An Insider's Analysis of the Fallacy and Impact of the Invasion of Iraq
Colonel Wesley Martin
September 15, 2019

The invasion of Iraq was flawed from the very beginning. The focus of United States response to the 9-11 attacks should have been to go after and hold accountable the people and organization responsible. Instead of Osama bin Laden, his lieutenants, and al Qaeda being identified as primary targets, President George W. Bush (Bush 43) and his administration decided to place primary focus on Saddam Hussein and Iraq.

Inside the Pentagon we understood Saddam Hussein had absolutely nothing to do with the 9-11 attacks. Al Qaeda had no more deadly enemy than Saddam. Foreign fighters captured by the Iraqi government had a very short life expectancy. The only rule of law honored by Saddam was his own.

Senior Pentagon leadership also had the understanding for over a decade to do nothing that would jeopardize the fine balance of power between Iraq and Iran. Except for General Colin Powell, Bush 43 had picked the wrong team to support him. Vice President Richard Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, and Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz did possess impressive credentials, but time would prove them to be the wrong people for the challenges ahead.

Since becoming Secretary of Defense for Bush 43, Rumsfeld had been pushing "transformation." The basic concept of this was less troops, more technology, and swift action were better at meeting national security needs. With this concept came "Shock and Awe" which was to hit hard, hit fast, and hit with the unexpected blow. In reality "Shock and Awe" was no more than a renaming of the German Blitzkrieg of the late 1930s.

Of the six phases to combat operations (1 - Shape, 2 - Deter, 3 - Seize, 4 - Dominate, 5 - Stabilize, and 6- Enable Civil Authority) "Shock and Awe" runs out of steam if Stability cannot be maintained. Should that happen, Dominate comes apart.

The Bush 43 Administration's goal was to use Iraq as the staging area to introduce democracy into the Middle-East. Once again, Bush 43 and his immediate advisors totally missed the lessons of history. The building of our own constitutional republic was achieved from within. The Revolution itself took the better part of a decade. Having been fought in all regions of the country and involving people from every colony, it brought citizens together for a common cause.

What Bush 43 also apparently failed to recognize is developmental differences between the Middle East, Europe and, in turn, America. The Middle East did not experience the Age of Exploration, the Renaissance, the Reformation, the Industrial Revolution, and the Age of Enlightenment. Bush 43 somehow thought placing a new system of government on a nation, without their having to collectively earn it and having centuries to mature into its concept, was going to work.

In spite of all the aforementioned, the Bush 43 Administration pushed forward with the plan to invade Iraq, remove Saddam from power, and give secondary attention to the country housing Osama bin Laden. Furthermore, Rumsfeld scrapped the long-term Pentagon plan detailing the number of troops necessary to complete all six combat operational phases.

When Army Chief of Staff, General Eric Shinseki, was asked by Congress the number of troops necessary for post hostilities success in Iraq, his answer was the unclassified version of what was in this plan, i.e, "Several hundred thousand"1. Already having decided success could be achieved with 140,000 troops, Rumsfeld declared Shinseki to be "far from the mark." 2

Secretary of the Army (SecArmy) and former Brigadier General, Thomas White, immediately provided back-up support for Shinseki's statement. White was fired. The early announcement of the next Chief of Staff had put Shinseki into lame-duck status. To their credit, Shinseki and White maintained their professionalism. I was a member of the Pentagon's Army Operations Center (AOC) when BG White came through handing out his coins and thanking everyone for a job well done before he departed the building. To this day, both have remained relatively quiet, despite history proving them right.

In the Pentagon, progressing from winter and into the spring of 2003, the twice-daily briefings we developed for senior Army leadership focused primarily on the build-up for the invasion of Iraq. On average, only one slide focused on Colonel John Campbell's brigade operations in Afghanistan. Campbell was doing an outstanding job with the resources he had available. However, it was obvious even thousands of miles away that Campbell should have been provided more troops and equipment.

Throughout the first eight months of 2003 when I was not traveling around the United States assessing force protection of Army installations and major commands, I served as a Crisis Action Team (CAT) shift supervisor within the Army Operations Center (AOC). The director of the AOC was Major General (MG) Peter Chiarelli, who would go on to command the 1st Cavalry Division in Baghdad, followed by commander of Multinational Corps - Iraq, and finally Army Vice Chief of Staff.

Chiarelli knew what he was doing and could see beyond the present and into the needs of the future. He suspected that Reserve and National Guard troops and equipment were being misused "securing" Army installations throughout the United States. His concern included that when those resources are needed in the near-term, they would already have been spent. My initial role was to supervise five assessment teams to either validate or alleviate Chiarelli's concerns.

