Why the Iraqi Resistance to the Coalition Invasion Was So Weak

  • Published

Why the Iraqi Resistance to the Coalition Invasion Was So Weak by Stephen T. Hosmer. RAND, 2007, 176 pp.

Maj Gen Robert Scales told Congress that as commander of the 3rd Infantry Division he “knew where every enemy tank was dug in,” however, “my soldiers had to fight fanatics charging on foot or in pickups and firing AK-47s and RPGs. I had perfect situational awareness. What I lacked was cultural awareness. Great technical intelligence . . . wrong enemy.”

Stephen T. Hosmer’s book helps answer questions raised by combatants, planners, policy makers, and the public. Though not a cultural monograph, Hosmer’s nearly 40 years’ experience with military analysis provides a thorough backgrounder that explains Iraqi pre-invasion thinking that led to a sporadic and ineffectual response to Coalition forces. His reliance on information from former senior Iraqi leaders, to include a number of “high value detainees,” increases the depth and reliability of this work.

Clearly, the poor showing of the Iraqi military seemed incomprehensible at first. Iraqis left major invasion routes lightly defended while squandering untold ill-trained, irregular forces on suicidal attacks against armored units. While coalition forces lost less than 300 personnel, Iraqis lost tens of thousands, mostly from the Fedayeen and other irregular forces. Most of the nearly 700,000 Iraqi military members did their best to stay out of the fight. But why? Hosmer lays the blame at the feet of Saddam Hussein and the climate he created. As a leader who ruled by fear and centralized the decision-making process upon himself, Hussein created a power structure whose members lied rather than suffer and saw little reason to sacrifice themselves in fighting an enemy that was no worse than their own government. Thus, the highly mobile, lethal, and remarkably coordinated Coalition forces met a demoralized Iraqi military with poor equipment, poor coordination, and even poorer training than it had during Desert Storm.

Hosmer paints a picture of a Saddam whose overweening self-confidence received regular nursing from sycophantic advisors who embellished on lies passed to them by subordinates. Hosmer shows Saddam and his advisors to be ignorant of international and military affairs as well as uninformed about many internal matters. He bolsters this view by recapping past Iraqi blunders made in negotiating and fighting with Iran, the Gulf States, the United States, and others. Fundamentally, Saddam planned for a war of words with the United States, with only a remote chance of an invasion. Even if an invasion were to occur, Saddam expected it to be limited and curbed by the infliction of unacceptable casualties on the US forces. Even then, he saw little reason to expect the United States to overthrow him.

In his concluding remarks, Hosmer reminds readers that few enduring lessons should be drawn from Iraq. Given that some have already tried to package the light and fast invasion of Iraq as a model for future operations, his warning merits careful consideration. Although the lightning-fast invasion proved relatively inexpensive, maintaining the peace demanded payment with interest in terms of human life. Though Iraq’s crippled command and control system failed to direct a flaccid military, it did not stop some from continuing the battle in other ways with a fervor derived from other allegiances. These irregular warriors gained significant prewar armaments from Saddam. Follow-on supplies came from stockpiles that invasion forces failed to control. Regular military members, escaped convicts, and others slipped through Coalition lines and returned to familiar environs where they also bolstered the resistance.

Other factors added to the problems faced by Coalition forces as they transitioned to occupation duties. Hosmer reports unexpected looting and violence as well as the unwillingness of Iraqi leaders to support a post-Saddam government. There is no discussion of tribal, cultural, and societal factors that spurred these actions. Further, Hosmer makes no recommendation on how to handle such concerns but cautions that future planners should try to deal with these and other problems.

The greatest strength of this work comes in its succinct accounting drawn from Iraqi sources, yet it has its weaknesses. Its failure to account for general cultural factors, specific Iraqi societal factors, and some of its recent history leaves some questions incompletely, if not incorrectly, answered. For example, Hosmer displays incredulity at the degree to which Saddam seemed ignorant of US intentions. However, past experience with Saddam shows a pattern of mirror imaging. Leadership failures often come from expecting an enemy to act just as you would. What do we know of Saddam’s thinking? He believed himself too important to remove from power. He was the buffer against the Iranian Shiites. Likewise, Saddam knew from past dealings that the United States also saw his regime as a key buffer to Iranian machinations. Though the United States also sought to curb him, his thinking was not wholly irrational. In the wake of the invasion, Sunnis have shown a growing fear of the Persians, and even more so the Shii, with talk of a growing Shii crescent punctuating their conversations. Likewise, severe measures have been necessary to curb Iranian involvement in Iraq itself. Nevertheless, this book serves as a useful primer that sheds light on key elements of Operation Iraqi Freedom that should inform laymen and planners alike.

Col Brett E. Morris, USAF

Air Command and Staff College

"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."