Iraq War, Surge

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For more information, see: Iraq War, insurgency.

President George W. Bush, on January 10, 2007, announced that the US would surge at least 20,000 additional troops to Iraq, to improve security in the Baghdad to a point where the remaining Iraqi Security Forces could control violence from Iraqi sects and foreign sources. [1] Intended to be more policing and engaging directly with the people, the approach was "population-centric" rather than "enemy-centric."[2]

Thomas Ricks described the surge as demonstrating a new humility in the US approach to the war. Emphasizing how much of a change it was, he said "With the advent of the surge, the Army effectively turned the war over to its internal dissidents."[3] General David Petraeus took command after being deeply involved in a writing a counterinsurgency manual,[4] the guidelines of which were not followed in the first year of the war. Ricks says Ambassador Ryan Crocker "reveals in my book that he had essentially opposed the original invasion of Iraq."


Linda Robinson, a journalist and author, was invited to discuss the general situation with the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College. While her talk focused on the surge, she said it was necessary to set a context, and began by saying that the insurgency was caused by the early decisions of the US Coalition Provisional Authority for de-Ba'athification and disbanding of the Iraqi military. While an insurgency was already in progress January 2005, the next contributor was having an election that was boycotted by the Sunni community. This election created the body that would write the constitution. Ambassador Zalmay Khalizad made an "agreement was made that there would be constitutional revisions considered and implicitly a guarantee that some at least would be adopted within four months of the seating of the new parliament. And that agreement was never honored, still has not been to this day."[5]

How had this come about? By 2005, the U.S. was in serious danger of a major loss in Iraq, [6] and entered a serious reexamination of its approach. Core to this reexamination was the advice of GEN (ret.) Jack Keane, who retired after his term as Vice Chief of Staff of the Army, declining promotion to Chief of Staff due to obligations to a sick wife. Nevertheless, Keane took a near-unprecedented role as a retired general who did not become a civilian leader such as George C. Marshall or Colin Powell.

Andrew Krepinevich had written, in Foreign Affairs, about a needed strategy.

On the political front, they have been working to create a

democratic Iraq, but that is a goal, not a strategy. On the military front, they have sought to train Iraqi security forces and turn the war over to them. As President George W. Bush has stated, "Our strategy can be summed up this way: as the Iraqis stand up, we will stand down." But the president is describing a withdrawal plan rather than a strategy...Instead of a timetable for withdrawal, the United States needs a real strategy built around the principles of counterinsurgency warfare...Rather than focusing on killing insurgents, they should concentrate on providing security and opportunity to the Iraqi people, thereby denying insurgents the popular support they need. Since the U.S. and Iraqi armies cannot guarantee security to all of Iraq simultaneously, they should start by focusing on certain key areas and then, over time, broadening the effort -- hence the image of an expanding oil spot.


As much as any one event, the shock that forced the reexamination was the Second Battle of Haditha in November 2005. Keane had first been alarmed by certain reports of civilian casualties, which suggested indiscipline among troops and a breakdown in the chain of command. Linda Robinson, in her book, puts the breakdown earlier, with the Coalition Provisional Authority and the missteps of L. Paul Bremer, and attempts at damage control. [8]

Robinson and Ricks, as well as many others, that Bremer's acts were part of the problem. Bremer was replaced by John Negroponte, who wanted to leave within six months. Negroponte was relieved by Zalmay Khalizad, who was originally to have been co-envoy with Bremer; Khalizad had a much more nuanced sense of Iraqi politics, and, in the summer of 2005, managed to salvage something from the upcoming elections. The first Prime Minister of Iraq, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, eventually stepped aside for Nouri al-Maliki, better able to deal with the situation. George W. Bush liked Maliki and dealt with him directly, undercutting Khalizad's ability to pressure him. Rob Richer, Chief of the Central Intelligence Agency Middle East Division, said there was plenty of blame to distribute, but also cites Condaleeza Rice as insisting on American-style democracy too soon, and the infant democracy was not able to deal with armed sectarian leaders.

Problems in field command

After the Iraq War, major combat phase, field command had been given to LTG Ricardo Sanchez. There is little question that he was not given the resources even to begin a serious security, not much more that he and Bremer were co-equal and barely on speaking terms, and some argument that Sanchez was not the imaginative leader needed there, or that it was simply the wrong assignment for him and he would have done much better elsewhere. His headquarters, eventually called Multi-National Corps-Iraq (MNC-I) was not staffed to run a national campaign.

The Abu Ghraib prison scandal broke under Sanchez, and the four-star headquarters that should have been present all along, Multi-National Force-Iraq (MNF-I), was created under GEN George Casey. MNC-I went back to the tactical role for which it was designed.