He was right. One classic example was at the chemical destruction installations. Entire Reserve and National Guard battalions had been activated to prevent unauthorized entry into the bases, even though the specific storage areas were much smaller. It also demonstrated that an analysis of "general defense" vs "point defense" or the concepts of "containment" vs "denial" had never been conducted. The understanding of Mission Essential Vulnerable Areas (MEVAs), High Value Targets (HVTs), and routine places of operation was another problem. Best example was Camp Devins, Massachusetts having declared its Class 6 liquor store a MEVA. Command-wide force protection programs and plans were developed for the cold war era and severely out of date. One major command's force protection plan had been last written while Reagan was in office.

In April 2003 the invasion of Iraq kicked off. Lack of major opposition made for an easy Seize phase, which lead to a failure to understand the long-term Dominate. The only thing that temporarily interrupted the invasion was logistics. The Marines, operating on a light-fighter concept were ready to continue, but had to wait on the logistics heavy Army to resupply near al Hilla, south of Baghdad. Once the resupply was completed, a quick completion of the invasion was accomplished. So quickly did this happen that on May 1, 2003 when President Bush was flown onto the USS Abraham Lincoln, a "Mission Accomplished" banner was waiting. Looking back, the banner should have read, "Pandora's Box Opened". For months, the very people who assured the government that Saddam possessed weapons of mass destruction (WMD) went into denial about the growing security threat. Sitting beside MG Chiarelli at the morning briefing rehearsals, I would hear him challenging the information provided on the Military Intelligence (G-2) slides. G-2 was claiming only about 200 Former Regime Elements (FREs), or Saddam loyalists, were doing all the attacks.

Part of the problem was also created on the Operations (G-3) slides, as only attacks, casualties, and grid numbers were read to senior Army staff and Sec Army, as if those grid numbers were understood for the locations they designated. To validate Chiarelli's argument I took two actions. First was to identify the locations of the attacks onto a visual map. This proved that it was impossible for just 200 insurgents to be in so many parts of western and northcentral Iraq at the same time. Second was the development of a status work sheet to separate the types of attacks, times, locations, weapons used, casualties on both sides, and other pertinent information. Both efforts brought the realization that attacks were not just limited to the Fallujah Triangle and Tikrit areas, and only by 200.

As Americans were always winning the gunfights, all of us underestimated just how much Dominate and Stabilize were in jeopardy. Time would soon emphasize that for the enemy, a failure is just a training exercise.

Iraq - Coalition Joint Task Force 7 (CJTF-7)

By the end of September 2003, Chiarelli was commanding the 1st Cavalry Division and preparing to deploy to Iraq. I was already there, serving as the senior Antiterrorism/Force Protection officer for all coalition forces. Having completed the Seize operation, Fifth Corps Commander Lieutenant General (LTG) Scott Wallace completed his tour of duty and was succeeded by LTG Riccardo Sanchez.

The coalition was a consolidation of 36 nations that Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Colin Powell had convinced to join the U.S. in the invasion of Iraq. Multinational Division level commands were split into five regions: North (US led), West (US led), Baghdad (US lead), Center-South (Polish led with Spanish in support), and South (United Kingdom led with Italians in support). Except for South Koreans in the North, the American-led sectors consisted mostly of US troops.

Prior to the Seize phase, while troops were still being assembled in Kuwait, all this sounded good. Simplified, the Bush 43 expectation was to invade Iraq, remove the Baathists from power, set up twelve enduring bases, introduce Iraq to democracy, and anchor on Amad Chalibi's Iraqi National Congress to lead in the "Stable" and "Enable Civil Authority" phases.

Indications and warnings about Chalibi were ignored. He was a numbers genius, but also a con-artist as evidenced by his Petra Bank scandal almost having completely destroyed the financial stability of Jordan 3. Much of the misinformation about Iraq that the United States used to justify the war in Iraq had been generated by Chalibi. Before 2003 was over, CJTF-7 intelligence briefings were recognizing that Chalibi was basically a double-agent, with primary loyalty being to Iran.

Slowly, even still in denial, the United States was realizing that the real benefactor of Saddam's defeat was Iran. I realized this much earlier when I identified the sector of land from Kut to Hillah, to Karbala, to Najaf, to Diwaniyah, back to al Kut as the Iranian wedge. The Tehran loyal Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) and its militia Badr Corps were already positioned in Iraq while Saddam was in power. The removal of Saddam paved the way for Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and its subordinate Qods Force under the command of Qasem Soleimani to further drive its wedge into this region. The wild card was Najaf based Moqtada Sadr and his Mahdi Army.

Concerning CJTF-7 leadership, Sanchez was a very direct and tough officer. He was also fair, he listened, and was willing to make a decision. Sanchez inherited the consequences of a series of mistakes, most made by the Coalition Provincial Authority (CPA), and its Chief, Ambassador Paul Bremer. Not recalling the Iraqi military left a quarter of a million former Iraqi service members with no supervision and ability to turn their training against coalition forces.

