Lessons learned in Iraq

Crusty old Marines just tagging along, is the way Maj. Gen. Ray Smith, described he and partner Bing West when they invaded Iraq with the 1st Marine Division. But as consultants, their wisdom and experience proved valuable to the troops who had no idea of the struggle the U.S. was about to enter. Smith, USMC (Ret.) and West, assistant Secretary of State during the Reagan era, translated their experiences into a book, “The March Up: Taking Baghdad with the 1st Marine Division.” As guest lecturer at Campbell University’s Barden Forum, Monday, March 20, Smith discussed some important lessons learned in Iraq. Shortly before the war in the fall of 2002, Smith attended a seminar at the United States Central Command. “They were war gaming on how they could take Baghdad,” said Smith, who served with the Marines in Vietnam. “They were planning urban warfare once they entered Iraq, but the great urban war didn’t happen.” Saddam Hussein’s Republican Guard was dug into position when the invasion started but couldn’t move. The sophistication of U.S. infrared technology detected the position of their tanks the minute an engine was started. But the Fedayene, dismissed by the U.S. as unsubstantial resistance, were able to move—on foot, in urban canyons and hiding behind the population. Immediately after the statue of Saddam came down, the war changed from “Shock and Awe” to hand-to-hand combat on the streets of Mosul, Basra and other cities. The insurgents began their ground war. But the most fundamental problem for the U.S. was the absence of a plan of action after the invasion, Smith said. “The U.S. was relying on the assurances of the head of the Iraqi National Congress, Ahmed Chalaby, who said he would bring stability to Iraq, but that didn’t happen. It took us probably two years to reverse course and try to recover from that mistake,” Smith said. Still, Smith believes in President Bush’s philosophy of spreading democracy as a means of bringing peace to the Middle East. “We can’t just keep on killing terrorists, we’ve got to have stability in the Muslim world or things will never change,” he said. “Iraq was ripe for democracy. It had a middle class, the Iraqis were the most educated people in the Middle East, and it was our belief that democracy would spread.” According to Smith, we’re making some progress in the area of forging that kind of stability now. After the bombing of the Golden Mosque in Samarra, he was encouraged by the fact that a full-fledged civil war didn’t break out. “I fully expected to see complete anarchy with Sunnis killing Shiites, but that hasn’t happened,” he said. A native of Oklahoma, Smith enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1965. He graduated from Officers Candidate School in 1967. His duty assignments included two tours in Vietnam and leading troops into Grenada and Beirut. Smith ended his career as Commanding General of the Marine Corps base at Camp Lejeune. He retired from the Marines in 1999, a decorated war veteran.Photo Copy: Maj. Gen. Ray Smith, far right, speaks with students and faculty after delivering the Barden lecture on Monday, March 20, at Campbell University. From left, Lt. Col. Ted Campagna, director of Campbell’s ROTC program, Cadet Rob Wilkins, Cadet Allen Byrne and Cadet Ian MacGregor.

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