Casey was considered a thoughtful officer, better equipped by rank, experience, and personality to work the channels of power in the Army. Still, he was an essentially conventional officer with little grasp of counterinsurgency. [9]

Not without difficulty, a sense arouse that then LTG-David Petraeus was the right MNF-I commander. As a division commander in Iraq, he had what was widely agreed as the most effective counterinsurgency campaign, which may have caused some resentment. In the Army culture, his doctorate in international relations may have been a detriment in some eyes, as was his ability to relate well to politicians and journalists. Ricks suggests that his extreme physical fitness may have been one of his saving graces; he was the only soldier ever to be first at both the Command and General Staff College and the Ranger School.

Petraeus also came from the wrong "mafia" in the Army. He was a "lightfighter" from airborne and light infantry troops, where Tommy Franks, Ricardo Sanchez, and David McKiernan were from the "heavy" side of mechanized infantry and tanks. From the standpoint of personality, he is demanding of all, including himself, and described as hard to know.

It was, however, his force of will that led Chief of Staff GEN Peter Schoomaker, himself from the light infantry side and special operations, to select him to take command in 2007. [10]

An alternate view

In the drug wars in Colombia, there is a saying, "plomo o plata (lead or silver)" which means take the silver of a bribe, or take a bullet if one does not cooperate. Silver and gold, however, are legitimate weapons when thinking in terms of grand strategy, since economic warfare is another means of exerting national power. Petraeus was able to make use of silver in dealing with some of the insurgents, and critics of the surge say that was more of a decisive factor than his counterinsurgency methods.

LTC Gian Gentile, a critic of Petraeus and counterinsurgency who commanded 8/10 Reconnaissance Squadron in Baghdad in 2006, wrote, in a New York Times op-ed, that the major differences between 2006 and 2007 were:[11]

  • "a decision by senior American leaders in 2007 to pay large amounts of money to Sunni insurgents to stop attacking Americans and join the fight against Al Qaeda.
  • the decision by the Shiite militia leader, Moqtada al-Sadr, to refrain from attacking coalition forces
  • the separation of rival factions in Baghdad stemming from sectarian cleansing in 2006-2007[12]

GEN (ret.) John Abizaid, and Petraeus adviser Stephen Biddle, also agree that the changes in Sunni loyalty, for whatever reasons, were the most important reason for change in 2007. As Gentile put it, "The dramatic drop in violence, especially toward Americans, that occurred in Baghdad from June to July 2007 can mainly be explained by these new conditions. If they had not been in place, the increased number of American troops using the so-called new counterinsurgency methods would have continued to take horrendous losses, and the country would still be racked by higher levels of violence."[11] Gentile is critical that the U.S. Army is embracing the FM 3-24 Counterinsurgency doctrine as the answer to all situations, as it earlier embraced the FM3-0 Operations series focused on maneuver warfare, and, indeed, as the Royal Navy fossilized with Horatio Nelson's Fighting Instructions optimized for the Battle of Trafalgar.

Ricks describes Petraeus gambling on "turning parts of the Sunni insurgency...going behind the back of the Baghdad government to put its enemies on the American payroll...when asked how he had gotten the President to agree to the program, he indicated he hadn't asked Bush about it. 'I don't think it was something we needed to ask permission for. We had the authority to conduct what are called security contracts, and that is how we saw be truthful, we didn't see it growing to 103,000.'" That meant 103,000 additional soldiers, or at least non-enemies, costing $30 million per month at its peak, a fraction of what U.S. operations cost for a few hours." Bush later spoke with approval about the Sunni allies, when visiting Anbar Province in September 2007: "In Anbar, you're seeing firsthand the dramatic differences that can come when the Iraqis are more secure. You see Sunnis, who once fought side by side with al Qaeda against coalition troops, now fighting side by side with coalition troops against al Qaeda." Petraeus estimated "The projection is that some 20 percent to 30 percent of those serving in the concerned local citizen groups will eventually be incorporated in the Iraqi police or the army." [13]

The practice began before the surge, with operations in Anbar Province, which Petraeus said "reached critical mass in Ramadi and set off a chain reaction up the Euphrates Valley." The new militias were allies of the Americans, not necessarily the national government. Ricks called it a "second marriage for both sides"; the Americans not quite divorced from the Shiite-dominated government, but at least separated. The Sunnis had, however, broken with Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), and referred to themselves as the "Sunni Awakening". [14]


The Surge was a campaign, ordered by GEN David Petraeus, the senior commander of coalition forces in Iraq (Multi-National Force-Iraq) and Ambassador Ryan Crocker. Planning was by a Joint Strategic Assessment Team led by COL Peter Mansoor, COL H. R. McMaster (U.S. Army) and David Pearce (U.S. State Department); David Kilcullen was a counterinsurgency adviser to Petraeus.