Removing former Baath Party members from positions of authority resulted in preventing technocratic supervisors from running the country. These technocrats were not diehard loyalists to Saddam. Most joined the party to have good jobs and advance their quality of life. Removing them from their positions all but ground the country to a halt. Not working with the clerics added to the disgruntlement. Saddam had an easy-to-understand program. Clerics who praised him were rewarded. Those who were neutral received nothing. Those who criticized him were punished, up to and including death as in the case of Moqtada's father.

Many of Bremer's staff were very much a problem. The most common response to being shown the fallacy of their opinions or intentions was, "My ambassador outranks your general". This childish attitude did nothing to improve an often difficult working environment.

A classic example of Bremer's staff came with a staff study on what additional military troops from CJTF-7 were necessary to secure the International Zone (IZ). This IZ, usually referred to as the "Green Zone", was about five square miles surrounded by cement "T-Walls". It was a fairly secure area, not only because of coalition forces, but also because the Iraqis living in the zone helped keep it that way.

CPA staff had sent CJTF-7 a wish-list of troops, which tallied up came to a brigade, to secure selected sites with the IZ. It was just a random number, such as a platoon to guard the helicopter landing zone, a company to guard a vacant palace, a company each to guard both troop residence areas, etc. As happened stateside, CPA staff did not understand the standards for designating a MEVA or HVT.

Part of this demand for additional security stemmed from an army captain assigned to CPA having been nearly killed by multiple stabbings with a screw driver. The captain claimed he was attacked by an Iraqi, which in turn sent the CPA community into an uproar. The law enforcement community rightfully identified a screwdriver is a weapon of passion. Arabs have some of the most deadly blades in the world and would not have done their one solo attack on an American with a construction tool. Undoubtedly this was a lovers' quarrel turned bloody.

Sitting down with Sanchez, I went through every line item on the additional security claim. When finished, we both agreed that forces already being provided by Colonel Ralph Baker's brigade was more than adequate.

Another classic of Bremer's staff was conceiving a trade fair to be conducted in the middle of Baghdad during the final days of Ashura 2004.

United Nations

An additional major plan of western involvement in Iraq was to bring in the United Nations as quickly as possible. Initially this was accomplished with the arrival of Sergio De Mello in 2003.

An al Qaeda bomb on the UN's Canal Street complex brought that plan to an end. My later walk through revealed the structures were simple concrete. De Mello's office was right next to the street. All the attackers had to do was park a vehicle on the curb and let the blast do the rest. A good man, with good intent, was lost simply because his security staff failed to properly assess the situation. In De Mello's place, we received Brahimi.

Lakhdar Brahimi arrived from Egypt and started pushing his Arab Nationalist agenda. He immediately recruited Adnan Pachachi, a recently-returned Iraqi refugee. As young men, both had grown up embracing the philosophies of Nasser. We lost a lot of opportunities to take the fight to the enemy because inside of American forces conducting night operations they had to be reassigned to seal off roads and neighborhoods every time these two wanted to dine together, which was frequent. In the end, Pachachi failed to get enough votes to secure a single parliament seat.

Preventing AT/FP Failure

One of the biggest voids within CJTF-7 Headquarters was understanding all of our threat sources. Military Intelligence (MI) struggled to provide a title to our enemies while working through such phrases as Former Regime Elements (FREs), reactionaries, and insurgents. Making the matter worse in the morning and evening command briefs, MI only focused on one threat source at a time, as if the other sources has gone dormant for the day or week. Add to this problem was the MI community's continual response of "You do not have a need to know" anytime specific information was requested of them. One time this involved denying me a threat update concerning Najaf, to which I was departing to work a mission with local police.

To understand the threats coming at coalition forces in my ATFP operation, I broke down the threats into six groups which could either overlap or integrate with each other. Those six groupings were FREs, in-country terrorists, foreign terrorists, religious groups, tribes, and criminals. With this came the elements of the force protection process: identify the target (fixed site, activity, or event); source of the threat; potential means of attack; our current vulnerabilities; consequences of failure, risk, develop mitigating actions, assess adjusted risk; and then determine the course of action.

The goal was always to operate inside the enemy's decision-making cycle. The terrorist attack cycle consists of: target identification/selection; planning; deployment; attack; escape; and exploitation (with surveillance throughout). Throwing variables always confuses the enemy. Installing additional or moving around barriers, deploying X-ray and Backscatter machines backed by radio frequency jammers at shipping and receiving gates, using hand-held metal detectors at personnel entry points, supporting troops with explosive-detection devices, and mobile camera equipment to search under vehicles were excellent anti-terrorism measures. During the 2003 to 2004 cycle, enhancements or variables would provide us about ninety days of extra time. By 2005 that had dropped down to fourteen days. Just as we were learning, so was the enemy.

