Chilcot Iraq Inquiry: The Iraq War Reading List

In the run-up to and ever since the Iraq War in 2003, RUSI has offered analysis and expertise on the conflict and its implications for UK defence and security. Here we present a selection of articles and commentary from our archives.

They are grouped thematically by:

  • Going into the War
  • The Intelligence
  • UK Forces in Iraq
  • COIN and the Surge
  • Exit and the Aftermath
  • The Legacy of Iraq
  • From the Archives

Wars in Peace: British Military Operations since 1991
A comprehensive audit of a quarter-century of British military operations at home and overseas.


Going into the War

Marching to War: The invasion of Iraq – a Plan Fourteen Years in the Making
RUSI Journal

To determine the root causes of the invasion of Iraq, it is most useful to look back at 1989, the collapse of the USSR and the debate within the US, and then trace the path of the ideology forward until the war was launched.

International Law and the Use of Force: Attacking Iraq
RUSI Journal

An assessment of the legality of the Iraq war, taking into consideration the nuances of international law.

Doctrine of the International Community: Attempting to Legitimize Go it Alone Policies?

Tony Blair, in a recent speech, postulated the merits of a ‘Doctrine of the International Community’ and made a case for ‘reforming the United Nations so its Security Council represents twentyfirst century reality’.

War Powers: Introduction A Big Debate but only Partial Answers
RUSI Journal

The decision to go to war in Iraq sparked a debate about the powers of the Government to commit troops abroad.

Britain at War: From the Falklands to Iraq
RUSI Journal

Sir Lawrence Freedman looks at the Iraq War in the context of Britain's involvement in other wars, particularly in the Falklands. 



The Intelligence

Intelligence and the Iraqi threat: British Joint Intelligence after Butler
RUSI Journal

Our intelligence community costs upwards of £1.5 billion annually, and prides itself on the top level assessments of its much admired Joint Intelligence Committee (the JIC), yet something went wrong.

Pre-War Intelligence and Iraq's WMD Threat: Intelligence Blundering or Intelligence Laundering?
RUSI Journal

This article assesses the politicization of intelligence and the factors that led to the UK government's insistence that Iraq posed a sufficient threat to British interests to justify war.

UK Forces in Iraq

Air Power and Combat Operations – the Recent War in Iraq
RUSI Journal

This article assesses the Royal Air Forces air power contribution to the recent war in Iraq.

MoD First Reflections on Iraq
The Ministry of Defence's First Reflections report is a useful look at operations in Iraq from the point of view of the UK armed forces.

Britain in Iraq - Operation Telic Factfile

Britain’s Vietnam? Learning the Lessons of Operation Telic

The undoubted bravery and professionalism of British troops in Iraq disguised the deeper strategic failings of their mission. Leaders need to learn from the mistakes in Basra as we now concentrate in Afghanistan.

Iraqnophobia: The Dangers of Forgetting Operation Telic
RUSI Journal

As the tenth anniversary of the Iraq War approaches, it is important not to forget the strategic and military lessons of Operation Telic.

Government and Security in Iraq
RUSI Journal

The last few weeks have seen important events in Iraq. The Iraqi people now have new government of national unity. But at the same time the recent upsurge of violence is continuing, including in the south, and British troops have suffered setbacks. Clearly this is a complex picture and it can be difficult to reconcile conflicting images of progress one day and setbacks the next.

IEDs And Military Fatalities In Iraq and Afghanistan
RUSI Journal
Sheila Bird and Clive Fairweather present new research on military fatalities from IED attacks in Iraq and Afghanistan.

After The Bubble: British Private Security Companies After Iraq
Whitehall Paper

The boom in protective security in Iraq and has helped to create a group of British Private Security Companies (PSCs) keen to establish a separate, British identity within a sector hitherto dominated by US companies.

Occupation for Hire: Private Military Companies and their Role in Iraq
RUSI Journal

Iraq serves as a potent illustration of how deeply embedded today’s private sector is in the business of security and war, and why questions over legislation require urgent attention.