Five major recommendations came from the JSAT: [15]

  1. Politically, seek cease-fire arrangements with individual groups or key actors
  2. Militarily, protect the population and attack those who would not negotiate
  3. Engage in active regional diplomacy
  4. Build government capacity
  5. Using the authority of the UN if necessary, remove those government members who would engage in Islamic sectarian conflict

The JSAT also recommended a large expansion of Iraqi Security Forces, including adding at least 170,000 Iraqi Army troops to replace the departing American personnel.

Concept of military operations

The JSAT urged unity of command: fusing the military and civilian pacification forces, much as the U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam headed all U.S. organizations in the Vietnam War. Petraeus accepted a modified version, with fusion at the lower levels. All advisors to Iraqi battalions were put under the control of the local U.S. brigade. Each Provincial Reconstruction Team, who worked with police and other nonmilitary units, also reported to the brigades.

Operational control would be under Multi-National Corps-Iraq, under LTG Ray Odierno, with initial Baghdad tactical operations under a force built around the 3rd Infantry Division. Odierno had been a division commander in Iraq previously, and some had questioned his ability to deal well with civilians. When he was promoted to LTG, however, his new assignments in the U.S. gave him a broader perspective, and he also credits sound advice from his civilian political adviser, Emma Sky.

The surge force soon evolved to add Multi-National Division-Baghdad, built around the 1st Cavalry Division, commanded by MG Joseph Fil. Fil would focus on the "big-picture" issues, while his deputy commanding general for maneuver, BG John F. Campbell, would direct combat operations.

One of Fil's mottos was "we are very good at clearing areas, but that does not count for anything unless you hold it afterward." He would quantify this in September: "The four categories that we track as we progress through the evolution of security in the city is, first of all, disruption, then clearance, followed by a control phase, and then finally, retain, which is the one in which Iraqi security forces are primarily in the lead. We started off with 70 percent of them in disruption, and about 21 percent of them in clearance last February. We're now down to about 16 percent in disruption and about 30 percent that remain in clearance. But the number in control and retain now are, of the 474 muhallas in Baghdad, well over 250 of them are in control and retain, some 56 percent."[16]

By treating the problem as population-centric, several axioms come into play:[17]

  • "An insurgent enemy needs the people to act in certain ways"
  • "The enemy is fluid, but the population is fixed"
  • "Being fluid, the enemy can control his loss rate and therefore can never be eradicated by purely enemy-centric means."
  • "The enemy may not be identifiable, but the population is."

American infantry in the Baghdad area, prior to the surge, tended to operate in larger units, often supporting Special Operations forces making raids on time-sensitive enemy targets. As the surge began, the emphasis changed to a combination of patrolling, often on foot, and manning security outposts among the population. The US troops partnered with Iraqis, both from the army and police, but also local tribal or other authorities.

Insurgent tactics continued to become more deadly. Grenades were met with grenade shields, followed by heavier roadside bombs. They began to use armored Bradley fighting vehicles, mixed with or replacing HMMWVs; the Bradleys were met with very large bomb using explosives packed into sewers, or explosively formed projectiles.

In February and March 2007, the insurgents experimented with chemical warfare, adding chlorine tanks to bombs. In Baghdad, a car was waved through a checkpoint because there were children in the back seat; the suicide bomb driver detonated it with the children inside.[18]

Political pragmatism

Petraeus sought a balance among the pressure for results from Washington, the bold steps recommended by the JSAT to break through national-level Iraqi political impasses and the realities that it was unlikely to solve that national puzzle in a reasonable time. His Joint Campaign Plan defined what seemed possible, as a series of concentric circles: [19]

  1. Local security: the combination of police, military, political, economic and diplomatic measures that stabilized provinces, cities, or, if nothing else, neighborhoods. Deals would be made. Jobs programs and infrastructure repairs would incentivize demobilization, while local leaders would have real involvement in governance. This was seen as possible between late 2007 and mid 2008
  2. Sustainable security, achievable by June 2009, spread the local operations all over the country.
  3. National reconciliation had no date, but was "generational."

Petraeus' intelligence officer, Derek Harvey, was not overly optimistic, but saw positives in the cooperation between Crocker and Petraeus, and a growing moderation in the Shi'a ISCI (formerly SCIRI) faction under Vice-President Adil Abd al-Mahdi. Harvey also, at long last, had adequate intelligence analysis support at the Defense Intelligence Agency. He saw the chances of success as one in three.

Senator John McCain and a Congressional delegation visited on April 1, and he offered "cautious, very cautious optimism...we've made tremendous mistakes, but we're finally getting it right. And is it too little, too late? I don't know, but I don't think so." His visit was controversial, since he was a Presidential candidate, and he saw Baghdad through the filter of intense security protection. [20]

On "Black Thursday", April 12, three retired generals gave "no confidence" votes by refusing the offer to coordinate Iraq policy in the White House. That same day, Secretary Gates announced a "stop-loss" policy, extending 12 month unit tours to 15 months. In Iraq, there were a number of major bombings, including the Parliament building in the protected Green Zone.