LTG Hal Moore of We Were Soldiers fame, had two outstanding philosophies when stating "In any environment there is something you can do to make it better, and something after that" and "There is nothing going wrong except there is nothing going wrong" 4. This combined methodology would play a significant role in the coming months, especially in blocking al Qaeda from killing Grand Ayatollah Sistani, preventing an attack on the Baghdad doctors' convention, stopping the Baghdad security trade fair from being a slaughter, and preventing the theft of one thousand units of Cobalt 60 from al Tuwaitha. It was also not uncommon during a chance encounter with Sanchez to be asked, "What is going on!" Sanchez knew that whenever he did not see me I was out with the ground troops, whether they be U.S. or allied forces. He did not expect a formal brief, but a narrative of what was happening with the privates, sergeants, and junior officers. He valued the opinions and words of his front line troops, but everything received from other sources was filtered.


One of the best testimonials to Sanchez's leadership style came the day following my return from conducting a site visit of the Dominicans' base at Diwaniyah. The Dominicans were engaging the enemy and running out of ammunition. A visit to the American logistics officer at Babylon resulted in being told, "They are not an American unit, they fire American weapons, they don't have a DODAAC (Department of Defense Activity Address Code). I do not know how to supply them". A near walking collision with Sanchez outside his Chief of Staff's office, followed by the "What's going on" comment, resulted in the problem being immediately fixed.

Ordnance Sites

Another area that Sanchez was not receiving proper intelligence on was the status of Saddam's ordnance sites. There were storage locations throughout Iraq. During the Shape phase, the U.S. Air Force had bombed the hard structure locations. Unfortunately, all ordnance inside the structures were not completely destroyed. Inside every structure remained numerous working bombs and rockets.

Even before the invasion was completed, Iraqis were in all these locations either stealing the wooden boxes that stored the smaller ordnance, stealing the ordnance for the metal, stealing the ordnance to either use or sell as weapons against the coalition, or stealing the ordnance to provide to the American collection teams for the $25 cash rewards. Wire mesh fences placed around the ordnance sites were useless as the Iraqis stole the fabric as fast as it was put up. Iraqi guards were hired to monitor the sites, but they were poorly paid, had no training, were found sleeping on duty, and for good reason were afraid to challenge the people coming to pilfer the sites.

This ordnance was being used to kill coalition troops and innocent Iraqis. Open air storage areas, which mostly escaped air strikes, initially having been reported as containing massive amounts of ordnance, were found to be totally cleaned out a month later.

There were heroic efforts by military sappers and civilian contractors to destroy captured ordnance as quickly as possible. The biggest problem was obtaining accurate reports of the storage locations. In one meeting with Sanchez, having photographs to back up my comments, I contradicted status reports that came in from division commanders. Sanchez's response was, "You will go out and inspect all these sites." 5

Cobalt 60

Cobalt 60 is a radioactive source essential in making X-ray machines work. It's also very useful for other purposes such as a dirty bomb or stay-behind device. We came extremely close to losing a thousand plus units to rebel cleric Moqtada Sadr and his Mahdi Army.

By accident, Iraqis stole two sources of Cobalt 60 at Habbaniyah Test Site (southwest of Baghdad). Both units had been recovered following detection from helicopter-borne radiological monitoring equipment. When the Americans first arrived at Habbaniyah, there were eight steel towers which stood above underground cement crypts, each of which housed a Cobalt 60 source. As part of Saddam's research program, the radioactive source would be raised up from the crypt and Iraqi soldiers standing in front of an opening in the steel tower were exposed to doses of radiation. Over the years these soldiers were monitored for the effects of radiation.

Undetected, local Iraqi villagers came into the site and cut down three of the towers. The high grade steel of the towers made the metal very marketable. One source came loose of the chain and fell back into the crypt. The Iraqis had no idea what the two remaining sources were and had discarded them while cutting up the steel.

The responsible commands did not know they had Cobalt 60 on site. The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) knew, as did Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) and Coalition Forces Land Component Command (CFLCC). Inspecting of the operation orders received by each level of the chain of command determined that no one, from the 82nd Airborne Division down, had been told of the Cobalt 60 being on site. My report cleared the local commanders and laid the blame on the CIA, DTRA, and CFLCC.

Before the report even made it to Sanchez' desk, I visited Tuwaitha, where over a thousand sources had already been consolidated. Deep in Moqtada Sadr's stronghold, Tuwaitha is located about ten miles southwest of central Baghdad. This is the site of Saddam's failed attempts to develop a nuclear weapons program. Bombs dropped by Israeli jets stalled his program in the 1980's. American jets did the same in the 1990s.