War in Iraq: Combat & Consequence
Whitehall Paper

Compiled shortly after the end of combat, this in-depth study draws preliminary lessons from the War in Iraq (May 2003).

This in-depth study of the preliminary lessons of which can be drawn from the recent War in Iraq includes essays on the strategy pursued by coalition forces, the political and economic implications of the conflict on the Middle East, the future shape of the Iraq government, and the consequences of the war for relations between the United States and Europe.



COIN and the Surge

Defeating Complex Insurgency: Beyond Iraq and Afghanistan
Whitehall Paper
The international response to insurgency and terrorism is at present too unwieldy and disparately motivated to succeed in taking a manoeuvrist approach. In this Whitehall Paper, John Mackinlay argues that to turn the tide against a global insurgency requires a rigorous effort to define the adversary with greater precision. This would reveal a headless, structureless network that grows organically and responds instinctively to events in a way that is more dangerous than the vertically organised versions of Al-Qa'ida that are part of the misleading rhetoric of 'Global Terrorism'.

Atrocities In Britain's Counter-Insurgencies
RUSI Journal
The current scrutiny of British conduct in Afghanistan and Iraq in the wake of allegations of abuse of civilians has raised some troubling questions. But as a review of British history shows, from Northern Ireland to Kenya, atrocities and excesses are by no means a phenomenon unique to ‘modern’ small wars or today's generation of soldiers.

The Cousins' Counter-Insurgency Wars
RUSI Journal

As roles are reversed and the American military supplants the British as masters of counter-insurgency warfare, what will the future hold for the relationship between the Anglophone armies?

Iraq 2007 – Moving Beyond Counter-Insurgency Doctrine
RUSI Journal

Emma Sky, a former Special Advisor to Lieutenant General Odierno, head of Coalition forces in Iraq, discusses how the security situation in Iraq has improved and at potential problems for the coming years.

Iraq and its Borders: the Role of Barriers in Counter-Insurgency
RUSI Journal
An assessment of the problems for Iraq caused by its porous borders and the possible benefits of the construction of a system of barriers.

War Without Consequences: Iraq's Insurgency and the Spectre of Strategic Defeat

To mark the fifth anniversary of the start of the Iraq War, RUSI published a major retrospective on the conflict. War Without Consequences: Iraq’s Insurgency and the Spectre of Strategic Defeat features an Introduction by Sir Jeremy Greenstock, former UK Ambassador to the UN and Special Envoy to Iraq, and new writing by Air Chief Marshal Sir Brian Burridge, commander of the UK Joint Force during the invasion and early weeks of the war’s aftermath, Michael Clarke, Stephen Fidler and Thomas Donnelly.

Asymmetric Warfare in the 'War on Terror': War Without Rules?
The lack of conformity to the rules of war by one party, regardless of their legitimacy, does not relieve the obligations of States to conduct warfare against such entities in accordance with the laws of war.

CIMIC in Iraq
RUSI Journal

In the development of South East Iraq,a priority has been building the effectiveness of the Provincial Councils (PCs), which were democratically elected following the general elections of January 2005. Much of my own work was in support of this objective of 'Governance Capacity Building' (GCB) of a PC, but this is not a conventional role for the military.

The US ‘Surge’ as a Collaborative Corrective for Iraq
RUSI Journal

The US 'surge' in Iraq has played an important role in in correcting the initial mistakes made.

Iraq after Petraeus: How Do You Solve a Problem Called Militia?

One of the many issues that face General Ray Odierno as he settles his massive military frame into the chair left empty by General David Petraeus is how to deal with the militias. Maintaining the momentum of the recent military successes relies on the continuing professional development of the Iraqi Security Forces. But if these forces are to have credibility the militia issue must be tackled.

Al-Qa'ida in Iraq and The Effectiveness of Leadership Decapitation
RUSI Journal

Car and suicide bombings remain a regrettable feature of daily life for many Iraqis, despite the assassination of a number of high-profile Al-Qa'ida leaders. As in Malaya, Algeria and the Philippines, leadership decapitation has had only limited effect. Instead, the targeting of Al-Qa'ida in Iraq's legion of emirs must be part of a wider strategy that incorporates political and economic tools to undercut the resilience of Iraq's decentralised insurgency.