In May 2007, four factions of Jaish al-Mahdi were fighting one another in a Baghdad neighborhood. Ricks quoted Kilcullen as saying that the U.S. command sent a message to "JAM Central" in Najaf to deal with it, and "because we treated them as the authority, they cleaned it up."

Gates announced, in June, that he would not renominate Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Peter Pace and Vice Chairman Edmund Giambastini, both of whom had been close to Donald Rumsfeld. It was yet another signal of a change in direction.

LTC James Crider commanded 1/4 Cavalry, a reconnaissance battalion, which came to the Baghdad area in June 2007, as part of one of the surge brigades, 4th BCT of the 1st Cavalry Division. It changed its approach from training Iraqi Security Forces to dealing directly with Iraqi citizens, forming relationships in the Doura Farms area of South Baghdad. He also controlled the National Police, which was perceived as little more than a Shi'ite militia. [21]

Ricks wrote the March to June period reflected a slow turning: "Every day, American troops found that more Iraqis were beginning to talk to them." They were able to act faster on better intelligence. They also found that Iraqi units partnered with U.S. troops felt more capable. He also pointed to technical improvements: small tactical outposts worked better because the commanders of 2007 had far more drones for surveillance. While few details were available, much credit was given to a signals intelligence operation led by LT Jen Koch Easterly. [22]

Field Operations

In contrast to Casey, Petraeus made as much public information available as possible, and personally met with Iraqis, accompanied by reporters. Political dealings and Petraeus' visibility also bought time while the five Surge brigades arrived and readied for operations in mid-June.

Operation Phantom Thunder launched first, in the areas outside Baghdad and Diyala, with the intention not of defeating the insurgent groups but driving them away from the cities. As regular units continued to pursue in the subsequent Operation Phantom Strike, Joint Special Operations Command units struck against high-value targets.

While urban troops had taken heavy casualties in April and May, the surge forces were ready to start in August.

Baghdad area

Many of the ideas for the Baghdad security drive came from an article, coauthored by LTC Doug Ollivant, intelligence officer of the 1st Cavalry Division at the time of the surge. [23] It recommended that the basic unit of counterinsurgency should be a U.S. battalion "partnering with indigenous security forces and living among the population it secures." Battalion commanders would delegate operational control to their company commanders; the companies, with a significant number of veteran soldiers experienced in Iraqi culture, would be in daily contact with the same population.

The resulting operation, called Operation Fard al-Qanoon (Enforcing the Law), divided Baghdad into grids, each with an Iraqi brigade and a U.S. battalion. U.S. platoons rotated in and out of the smaller Joint Security Stations, usually police stations that were further fortified. While the U.S. troops were fewer than called for by counterinsurgency doctrine, half the surge forces deployed outside Baghdad, taking the fight to sanctuaries. Odierno created a second division headquarters in Baghdad to improve command and control. [24]

Reducing "commuting" reduced casualties. Kilcullen, visiting the 1/325 Airborne battalion, said they had reduced their casualties since the start of 2007, because they were vulnerable to ambushes and IEDs while "commuting to the fight". When, for example, they were based in a police station, they could react to problems immediately, but also make it harder to infiltrate the Sunni areas in which the security forces were concentrated. [25]

The main drive would be under Iraqi LTG Abboud Qanbar and his U.S. adviser, COL Bob Newman, coupled with the assistant division commander for operations of Multi-National Division Baghdad, BG John F. Campbell. Much of Campbell's efforts were spent stimulating the Iraqi chain of command. Forces were organized into the Karkh Area Command (KAC) on the west side of the Tigris, and Rusafa Area Command on the east side. KAC was led by Iraqi Police MG Wajih Hameed with Army MG Abdul Ameer Yarella as his deputy, while RAC was led by an Army MG, Jalal Tawfiq, with police MG Abdul Karim as his deputy.


Kilcullen had determined al-Qaeda and JAM had different operating patterns. al-Qaeda used bombs against population concentrations in the day, while the Shi'ite militias sent killing squads into sleeping areas. Stopping the al-Qaeda attacks required checkpoints to stop, even by predetonating, vehicle-borne explosives. "Gated community" walls would protect against infiltration. U.S. Marines also had success with walls in Anbar Province, forcing insurgents into open areas where they were easier to fight. The walls, however, caused intense civilian resentment, especially when they reminded the Iraqis of Israeli tactics against Palestinians.[26] "Shi’a extremists kidnapped and killed many of the former Sunni military officers living in the Saydiyah neighborhood of West Rashid. In the Doura community in East Rashid, AQI and other Sunni extremists groups killed or expelled Shi’a residents." [21]

Since April 2006, before the Surge, units also built walls to provide security around Adhamhiya, separating it from both al-Qaeda and JAM. [27] While al-Maliki made public protests, the national Iraqi leadership had agreed. [28] Maliki, however, gained political credit by his public opposition to the twelve-foot walls, which indeed made legitimate travel very difficult. At a rally, Sunni residents of Adhamhiya, who had seen the Shi'a Maliki as a potential oppressor, began seeing him as a national leader. [29] There is no hard evidence that these psychological effects were predicted, and the resentment was being channeled into national rather than sectarian feeling, although it is possible. There is also no evidence Maliki tried to stop the walls.