Returning to 2003, the Tuwaitha battalion commander had not been briefed on what was being stored inside the bunker. I turned to the DTRA representative and stated, "You will brief him now, there will be no more Habbaniyahs."

Once advised of what he was guarding, the existing vulnerabilities, and the safety to his troops as the sources were inside lead pigs (storage containers), the battalion commander immediately implemented all necessary mitigating actions. Had Moqtada Sadr and his Mahdi Army gained access to those radioactive sources, the War of Terrorism would have been forever changed for the worse.

Abu Ghraib

In October of 2003, I conducted a force protection assessment of Abu Ghraib. When it was completed, I went to BG Jan Karpinski (a fellow officer basic course classmate and friend from years past) to provide the report.

The results were not good. In the north base perimeter was a five foot gap likely blown open by assaulting American troops. A bound-up roll of concertina wire was a few feet from the hole, never stretched out, staked down, and no visual observation on the area. One tower guard responsible for observing the blown out doors to the detainee confinement was sitting down in her tower reading a book. In the southeast perimeter tower, the guard was assigned a .50 caliber machine gun which he did not know how to operate. The living quarters for the troops could best be described as a pig-sty. The troops had completely filled a 50 gallon clear trash bag with their Meals-Ready-To-Eat (MRE's) packages and now were simply throwing their new garbage onto the pile. No sergeant or officer had bothered to order the removal of the existing bag and replacement of another. The rest of the living area was no better. The sergeants of another battalion operating at Abu Ghraib had hooked a water truck up to a metal container and built a shower station. Supervisors in this confinement battalion made no effort to get their troops clean. Also discovered during this visit was the fact the four battalion commanders working at Abu Ghraib were constantly bickering with each other.

While on-site I had briefly met the confinement operations battalion commander, LTC Jerry Philabaum. He had just received word that he had been relieved of command by Karpinski. All the troops, down to the most junior privates, were upset that their friend, their pal, their bud, had been removed from being their commander. Any professional soldier knows, when any commander is everybody's pal, a command does not exist. At best it is a gaggle.

Even though it was only days before I briefed Karpinski, she had already reinstated Philabaum. In our meeting, I informed her that she had a "total lack of adult supervision" at Abu Ghraib. Unfortunately, the seriousness of the problem I revealed to her just touched the surface of the problems which would be discovered months later with the photographs revealing detainee abuse.

In January 2004, a young soldier assigned to detention operations had been putting together the unit history in Iraq. A sergeant had handed him a compact disc with permission to use whatever photos he wished. Discovering the abuse photos, the soldier did his mission, bypassed his chain-of-command and got the photos to the proper authorities. Karpinski found out about the photos when she was called into LTG Sanchez's office.

Public knowledge of those photos could not have hit at a worse time. The capture of Saddam in December 2003 gave hope to the country. One of the most telling examples was the immediate change in women's attire, which often consisted of western style pants suits and matching vests with an Arabic flare. By spring al Qaeda was becoming stronger. The women returned to conservative attire, and the realization that we had serious problems ahead was taking hold. The revelation of those photos became our adversaries' version of "Remember the Alamo". Attacks and propaganda against the Americans surged.

Rumsfeld's Visit

In the spring of 2004, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld made another trip to the Middle East. In Kuwait, he held a town hall meeting with soldiers preparing to deploy. One soldier asked why they were having to deploy without up-armored vehicles. Rumsfeld answered, "You go to war with the army you have, not the army you might want or wish to have at a later time" 6. On the surface the answer was valid. Rumsfeld's response was also hypocritical. Had the invasion gone with what Army General Shinseki had instead of what Rumsfeld wanted, we would not have been in the mess that soon developed.

Detention Operations

Having finished my AT/FP tour of duty in Iraq, I settled back at the Pentagon, serving full time in the Operations Center. Receiving the report on December 21, 2004 that a suicide bomber had killed 22 people in the Marez Dining Facility in Mosel did not make life easy. Led by Colonel John Cirafici, DTRA's Joint Security Integrated Vulnerability Assessment (JSIVA) team had assessed that base two months earlier. Cirafici addressed the hole in the perimeter wall and that the dining facility lacked necessary protection 7. Add to this the American guards changing out at the base of the observation tower instead of in the tower, and the perfect storm of disaster was lying in wait.

In late 2005, when AOC Director MG Jeff Hammond asked if I would be willing to return to Iraq and serve as the Operations Section Chief for Task Force 134 (Detention Operations), I immediately agreed.

