Iraq War

Running the war in Iraq

book review by Kevin Rickard



Molan, J. Running the war in Iraq.Harper Collins Publishers: Pymble. 2008. pp.358, $32.99. (Seen at $3.99 on some remainder tables.)


Australian Major General Jim Molan’s service in Iraq, outwitting a dangerous enemy and reporting exactly what it takes to fight and defeat violent extremism, are precisely portrayed in his book Running the War in Iraq.

Be flexible

Following a request to Australia from US General John Abizaid, Commanding General of US Central Command, for a Chief of Operations of Coalition Forces in Iraq, General Molan, AO was sent there to fulfil this role. General Peter Cosgrove, AC, CDF at the time, warned General Molan to be flexible and prepare to be “Assistant to the Deputy or Deputy to the Assistant”.

Despite publicised statements and attendant guidance from the Prime Minister and Defence Minister at the time, General Molan arrived in the Green Zone in Baghdad, to be met with the question from US Lt. Gen. Ric Sanchez “What do you think you can contribute?” Sanchez was polite and correct, but finding General Molan an interesting job was not a Sanchez priority right then.

Complex war environment

Molan soon realised he was not about to be given the job he was sent to do in Iraq by General Peter Cosgrove. In a very complex war environment Molan decided to adopt responsibility for the protection of Iraq infrastructure. This huge task involved the maintenance of flow of oil, electricity and the railway system.

He needed to prevent the insurgents’ extensive use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) that damaged the electricity grid, destroyed oil pipelines and compromised the flow of benzene by road throughout the country. Twenty bombs per day exploded against Coalition Forces and a soldier was killed by these bombs every second day. If Molan were to be successful, Iraqi morale would be improved and the Coalition would be able “to keep some of the lights on for some of the time”.

Insurgent enemy

The insurgent enemy was a complex group comprising Sunni Arabs, Islamic extremists, hardened criminals, militias, including Shiite factions, and terrorists linked to al Qaeda. It was suggested that insurgent infrastructure sabotage activity in Iraq grew at ten times the speed of that of the IRA in Northern Ireland. Molan fought the battle rather successfully for his full year in Iraq and ensured some power supply.

Further challenges in the military career of Molan occurred with the arrival in Iraq of the new military Chief, four star General George Casey, Jr, and the new US Ambassador, John Negroponte. Molan was to find Casey inspirational. Casey asked Molan whether he would be his Chief of Staff for Strategic Operations of the recently formed Multi-National Force Iraq (MNFI). This meant, in effect, “running the war in Iraq”.

Paper force of 300,000

Molan had a headquarters staff of 315 and an MNF of 175,000 troops, supplemented with 125,000 Iraqi Security Forces. Casey’s suggestion to Molan was to “fight your way to the election”.  The first ever democratic election was to be held in Iraq in January 2005. At first, the Chief of Staff task appeared to be an overwhelming responsibility for Molan, who admits he did not understand the language of US Intelligence and was fast learning the concept of “targeting”. He did carry a rifle everywhere and had a bodyguard of 12 tough SAS soldiers. Molan’s convoy was ambushed twice, once on “Route Irish”, but after a gun fight was rescued each time. The bodyguard later advised him, “Boss, when we get you away from the bad guys we might let you fire a shot or two”

Second battle for Fallujah

General Molan was now occupied with two major strategic missions. The first was to plan and coordinate the second battle for Fallujah in November 2004. The second was to plan and coordinate the election planned for January 2005. These two interlocking missions were in addition to the onerous tasks of the coordination and planning of the day-to-day military conflicts and tactics of MNFI in an intense and unforgiving war environment.

There were daily Battle Update Assessments (BUA) and Centron Component Commanders Brief (CCCB) by state-of-the-art communication systems. Molan was very much to the forefront of all of this activity.

Bleak city of 300,000

Fallujah, adjacent to Baghdad, on the banks of the Euphrates, is a bleak city, five kilometres square with a population of 300,000. It was also a hotbed of insurgency networks and headquarters of Zarqawi. Accordingly, a process of “shaping targets” began. “Time sensitive targets” were “taken out” and it was decided Fallujah would not be a “three block war” but a conventional urban operation.  The US “Force Flow” system was utilised by Casey for this battle. Apart from ground force control, Molan was able to utilise considerable strike air power and surveillance with “drones”, simultaneously delineating targets to ground commanders and airborne pilots. Accordingly, there was no misunderstanding about target selection. Molan’s priority weapon was the 500-pound bomb dropped with deadly accuracy. By November 2004, the second battle for Fallujah was heading for success.

The election

Molan could now turn his attention to the election. For this there was a UN timetable and a very human justification. There was a counter-philosophy prevalent among the Iraqis of “you vote, you die”. It was thought the oppressed Shiites would vote, but the Sunni were an unknown quantity.

Eventually Molan took control of the Interim Election Committee Iraq (IECI) to support election logistics. He also assumed responsibility for the security of 5,200 polling stations on Election Day, 30 January, 2005. The ultimate success of the election changed the strategic calculations and the landscape of Iraq for the better.

Soldier diplomat

As Molan left Iraq, Ambassador Negroponte said Molan excelled as a soldier diplomat. General Casey awarded Molan the US Legion of Merit for “exceptionally meritorious services as Chief of Staff”. In Australia, Molan received the Distinguished Service Cross in the 2006 New Years Honours List. One of Molan’s most prized possessions is Ballot Paper No. 00000009 for the Iraqi election given to him  by the Iraqi people.

Jim Molan makes two crucial points: 1. “Do not get involved in a counter insurgency unless you intend to win,” (p. 331) and 2. “There is a need for both consistent and agreed counter insurgency policy and strategy, and infinite flexibility in tactics” (p.334). These Iraq lessons would seem to apply equally to current operations in Aghanistan.

Challenging comments

There are some challenging comments in the book’s epilogue. One is that Molan should have been replaced by another Australian General. The second is that our professional military system is not preparing senior officers to be competent joint operational “field” commanders. Finally, Molan mentions that, at the time of writing, the US had lost 4000 soldiers killed in Iraq and 28,000 wounded and that the Iraq war would cost the US $2 trillion if it runs for 10 years. But the campaign plan in Iraq is part of the long term battle against terrorism.

This is a cleverly constructed and well-written book with clear explanations of a raft of military scenarios taking place in a current 21st century war. If you have an opinion about the war in Iraq, then you will obtain valuable insight into that war and profit from reading this book. You will also be able to appreciate the contribution of one distinguished Australian to the eventual independence of a very troubled Iraq.

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