The Sunni neighborhood of Adhamiya, in Baghdad, was under siege. It had been heavily attacked by Shi'a militia in April, with ten civilians found dead in the street every morning. [30] Walls were part of the operational approach to securing it.

Pre-surge patrolling

Arriving in August 2006, 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry Regiment (1/26, the "Blue Spaders") began to operate principally in southeast Baghdad, with C Company sent to Adhamiya, in northeast Baghdad, a Sunni neighborhood where Saddam Hussein had made his last public appearance. The insurgents constantly changed methods.

C Company commander CPT, when training in Germany for the deployment, thought scenarios in which an IED exploded as he talked to a mayor were unrealistic. “I was exactly wrong.” Training, though, was minimal. No one in the company had read FM3-24 or had formal training in counterinsurgency, including in his education at the West Point. He had the unusual advantage of having taken a year of college Arabic, and understanding he had to work with the local people. Both for his troops and the populace, he would go out with successive platoon patrols. “I wanted to show a little bit of love for the platoons, but also to talk to the people,” he said. He’d play chess with the locals or talk with them about their families. But if he stayed too long, they would inevitably catch sniper fire.[31]

At first, C Company stayed only for the day, but, after roadside bombings increased, the company moved into the neighborhood, to a small police post. [32] The company was safer, in its dangerous area, than the rest of the battalion, which had to go through hazardous routes to reach it. This became increasingly dangerous when explosively formed projectiles were added to the gamut of roadside bombs.

1/26 shifted to Taji in the northeast. It was a company-level war, with very different experiences in each neighborhood. Their first step, when the Baghdad security operation began in February 2007, was to establishing a Joint Security Station (JSS) in the Suleikh neighborhood. Joint patrols by Iraqi police and American troops were well received within a few weeks, and residents began to give them information. In May, Iraqi Security Forces took control of that JSS. [33]

JSS Adhamiya, several miles away, was in a firefight hours after arriving.

The soldiers of Charlie 1-26 were convinced the Iraqi Army troops they worked with, Shiite forces already despised by the majority of Sunni residents of the area, were untrustworthy and knew more about the attacks than they let on. “The corruption in the Shiite military was horrendous,” said Capt. Mike Baka, commander of Charlie Company. "And they didn’t understand why they couldn’t attack the Abu Hanifa Mosque, even when they could see insurgents shooting at them from the holy site. Politics, they said, held them back. Politics meant they had to ask permission from the Iraqi government. Politics dictated that they provide comfort to known insurgents."

Baka, according to schedule, was replaced as company commander by CPT Cecil Strickland, introducing the stress of new style. "Baka had treated his men like friends, but Strickland, a former enlisted soldier who had always dreamed of commanding a rifle company, kept a certain distance between his officers and soldiers. “Mike’s very charismatic,” Strickland said. “There’s always going to be that bond with Charlie Company. I’m a fool if I think I’m going to walk in and say, ‘Cut ties. You’re mine now.’” But as the surge took hold last spring, Strickland said he was required to plan more night raids in search of high-value targets and coordinate joint raids with special operations units. That meant he spent most of his time in the operations room, planning missions. He went out on four or five patrols a week, compared to Baka’s daily patrols. Baka, meanwhile, had moved into a new job, planning battalion operations.

Surge operations

On June 21, a C Company Bradley hit a new-generation IED, flipping it over and trapping six men. All died. The battalion commander went on emergency leave when his son died, further stressing the command. It became obvious they needed to rotate to a new location when a typical soldier commented “Why can’t we just flatten them? Why won’t they let us do our job? We need to do like Samarra and tell everyone they have 24 hours to leave, and then kill everything that moves after that.”

Even so, they were "stop-lossed": their time in Iraq was extended 12 months to 15 months. 3/26 Cavalry replaced C Company in July, with four times the number of troops.

They began to see change in August, through a combination of local politics, money, and combat. Sheikh Wathiq al-Ubadi, who had taught resistance to Americans from the Abu Hanifa Mosque, although he left after a disagreement with the other clerics there. Insurgents kept him from burying two of his relatives, and he denounced the "terrorists", forcing his way into the mosque grounds. Iraqi troops arrived and detained a number of suspects, and then searched the mosque grounds, an act forbidden to Americans. They found substantial quantities of weapons.