TF 134 had supervisory responsibility of the five detention facilities of Abu Ghriab, Cropper, Bucca, Suse, and Ashraf. In civilian terms, Abu Ghriab was the county jail, with in and out processed of detainees, and served as a holding facility for those pending trials and further disposition. Suse was an old Soviet Russian fort located in Kurdistan. Not only for the rock structure of the facility, but also for having Peshmerga patrolling the region, Suse was the most secure. As the Peshmerga were always ready for target practice, an external attack was never going to happen at this facility. Bucca was an American creation. It was a giant camp, situated in Shia-controlled southeastern Iraq. Cropper, located on the west side of Camp Victory near Baghdad, housed the special detainees such as high ranking Baathists, their women, and al Qaeda leaders. Assigned to Cropper, Saddam was housed at a special compound next to the M.P. brigade headquarters.

Ashraf was home to the former National Liberation Army (NLA) of the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MeK), translated to mean the People's Mujahedin Organization of Iran. Rather than being detainees by the U.S. Department of Defense, each member of the MeK had been granted protected Person Status under the Fourth Geneva Convention. These were the most lied to and lied about people I had ever met. Work with these people and its parent organization the National Council of Resistance to Iran continues to this day. As its pilot commander, in 2004 MG Jeff Miller organized the staff of TF 134 for a mission load of 5,600 detainees. Upon my arrival, the TF 134 Commander was MG Jack Gardner, an outstanding officer determined to ensure the right things happened. Between Miller and Gardner, TF 134 was commanded by an equally competent and dedicated officer, MG Bill Brandenburg.

Having the right intent requires a lot of work and enduring a lot of frustration, especially in a volatile environment like Iraq. Years later, while sitting in a restaurant in Alexandria, Virginia with Gardner, I remarked, "As much as I appreciated working with, and having you as a friend, if I had known what I was getting into, I would have stayed at the Pentagon". Gardner replied that if he knew what he was getting into he would have retired as a one star. By the time I arrived in late 2005, over 14,500 detainees were in custody and still growing. Because of lack of timely replacements, within two months my staff was operating at 30 percent strength of the 5,600 original detainee workload.

My additional responsibilities included the leading of teams conducting announced inspections of Iraqi detention facilities. All these facilities were overcrowded and, to various degrees, all were torture chambers. The Iraqi police were arresting people not for crimes, but for extortion. After the arrests, families were notified safe release required posting of expensive bonds. Getting bonded out did not stop a subsequent arrest the following week. Photos taken at these sites included one of the backside of an arrestee who had been stripped of all clothing and spun around on the cement floor until his flesh shredded. At one facility, the TF 134 representative refused to leave without the meat-hook that was used to hold up an arrestee while the Iraqi police beat on his body.

It was quickly realized that announcements of these inspections could not be shared with Iraqi government employees who accompanied the team. The location of the first inspection was announced to both American and Iraqi team members the night before. The following day, the team arrived to find an empty facility. The just-completed washing of the cells could not eliminate the overwhelming stench of human feces. From that point forward, the Iraqi team members found out the locations upon arrivals at the facilities.

Just as TF 134 was busting up the illegal jails operated by the Ministry of Interior, so were the local U.S. commands. The 4th Infantry Division locked in on a facility on the MOI compound, teamed with TF 134 staff and led the raid. Throughout Iraq other US commands were also busting illegal Iraq detention compounds.

The 4th Infantry Division (ID) did a magnificent job in preventing an assault on Abu Ghraib in the spring of 2006. The battle space separation between the Army and Marines was just to the west of Abu Ghraib. An informant had provided the details of a pending attack on the detention facility. The details included the time and the waiting locations of the attackers. All these waiting locations were just inside the Marine sector. This attack was being coordinated for a riot by the detainees inside Abu Ghraib.

Quietly, the Marines and the Army worked out the details, and the 4th ID battle space was extended west two miles. The night before the planned attack on Abu Ghraib, the 4th ID hit the attackers, sending over 60 to the morgue. Meanwhile, tanks were positioned outside the perimeter of Abu Ghraib, and the crews spent the night racing the engines. Any thoughts from the inside to create problems were thoroughly suppressed.

The executions of both Saddam and his step-brother Barzan were intentional stains on the quest for democracy and stability in Iraq. Working with the Maliki government, the Americans were preparing for a professional execution to be conducted in mid-January 2007. Suddenly, with only a few hours advance notice, Prime Minister Maliki demanded the Americans turn Saddam over on the morning of December 30, 2006. Rushing the process, the antics of the execution, releasing of the video displaying a mob-like lynching undermined any sense of national unity and legitimate sense of justice 8. Barzan's execution resulted in his head being ripped off. Barzan was overweight and had cancer which weakened his bones. A reliable Iraqi source 9, who was on scene at the execution, later informed me the rope also had been configured for a longer drop. The name of the source is withheld as he is still in Iraq and could suffer consequences for this revelation.

