Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Peter Mansoor's "Baghdad at Sunrise"

Peter Mansoor is the General Raymond Mason Chair of Military History, The Ohio State University. A recently retired U.S. Army colonel, he served as executive officer to Commanding General David H. Petraeus, Multi-National Force–Iraq (2007–8); as a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Strategy Group that proposed the surge strategy in Iraq (2006); as founding director of the U.S. Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Center (2006); and as Commander of the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division, in Baghdad (2003–4).

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Baghdad at Sunrise: A Brigade Commander’s War in Iraq, and reported the following:
On one level, Baghdad at Sunrise: A Brigade Commander’s War in Iraq is a memoir of my tenure in command of the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division in Iraq in 2003-2004. But the book is much more than just a recounting of my experiences in Iraq after the collapse of the Ba’athist regime. Rather, I use the experiences of my brigade to examine the larger questions of the war in that first crucial year, from the inappropriate political policy to the failed strategy, and from the absence of an operational concept to stabilize Iraq to the lack of counterinsurgency doctrine to prosecute military operations. The book recounts just how difficult Iraq was for those who had to deal with reality on the ground, realities that page 99 of Baghdad at Sunrise exemplifies quite well.

By way of background, page 99 is part of a chapter entitled “Bad Karmah,” which describes an operation the 1st Brigade conducted on the outskirts of Fallujah and centered on the village of Karmah, then under the control of insurgent forces. We had been ordered to clear this large area and interdict the flow of weapons from Fallujah to Baghdad. The main effort fell to Task Force 1-37 Armor, which established a series of traffic control points to search tens of thousands of vehicles moving along two major highways in the area. At the conclusion of this mission, the task force turned to other tasks in its area.

These other missions, recounted on page 99, represent the Iraq War in microcosm. The task force conducts dismounted patrols through a market in Abu Ghraib, which included vendors selling looted material from Iraqi military stocks. Upon departing the area, kids throw rocks at the American soldiers, indicating that they belong to Sunni families that are distinctly unhappy with the presence of American soldiers on Iraqi soil. The brigade tries to win local allegiance by conducting civic action programs that include the renovation of a local school. “Given thirty-five years of Ba’athist rule,” I write, “many of the adults were irrevocably opposed to the change sweeping through their lives.” Reflecting on the rocks thrown at the soldiers, I add, “We thought, perhaps naively, that we had a better chance with their children.” Page 99 ends with the brigade combat team encountering a number of roadside bombs, which would soon become the enemy’s signature weapon in the Iraq War.

There is much more to Baghdad at Sunrise, of course, but page 99 is the war in a small nutshell: the inability of American soldiers to understand the anger directed at them, their attempts to improve the lives of the Iraqi people while fighting the insurgency, and the emergence of significant armed opposition to the presence of foreign forces on Iraqi soil. This might have been a sunrise for Baghdad, but the new day spawned a hurricane.
Read an excerpt from Baghdad at Sunrise, and learn more about the book at the Yale University Press website.

Visit Peter Mansoor's faculty webpage.

--Marshal Zeringue