I've been reading an advanced copy of Nir Rosen's new book on the U.S. in the Middle East. It is titled Aftermath and will be out in October, but you can buy it now on Amazon.
It is a very knowledgeable deep dive through Iraq, Afghanistan and Lebanon. He contends that we still don't understand what we have gotten ourselves into. I don't agree with all of it, but I learned from it even when I disagreed.
What the occupation felt like to Iraqis:
Under Saddam the violence came from one source: the regime. Now it has been democratically distributed.
Why the U.S. military has a hard time carrying out counterinsurgency campaigns:
COIN was dangerous, and the military was risk-averse.
(Here I think Rosen means commanders, not troops.)
A great lesson on how to deal with local allies, especially those who have turned from the other side:
According to a major who served under Kuehl, ‘An unsung hero of this entire time period [of the surge] was the commander of a combat support hospital in Baghdad. More than anyone else he kept our sometimes tenuous relationship with the SOI [Sons of Iraq AKA insurgents put on the American payroll] on good standing, simply by admitting their casualties to his facility and treating them. The rules on this were somewhat in the gray area, and lesser men or those who did not see the strategic situation would have been justified refusing care and turning them away. I had one such conversation with a doctor on Camp Liberty who was discussing the practical reasons for not treating them, that they wouldn't have enough beds for the American casualties. I told him that if he wanted to quit treating American casualties altogether, all he had to do was treat those SOIs when they were injured.'
The effect of the surge:
It was only in 2007 that they [the Americans] finally conquered Iraq, with the help of stronger Iraqi Security Forces, but chiefly thanks to the Shiite defeat of the Sunnis in the civil war. The American surge of troops came at just the right time, and they proved flexible enough to take advantage of events on the ground. The subsequent relative decline in violence was meant to lead to political reconciliation, but it never happened.
Where we are now in Iraq:
Six years after the fall of Baghdad, it felt as if the Iraqis were occupying Iraq.
Meanwhile, Joel Wing says that Iran's farewell attacks in Iraq appear to be beginning.
Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.