, one that would appease our chronic case of nostalgic idealism, and one that we could rally against as a nation, as a world. We found that villain in Saddam Hussein.
Saddam Hussein remained just below the surface of the global community’s collective consciousness. Hussein’s antagonistic actions and non-compliance regarding U.N. resolutions resulted in strategic bombing raids within the Iraq borders. This action was known as Operation Desert Fox (December 1998).
In 2002, the 107th U.S. Congress struggled with issues surrounding Joint Resolution 45 concerning Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF). One year, one month following September 11th, 2001, Senatorial Amendment 4856 authorized the U.S. Executive branch to use military action in the case of Iraq without prior congressional assent.
“Authorizes the President to use all appropriate means, including force, to enforce United Nations Security Council Resolutions concerning Iraq, defend U.S. national security interests against the threat posed by Iraq, and restore international peace and security in the region”.
On February 5, 2003, then U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell presented WMD evidence to the UN Security Council urging that military action against Iraq was necessary and sufficient to provide safety and security for the global community. “Evidence” that would later prove as props in an Absurd political theater.
During a 2005 interview on ABC, Powell referred to the 2003 UN presentation as a “blot on his record”. As recent as 2011, Powell still demanded answers from CIA officials as to where this false information originated.
It was further noted that former UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter, based on his former work as a UN weapons inspector, publicly denounced the WMD findings as false. Ritter’s prophetic objections to CIA findings were later confirmed by a2003 report published by the Iraq Survey Group (ISG).
Other justifications for the Iraq invasion included Saddam Hussein’s ties to September 11th, Hussein harboring Al-Qaeda terrorist groups, Iraqi human rights abuses and Iraq’s need for a democratic government.
Several former Bush administration officials have since come out to either recant previous statement or admitted that no evidence existed in support of allegations concerning Hussein harboring Al-Qaeda terrorist groups.
It was a nation truly divided as those radically opposed to military action alleged profiteering by lead government officials as the motive behind said action, while further suggesting that on-going governmental support being a product of a quasi-plutocratic political entity.
Eight and a half years following the initial invasion, more questions than answers surround this event. In order to discover our own understanding, we should examine the stated objectives of this action.
End the Hussein regime was the first objective. The hanging of Saddam Hussein on December 30, 2006, provided the final exclamation point on this objective.
Eliminate whatever weapons of mass destruction found was the second objective. No WMD’s were ever actually located. Therefore, this objective ended successfully and, may I say, effortlessly.
Eliminate whatever militants found. As a stated objective, it is a goal without end. Lessened perhaps, but never eliminated.
Another stated objective was to obtain intelligence on militant networks. As with the previous objective, this goal is ongoing with little hope of being completely satisfied.
As far as distribution of humanitarian aid; USAID has been a major partner in the United States Government's (USG) reconstruction and development effort in Iraq. Since March 2003, USAID has invested approximately $6.6 billion on programs designed to stabilize communities; foster economic and agricultural growth; and build the capacity of the national, local, and provincial governments to represent and respond to the needs of the Iraqi people.
The objective of securing Iraq's petroleum infrastructure is a precipitous and politically dangerous path to blaze. The U.S. Government’s position remains to create an infrastructure administered over by Iraqi officials. Any further action by U.S. contractors and the Oil Ministry will be solely the undertaking of the latter entity. Such a measure allows the U.S. Government to remain a disinterested third party.
Ostensibly, we maintain a checks and balance system as the Office of Inspector General monitors U.S. industries involvement in the restoration process.
The new Iraq government objective was to increase production from existing oil and gas fields (brown fields) and exploring the possibilities of creating new fields (green fields). On October 13, 2008, the Iraqi Minister of Oil (MoO) Shahristani announced a bidding process for longer-term brown field technical service agreements or TSA’s.
Seven American contractors are among firms prequalified to bid for contracts. The U.S. Government’s official posture is to approve of such TSAs. The Office of Inspector General or OIG concluded that this is not formalized policy, per se, but it is the position communicated to the Iraqi Government. Likewise, if U.S. contractors inquire, the conveyance is a positive one.
The Department of Commerce routinely announced Government of Iraq plans to proceed with brown field TSAs. The OIG team believes such notification to be in keeping with the long-standing U.S. Government commitment to the concept of a level playing field for American firms bidding on international contracts. Likewise, endorsement of this TSA concept is not contrary to U.S. Government reservations concerning Kurdistan Regional Government production sharing agreements (PSAs).
As of November 2008, the Government of Iraq had not opened any process for IOC involvement in developing new areas (green fields) for exploration or exploitation, whether via TSAs or through PSAs.
There is a shared Iraqi-American perception that eventual, optimal development of Iraq’s vast petroleum potential will necessitate sizeable foreign involvement in terms of both capital investment and technical assistance.
The U.S. Government and major contractors believe such foreign participation will emerge only after a clear legal regime (namely, passage of a national HCL package) is in place and demonstrates some political stability.
Thus far, we have examined the past state of affairs as compared to the present. We also examined the primary objectives of military action and their respective outcomes. Yet, have we formed a definitive answer to the original question as to the overall success to our military actions?
One topic avoided to this point is both the financial and human cost to this action. It is regrettable and reprehensible to place human and financial costs in the same assessment. It is not of the same weight. The material costs that become fabled and mythic in the conception of its vastness can only pale in comparison with human cost and the sanctity of Life.
Recent figures by various sources often reference three phases of military involvement in Iraq. The first phase is that of the initial combat actions to April 27, 2005. Three groups including Iraqi Security Forces (ISF), civilian population and coalition forces are represented. During this initial phase, esitmates suggest 587 ISF; 27,119 civilians and 1,764 coalition troops died. Collectively, the death toll for the first phase of the war is 29,470.
The second phase references reflects the time of the interim Shiite government that stretched from April 28, 2005 to August 18, 20010. During this phase, the following loss of life was noted: 7,789 ISF, 80,857 civilians and 2,972 coalition troops. Collectively, the death toll for this second phase of the war is 29,470.
Examination of the final phase extends from the removal of coalition combat troops on August 19, 2010 to the present. During this phase, the following loss of life was reported: 332 ISF, 2,464 civilians and 36 coalition troops. Collectively, the death toll for this second phase of the war is 2,832.
The human cost for the entire military operation is as follows: 8,708 ISF, 110,440 civilians and 4,772 coalition troops including 4,454 Americans troops. The total cost of life exceeded 123,920.
Please note that the above figures represent loss of life only and do not touch on people wounded in this action. That is a number estimated to exceed 135,000 people.
When holding up Operation Iraqi Freedom to cost/benefit analysis, one must begin with that which is primary or essential; that essential being human life. We must examine whether the six identified objectives of this military action were worthy of the sacrifice of human life, bearing in mind that Iraq had no involvement in September 11 nor were any weapons of mass destruction found.
Did we, in our fiery rage and unbridled passion, allow our elected officials to pass Senatorial Amendment 4856 that granted one man the power to exercise military action without prior congressional assent? In the future, will we have the capacity to recollect these days and not forego the democratic process or overstep the constitutional limitation of power as defined for the Executive branch? Only time will tell.
Image Contributed by Paris Kaye - William Bouguereau - Orestes Pursued by the Furies 1862