On the more comical side, were the hunger strikes of the Baathists. Each time Saddam would call one, even though he was not housed with the Cropper held Baathists everyone was required to comply. Compliance for these Baathists meant refusing their three standard meals. The media always made an issue of this. What the Baathists were doing was living off the MREs and junk food stashed in their individual rooms. Over an extended hunger period Barzan gained weight. Prior to meeting with Saddam in the courtroom, former Vice President Tariq Aziz would send a request to Saddam to end the hunger strike. The concern of the Baathists was Saddam would realize they had not been following his instructions. Interestingly, after Saddam was convicted and pending execution, such control over his fellow Baathists came to a halt.

Any TF 134 initiative taken to try to help stabilize the country was seen by most Iraqi power brokers as a way to gain power, influence, and financial profit. One prime example was the sponsorship program for releasing detainees. The plan was simple: an Iraqi of influence would accept mentorship/guardian responsibilities. Unfortunately, this immediately became a for-profit operation in which families of the detainees would have to pay for the sponsorship.

Another effort was to have Iraqi leaders be guest speakers for the release ceremony. After everything was set up and the people being released were determined, I invited an Iraqi vice president to be the speaker. In Arabic, translated to me by the American interpreter, the vice president claimed to all the detainees it was his political party that secured their release. Up until receiving the invite to speak, he did even not know the release was being conducted and had no idea who was being released.

As most of the earlier detainees were Sunnis, they were issued a new dish dasher (white cotton frock) upon release. Except for the ones being released to al Anbar province in the west, the released detainees would be transported to the Baghdad bus depot. Many never made it home, some of their own choosing, others were kidnapped off the buses and executed by Shia death squads after being identified by their dish dashers. All attempts to work with the Minister of Culture to have the detainees released at Martyr's Monument had to be aborted. The monument was less than a mile from Sadr City in northeast Baghdad and the conference room in the monument was covered with photographs of Moqtada Sadr.

Other potential solutions were examined. In each case the analysis revealed the ability of manipulation by Iraqi government officials and the Shia death squads. The only solution I found, and it was an incomplete one, was to issue civilian pants and shirts to help the released detainees to better blend in with the population.

Americans Not Understanding Iraq Culture and History

A problem that persisted throughout operations in Iraq was Americans not trying to learn about or understand the country of Iraq, its people, and the boarder situation of the fight in which we were engaged. I recently raised this observation with General George Casey, former U.S. Army Chief of Staff and Commander of Multination Forces - Iraq. We both had the conclusion most U.S. personnel were focused on their daily duties 10. However, this lack of knowledge put them at a serious disadvantage - especially the field grade majors through colonels on command staffs.

As the ATFP officer in 2003, I examined a flyer developed by the CJTF-7 Information Operations (IO) section. The intent of the flyer was to encourage Iraqi citizens to support the coalition effort. Problem was that on the cover was a photograph of Coalition Provincial Authority's headquarters building. Formerly the Republican Palace, the structure still had four giant busts of Saddam wearing an ancient battle helmet. With that photo, the flyer only validated that Americans did not understand what they had gotten into and left the suggestion that Saddam is not completely gone. Addressing these concerns to the IO Chief, a fellow colonel, the response was "That's not Saddam; it's some people from Iraq's past". It was Saddam, who was still in hiding at the time.

Two years later, assigned to a TF 134 position, we needed to transfer convicted detainees to Iraqi prison facilities. Most facilities were already overcrowded, with two exceptions: Mosel (Sunni territory) and al Amara (Shia). I always made the point of sending members of the al Qaeda Mosel Terror Cell to al Amara. In delegation of responsibility, I assigned this mission to a National Guard major of my staff. Checking his work I realized he was trying to send members of the Mosel Terror Cell to Mosel. When asked what he thought he was doing, his response was, "They got room up there". My reply was, "Of course they've got room. The Mosel Court of Cessation is releasing them as fast we send them. The guards are afraid of them and they are running the prison." After that, I had to check the destination of every detainee before he sent them.

The rise of Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and America's Response

ISIS would never have existed if Saddam had remained in power. There would not even had been an al Qaeda in Iraq. The brutality against the Sunnis by the Maliki government created hostile populations in the western and northern provinces. Add to this Maliki holding back from the Peshmerga the US equipment left behind and his appointing friends and allies friends into key military positions set the stage for disaster. Appointing someone simply for their loyalty frequently results in that's all you get.

