Counterinsurgency in Iraq


RAND has released a monograph, entitled Counterinsurgency in Iraq (2003-2006), written by Bruce R. Pirnie and Edward O’Connell. The paper provides a useful overview of the conflict, and of the various armed actors involved, before assessing the US COIN campaign, and analysing the flaws in US strategy which contributed to the rapid deterioration in the situation in the first years of the campaign.

Based on this analysis of the US experience in Iraq, the paper concludes by outlining the capabilities required to conduct COIN successfully, and provides a number of recommendations aimed at assisting the US government in better conducting such campaigns in the future.

Among its conclusions:

U.S. COIN experience in Iraq has revealed the need to achieve synergy and balance among several simultaneous civilian and military efforts and the need to continually address and reassess the right indicators to determine whether current strategies are adequate. The need to continually reassess COIN strategy and tactics implies that military and civilian leaders must have not only the will, but also a formal mechanism, to fearlessly and thoroughly call to the attention of senior decisionmakers any shortfalls in policies and practices, e.g., in Iraq, failure to protect the civilian population, as well as overreliance on technological approaches to COIN. The Iraq experience is particularly germane to drawing lessons about COIN. In essence, the conflict there is a local political power struggle overlaid with sectarian violence and fueled by fanatical foreign jihadists and criminal opportunists — a combination of factors likely to be replicated in insurgencies elsewhere.

Download the full PDF here, or the executive summary here.


Ed O’Connell, one of the authors of the above paper, sent us this RAND Research Brief which was issued to US Defence seniors on 15 March. It provides a distillation of the ‘COIN in Iraq’ paper, and concludes with a ‘Current Outlook’.

RAND Research Brief: Conducting COIN Operations


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