War breaks things. In many ways that’s the ultimate truism; an unalterable fact of life.
For those who, for whatever reason, usually political convenience, like to simplify things, that truism is often abused to suggest that whoever breaks the most things the enemy cares about, eventually breaks the enemy and wins the war.
In those delusional terms, the US broke Saddam’s Army, and his hold on Iraq, and thereby won the war in iraq. “Mission accomplished.”
It can look that way, from 6000 miles way, the rough distance from Washington DC to, say Mosul, Iraq, but up close, things look different.
From the ground-down landscape of Mosul, or Ramadi, Fallujah, Tikrit or Aleppo, to the people who once lived there, to people who want to keep living there, the real winners of the war are the ones who fix the broken buildings, the broken government, the broken lives left behind when the fighting, the breaking have stopped.
That’s why, even after the United States spent about a trillion dollars and lost about 4500 American lives, after the US defeated and dispatched Saddam Houssein and his hideous regime, very few Iraqis will tell you America won the war.
They will admit, often with a lot of anger, that the US won the battle of breaking things, but when it came cleaning up the Iraq War’s mess and building something new, America gets little credit. Repeated efforts to rebuild an Iraqi national military and stabilize a national government in Baghdad did not benefit most Iraqis.
After all, it was that government and its ghost army that surrendered Mosul to ISIS. Now, a revised government, and a reconstructed military, with a lot of support from America, has re-taken Mosul.
In the process, much of the city, especially its oldest, most historic parts, have been broken to bits. UN observers say it will take years, perhaps decades just to remove all the explosives and booby-traps ISIS left behind. As to replacing the broken parts, rebuilding a new Mosul, Washington once again shows little interest.
The US does say It intends to keep American troops in Iraq even after ISIS is totally defeated. But to what purpose is not clear. The Americans will undoubtedly train some Iraqi government troops, and encourage some friendly political leaders. But again – as after the defeat of Saddam – US-friendly fighters and politicians are already confronted by opposing forces, military and political, which are as strong or stronger and are beyond friendly with Iran.
When it comes to on-the-ground rebuilding of infrastructure, re-organizing communities, winning votes in parliament, and growing economic markets in cities and towns, Iran has left America in the desert dust.
In the war for Iraq’s future, Iran is winning bigly.
Tim Arango is the Baghdad Bureau Chief for the New York Times
He has previously reported for the Times about media and business, and was featured in the film Page One: Inside the New York Times. Tim Arango has reported for Fortune Magazine and The New York Post. He joined The New York Times in 2007. In 2009, Arango left his job at the Times to cover the war, violence, and tragedies occurring day to day in Baghdad. Upon taking up this new position, Arango had very little experience reporting abroad. His only experience was reporting to an English newspaper in Budapest for a year. After a year, he ended up moving back to the US to pursue his master’s degree. He then worked for TheStreet.com where he covered Wall Street.