MG Tawfiq, the Rusafa Area commander, was the nephew of the sheikh and authorized the raid. A few days later, the Sheikh's house was bombed, wounding him and killing several relatives. The chief imam of the mosque, however, left and went to Syria, and a guest imam, Sheikh Yasser, replaced him. Sheikh Yasser attended the council meetings and began talking to Americans. Not long afterwards, Iraqis volunteered to become paid neighborhood guards.[34]


Ameriya, in western Baghdad, was another area targeted as had been Adhamiya. It had been a residential neighborhood for Ba'ath elite, but was abandoned by 2005 and 2006. Remaining in the area were both nationalists, of several groups, and AQI. Prior to the surge, LTC Gian Gentile had commanded the U.S. force in Ameriya, 8/10 Cavalry.

Pre-surge patrolling

When initial Baghdad security operation was launched, 1/5 Cavalry, commanded by LTC Dale Kuehl, was assigned to the area, setting up Joint Security Stations. Two of his companies had been detached to other areas, but he was able to get help from 3/2 Stryker Brigade and Iraqi Army 5th Brigade in April and May. After the clearing, however, they took heavy casualties from bombs, the worst incident on 19 May.

Surge operations

Increasing tempo

MG Hameed was to develop as an officer, with considerably more capability after the surge.

Leading the clearing operations were Stryker armored vehicles, optimized for urban combat. [35]

The last operations in Baghdad were in the southern neighborhood of Dora, which was the last al-Qaeda stronghold, which also contained areas controlled by the Jaish al-Mahdi (JAM) militia of Moqtada al-Sadr. This fell to the 4th Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, under COL Ricky Gibbs. They took some of the heaviest casualties among American forces, but murders of Iraqis fell from 563 in January to 35 in December, and attacks against U.S. personnel stopped completely.

As they conducted combat operations, the brigade also sought alliances with the local clan chief, Sheik Ayad al-Jabouri. He complained that the government was not willing to use clan members to clear insurgents. The matter of getting national Iraqi support from the Iraqi police was a challenge, up to the level of the Prime Minister. [36]

Petraeus would say "'We can’t kill our way to victory,'" "He sought instead to convert those who were fighting—bringing the 'reconcilable' insurgents in from the cold. "[37]

Outside Baghdad

Larger operations began in June, which Odierno called the true beginning of the surge. This was intended both to clear insurgent bases outside the city, and to support the local security operations within it. The MNC-I level campaign was designated Operation PHANTOM THUNDER.

When Lynch arrived in March, he identified four enemy sanctuaries, used by Sunni and Shiite insurgents, as well as al Qaeda in Iraq operatives. Once he had the troops"... we’ve got major operations across my battle space to disrupt those four sanctuaries,” [38]

Detailed operations included:

  • Operation MARNE ANVIL, aimed at Shi'a extremists associated with Muqtada as-Sadr’s militia, Jaysh al-Mahdi, located east of Baghdad. October 2007 - November 2007; [39]
  • Operation MARNE TORCH I: establish a presence on both sides of the Tigris River and disrupt AQI from moving improvised explosive devices into Baghdad [40]
  • Operation MARNE PILEDRIVER, near Mahmudiyah, south of Baghdad, March 2008-April 2008[41]
  • Operation MARNE DAUNTLESS, in the Mada'in Qada, east of Baghdad, May 2008 - June 2008[42]

Ending the surge

When the last of the five extra brigades left in the summer of 2008, the military surge was considered over. This did not rule out increased tempo of joint Iraqi-U.S. operations, more civil-military operations and partnerships, and security sweeps by existing forces.

Evaluation and recommendations

Opinions of its effectiveness vary with the source. It clearly reduced violence, but the issue of whether Iraqi forces can sustain the security is an open issue, fraught with complexity, and sometimes viewed through an ideological prism. Nevertheless, it is an attempt to deal with a situation where there are no ideal options.

In November 2007, Qanbar and Campbell met with local leaders to plan stabilization. Ahmed Chalabi was Operation Fahrd Al Qanoon services committee chairman, joined by Sheik Hassan Al Sudany, a representative from Grand Ayatollah Sistani.[43] Campbell would move up to a second star as Deputy Director, Regional Operations, on the U.S. Joint Staff, in February 2008,[44] and then take command of the 101st Airborne Division/

U.S. Political

U.S. political evaluations of the surge were, not surprisingly, divided, largely along party lines, especially as 2008 was an election year. Many Democratic Senators and Representatives claimed the surge did not produce the desired results. In January 2008, Senator Jack Reed (D-Rhode Island) termed the surge a failure. [45] In July 2008, Senator Barack Obama (D-Illinois), presidential candidate for the Democratic Party, declared that the surge had reduced violence levels temporarily but had been a wrong-headed approach because it did not address the long-term goals of America's involvement in the Middle East. He argued that the money spent on the surge in Iraq should instead have been used on efforts to secure the long-term stability of the region and security of the United States, such as establishing security in Afghanistan and forcing political reconciliations among Iraqi factions.[46]