Maliki's criminal actions within Iraq were continually being overlooked by the US State Department and the White House, to include barrel bombing of Sunni neighborhoods11 and violent attacks on peaceful demonstrators12. One of the most blatant atrocities was the September 1st, 2013 Ashraf massacre. When the massacre was over, 52 people lay dead, some executed with their hands tied behind their backs. State Department representatives claimed no evidence existed that the government of Iraq was involved. Secretary Hillary Clinton called upon the Iraqi government to investigate the massacre. My response was "That's like asking Al Capone to investigate the St. Valentine's Day Massacre". The only thorough investigation and interview of survivors was conducted by myself13. Despite having photographs of the uniformed Iraqi attackers, State Department remained in denial.

Then came the boiling point for the Sunnis and the rise of ISIS. The ISIS invasion convoy, traveling eastbound towards Mosel, could easily have been destroyed by one airstrike. In reality, the convoy was just an advance party and was severely outnumbered by the Iraqi military stationed in Mosel. The Iraq military fled and left behind American vehicles and equipment. Soon ISIS was driving American tanks. As the American military has the best equipment, we also have the best maintenance sergeants. Those vehicles were destined to become large iron useless lumps.

On June 24 and July 21, 2014, in the heat of the ISIS situation, I sent out detailed threat analyses. Former Security of Homeland Security Tom Ridge recommended getting these analyses into as many government hands as possible. Tony Blinken, then as Deputy National Security Advisor and later as Deputy Secretary of State, was on distribution. On June 29, 2015 I sent a very detailed analysis to Ambassador Bret McGurk.

On August 28, 2014, President Obama stated "We don't have a strategy, yet" to defeat ISIS14. Within the Pentagon are thousands of plans that can be quickly implemented or adapted to any scenario. Instead, with this comment, President Obama assured ISIS they had a free hand for the time being, because other than air strikes the United States was dormant. Even those airstrikes, despite press releases claiming the U.S. was pounding ISIS, had less ordnance dropped over an entire month than what was dropped over the Ho Chi Minh trail in Vietnam in one flyover. ISIS was finally defeated, but after years and the slaughter of more innocent people.


Entering into a fight where we didn't belong resulted in toppling a regime that brought stability to the region. An Iraqi explained it to me this way, "Saddam was not a good person, but if you did not interfere with his government, you were left alone. Americans came and totally destroyed our way of life"15.

The consequences of the American led invasion of Iraq is not hard to figure, starting with 4,500 Americans dead and 32,000 wounded in action. Estimated Iraqi losses are all over the board, with 150,000 being the most conservative number. Ayatollah Khomeini stated "The road to Jerusalem passes through Karbala". For Iran, that route is now open, creating additional long-term security concerns for both Israel and Jordan. Iraqi airspace and roads are being used to send material and troops to ensure the Asad government in Syria does not fall. Iraqi bases such as Balad and Ashraf are now being used by the Iranian military. Regional instability and genocide have caused a refugee and migration crisis in the Middle-East and Europe. Iran has been able to further build upon its status as the number one nation state sponsor of global terrorism.

The future of the Middle-East is more uncertain now than any time since the end of World War I and the Sykes-Picot Agreement created those artificial borders. Three U.S. Presidents in a row have only added to the problem. Time will be the judge of the current administration. Instead of the balance of power being maintained at the Iraq-Iran border, a much longer potential balance will exist with Iran, through Iraq, to Syria on the northern flank and Saudi Arabia and its allies holding the south. The old saying, "If you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem" more than applies here.


Martin, Wesley. "Analysis of Pending State Department Requirement for Reporting to U.S. Congress Concerning the Plight of, and Attacks Directed Against, Camp Liberty Residents." February 17, 2015.

Roston, Aram. The Man Who Pushed America to War. New York: Nation Books, 2008.


1 General Eric Shinseki, announcement to Senate Arms Services Committee, February 25, 2003.
2 Donald Rumsfeld, response to Shinseki comment, February 27, 2003.
3 Aram Roston. The Man Who Pushed America to War. New York: Nation Books, 2008, pg. 95-100.
Lieutenant General Hal Moore, conversation, 2005.
5 Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, conversation, March 2004.
6 Donald Rumsfeld, rally in Kuwait, December 04, 2006.
7 Colonel John Cirafici, multiple personal conversations, 2005-2019.
8 Lieutenant General John Gardner, personal conversations, 2007-2019.
9 Protected Source, personal conversations, 2007-2018.
10 General George Casey, personal conversation, July 2019.
11 European Union Parliamentarian Struan Stevenson, e-mail correspondence, June 1, 2014.
12 Protected Source, personal conversations and email correspondence, 2009-2019
13 Colonel (Ret.) Wesley Martin, "Analysis of Pending State Department Requirement for Reporting to U.S. Congress Concerning the Plight of, and Attacks Directed Against, Camp Liberty Residents", February 17, 2015.
14 President Barack Obama, White House press conference, August 28, 2014.
15 Al-Qaeda Informant, discussion, September 2006

©2021 Wes Martin