Reassessing British Counterinsurgency in Iraq


Britain has a relatively good track record in counterinsurgency (COIN).1 But as one journalist commented in 2008: “the war in Iraq has been one of the most disastrous wars ever fought by Britain. It has been small, but we achieved nothing.”2 Although this view can be contested, it is clear that, if judged in terms of the original aim, Britain’s achievements fell far short of expectations set in 2003. A fundamental reason for this failure was the ap­ parent ineffectiveness of Britain’s COIN campaign. The aim of this article is to explain why a strategy used so effectively in the past unraveled in Iraq. Specifically, it challenges the view that British failure in Iraq was inevitable or that it was the product of an outdated COIN strategy.3 Although the British accounted for only five percent of the entire coali­ tion force, such an analysis is warranted for two reasons. First, British ex­ perience of insurgency in Iraq proved to be very different from that of the Americans, and it is important to address this divergence if only because it reveals a different aspect of the campaign to stabilize the country. Initially at least, the British area of operations in the Multi-National Division (SouthEast) [MND(SE)] presented a relatively benign environment: there were no global insurgents, little sectarian conflict, and the six million people liv­ ing in the MND(SE) were primarily Shia Arabs, most of whom welcomed the downfall of Saddam Hussein. Why then did the people rebel against the British, and why were the British unable to deal with insurgent groups which began to blossom in the south? This last question leads into a second line of inquiry. British experience in Iraq appears to confirm the view that British COIN doctrine cannot deal with the new challenges posed by insurgents today and that, conse­ quently, this strategy is obsolete. It is true that British counterinsurgency

Cite this paper

@inproceedings{Chin2009ReassessingBC, title={Reassessing British Counterinsurgency in Iraq}, author={Warren Chin}, year={2009} }