Senator John McCain (R-Arizona), the Republican Party's presidential candidate, maintained that the surge was instrumental in turning around the momentum in the Iraq War.[47] House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) called the surge a "clear success," by crushing the insurgency and reducing violence levels in Iraq.[48]

In March 2009, House Republicans introduced a resolution, agreed to be symbolic. [49] Its sponsor, Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) "called it less of a criticism of Mr. Obama and more of an encouragement that he 'expand on the victory rather than walk away...Our military has achieved a definable victory, and I want to tell them that America appreciates them...They've left a legacy and it's up to the new leadership to preserve and enhance the victory they've achieved.'"

Internal to the U.S. Military

At the senior levels of the military, there remained strongly opinionated signs. Petraeus still was an outsider and challenger to much of the senior staff. While the White House wanted flexibility, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and United States Central Command chief ADM William "Fox" Fallon wanted commitment to dates.

Robinson quoted one of Petraeus' staff as saying "The army staff has really changed in dynamics since Casey came on board (as Chief of Staff of the Army). There is a personal, almost belligerent attitude to what he is doing. He keeps calling senators and talking about the harm the war is doing to the army and the need to prepared for future contingencies." She continued, however, quoting LTG Bill Caldwell, in Training and Doctrine Command, that they were short of officer instructors, and classes were not filled because the students were either in Iraq or had left the army. The officers selected as advisers to the Iraqis were not always the most experienced. [50]


Thomas Ricks, a military historian at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), concluded that the surge was ultimately a failure. He said:

The American people have difficulty in understanding:
  1. how difficult the surge was and how different it was from the previous four years of the war
  2. that the surge failed, judged on its own terms
  3. the war is not over. In fact, I suspect we might be only halfway through it, which is to say that President Obama’s war in Iraq may well be longer than George Bush’s war in Iraq, which was five years and ten months old when Bush left office.[3]

Ricks argued that the surge must be termed a failure because no political breakthrough was achieved, although the whole objective of the surge was exactly that. Reduction in violence by sheer military force has no real long-term value if the underlying circumstances do not change during the created window of opportunity. As a result, Ricks describes the potential outcome as follows:

The best-case scenario is that Iraq isn’t going to look anything like a success to Americans. It’s not going to be democratic, it’s not going to be stable, and it’s not going to be pro-American. Ambassador Crocker predicts in the book that the future of Iraq is probably something like Lebanon today. Most of the other experts I’ve talked to consider that wildly optimistic.

Another proposal from the CNAS,[51] was supported by moderate Democrats. It described an immediate withdrawal down to 60,000 troops, which Linda Robinson described as a plausible blueprint for a future security mission, "but the three bedrock U.S. security goals the author set out — preventing al-Qaeda safe haven, regional war, and genocide — could not be prevented with so few troops."[52]

Iraqi improvement

MG Hameed was, by 2008, considered "an Iraqi general with an attitude", but also with new confidence. According to the new senior U.S. officer in Baghdad, NG Will Grimsley, , "Before, they would have asked us to propose a plan” in such a circumstance and then would have accepted it with little argument. Now they are telling us how they will do it...They have a self-confidence now that they didn’t have when (I) first arrived...they were struggling with manning checkpoints." According to Military Times, Hammond and nearly a dozen other American military officers told the Associated Press that success is in Basra in March, followed by offensives in the northern city of Mosul and the Sadr City section of Baghdad ending in May, inspired the Iraqis. [53]

On a positive side, as of August 2009, US casualties were the lowest since the invasion, and the death toll for civilians dropped from July. [54]


  1. George W. Bush (10 January 2007), President's Address to the Nation
  2. David Kilcullen (2009), The Accidental Guerrilla: Fighting Small Wars in the Midst of a Big One, Oxford University Press, ISBN 9780195368345, pp. 128-130
  3. 3.0 3.1 Thomas Ricks (May 2009), "Understanding the Surge in Iraq and What’s Ahead", E-Notes, Foreign Policy Research Institute
  4. John Nagl, David Petraeus, James Amos, Sarah Sewall (December 2006), Field Manual 3-24: Counterinsurgency, US Department of the Army. Retrieved on 2008-02-03
  5. Linda Robinson (2 December 2008), Remarks to the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College
  6. Thomas Ricks (2009), THE GAMBLE: General David Petraeus and the American Military Adventure in Iraq, 2006-2008, Penguin, ISBN 987-1594201974, pp. 8-15
  7. Andrew Krepinevich (September/October 2005), "How to Win in Iraq", Foreign Affairs
  8. Linda Robinson (2007), Tell Me How This Ends: General David Petraeus and the Search for a Way out of Iraq, Public Affairs, ISBN 9781586485283,pp. 9-11
  9. Ricks, Gamble, pp. 11-13
  10. Ricks, Gamble, p. 23
  11. 11.0 11.1 Gian P. Gentile (4 February 2008), "Our troops did not fail in 2006", New York Times
  12. Gian P. Gentile (January 2008), "Our COIN doctrine removes the enemy from the essence of war", Armed Forces Journal
  13. John Hendren (23 December 2007), "'Sunni Awakening': Insurgents Are Now Allies: Former Insurgents Have Turned Their Guns on al Qaeda", ABC News
  14. Ricks, The Gamble, pp. 202-204
  15. Robinson, Tell Me, p. 115
  16. DoD News Briefing: Army Commander, Multinational Division Baghdad and 1st Cavalry Maj. Gen. Joseph Fil, U.S. Department of Defense, 21 September 2007
  17. Kilcullen, The Accidental Guerrilla, pp. 145-147
  18. Ricks, The Gamble, p. 180
  19. Robinson, Tell Me, pp 177-
  20. James M Klatell (3 April 2007), "McCain Visit Angers Some Iraqis: Merchants At Oft-Bombed Market Say Heavily Guarded Tour Doesn't Reflect Reality", CBS News
  21. 21.0 21.1 Thomas J. Sills (May-June 2009), "Counterinsurgency Operations in Baghdad: The Actions of 1-4 Cavalry in the East Rashid District", Military Review: 97-105
  22. Ricks, The Gamble, pp. 191-192
  23. Douglas A. Ollivant, Eric D. Chewning (July-August, 2006), "Producing victory: rethinking conventional forces in COIN operations", Military Review
  24. Robinson, Tell Me, pp. 119-124
  25. Kilcullen, The Accidental Guerrilla, pp. 141-143
  26. Ricks, The Gamble, pp. 173-174
  27. Mike Nizza (April 20, 2007), "Baghdad’s ‘Great Wall of Adhamiya’", New York Times
  28. Robinson, Tell Me, pp. 188-189
  29. Alissa J. Rubin (April 24, 2007), "Frustration Over Wall Unites Sunni and Shiite", New York Times
  30. Robinson, Tell Me, pp. 185-190
  31. Kelly Kennedy (17 December 2007), "To Adhamiya and back", Army Times
  32. Kelly Kennedy (Oct 24, 2008), "‘I’ve seen enough. I’ve done enough.’", Army Times
  33. Iraqis take lead at Al Suleikh JSS, Multi-National Force-Iraq, 31 May 2007
  34. Robinson, Tell Me, pp. 208-210
  35. Robinson, Tell Me, pp. 127-135
  36. "Iraqi tribal chief wants more aid from Baghdad", USA Today, 12 July 2008
  37. Linda Robinson (September 2008), "What Petraeus Understands", Foreign Policy
  38. Commander says Iraq surge operations have ‘significant’ impact, Multi-National Corps-Iraq, 14 July 2007
  39. Operation Marne Anvil October 2007 - November 2007, Institute for the Study of War
  40. DoD News Briefing with Maj. Gen. Lynch from Iraq, U.S. Department of Defense, 6 July 2007
  41. Operation Marne Piledriver April 2008 - May 2008, Institute for the Study of War
  42. Operation Marne Dauntless May 2008 - June 2008, Institute for the Study of War
  43. Iraqi officials meet in Sab Al Bor, discuss essential services, resettlement, Multi-National Division – Baghdad, 20 November 2007
  44. MG John F. Campbell, Deputy Director, Regional Operations, J-3, Joint Chiefs of Staff
  45. Jack Reed (January 17-18, 2008), Iraq Trip Report by Senator Jack Reed (D-RI)
  46. Katie Couric (July 22, 2008), "Obama: Surge Doesn't Meet Long-Term Goals", CBS News
  47. AFP (July 21, 2008), "Obama wrong to oppose Iraq troop surge: McCain", ABC News
  48. Daniel W. Reilley (July 22, 2008), "Boehner: Obama "dead Wrong" On Surge", Politico (republished through CBS News)
  49. Kara Rowland (March 4, 2009), "GOP resolution to tout Iraq surge", Washington Times
  50. Robinson, Tell Me, pp. 303-304
  51. James N. Miller and Shawn Brimley (June 2007), Phased Transition: A Responsible Way Forward and Out of Iraq, Center for a New American Security publication
  52. Robinson, Tell Me, pp. 303-304
  53. "New Iraqi confidence pleases, worries U.S.", Military Times, 14 July 2008
  54. Patrick Goodenough (3 August 2009), "U.S. Casualties in Iraq Dropped to All-Time Low in July",