The US Military After Iraq: A Speculation
RUSI Journal

What will the US military, particularly the Army and the Marine Corps, be like after the insurgency in Iraq has run its course?

Operational Leadership
RUSI Journal
Generating strategy may be easy, but implementing it is difficult. Initially understanding the problem is tough; worse, it may itself change as an operation goes on. Reflecting on his experience on recent campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, former US general and commander of ISAF, Stan A McChrystal, outlines the challenges of operational leadership and suggests some key lessons for leaders and policy-makers.

In Arms We Trust: US ‘Post-Iraq Strategy’ in the Making?
On 29 July 2007, the Bush Administration announced plans to provide an estimated $63 billion worth of advanced weaponry to several of its key allies in the Middle East.


Exit and the Aftermath

War in Iraq - Fallout from the War in Iraq: Domestic Echoes in Foreign Policy?
RUSI Journal

This article examines the influence of the sharp disagreements over the Iraq War on the dynamics between governments and their Muslim communities.

At Last... Endgame in Sight in Iraq?

In June 2004, in the run-up to the hand-over of power from the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) to the Iraqi Interim Government (IIG), for the first time there were audible military mutterings of the term ‘strategic failure’ to describe the apparent collapse of the original objectives of the US-led mission in Iraq.

Petraeus Report to Congress – Upbeat but Still a Long Way to Go
Despite the upbeat, though sober report presented by General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker, the fact remains that the US still has no workable exit strategy other than to hope for the best and be prepared to exploit whatever favourable opportunities might arise.

Peace Operations and Exit
RUSI Journal

An assessment of the continued demands from a broad range of the political spectrum for withdrawal from Iraq.

Reforming Iraq's Security Sector: Our Exit Strategy from Iraq?
RUSI Journal

Assessing Britain’s Legacy: The UK Withdrawal from Iraq

As the UK announces its withdrawal from Iraq, an overall judgement of its deployment should be a favourable one. Although it has become clear that the softer British approach is no longer appropriate, the UK contingent has made significant progress in preparing the Iraqis to cope with their own security.

What Now for Iraq?

Eight months after Iraq’s deadlocked parliamentary elections, the new coalition government has finally taken shape with Nouri al-Maliki yet again at the helm. As the leaked US embassy cables show however, the current sectarian power-sharing agreement may further weaken the Iraqi government and strengthen Iran’s role in the region.

A Year of Endemic Instability in Iraq

Sectarian and ethnic polarisation now dominates Iraq's political landscape. It could lead to toxic instability in 2013 as the Syrian civil war bolsters a restless Sunni Iraqi opposition while the Kurds continue to assert their independence from Baghdad.

The End of Iraq

Iraq is on the brink of civil war. Restless Sunni minorities are emboldened by Sunni opposition in Syria and entrenched authoritarianism by a Shia led government. The only solution is deeper de-centralisation or a break-up of Iraq itself.

The Legacy of Iraq

Between Peace and War: Iraq in Perspective
RUSI Journal
This article discusses several questions that need to be considered, before the decision to go to war with Iraq is made.

Imperial Overstretch, from Dr Arnold to Mr Blair
RUSI Journal

The Duke of Wellington once said that the real test of a general was 'to know when to retreat and to dare to do it'. All post-war British Governments, including Tony Blair's, have failed this test.

Blair was 'Optimistic not Criminal'

Professor Michael Clarke, who was among those who briefed Tony Blair before the war, writes that he is guilty of confused optimism rather than an urge to behave illegally.

Iran and the Iraq War of 2003: the Real Victor?

The Iraq War emboldened hawks in the United States and Iran. Increasingly obsessed with each other, they shunned pragmatism for an ideology of confrontation which saw both sides expend political and economic capital they could not afford for ambitions that were beyond them.

Assessing the Iraq War and its Aftermath
Senior Research Fellows Professor  Michael Clarke and Dr Jonathan Eyal offered their perspectives in 2013, ten years on after the Iraq War.

Iraq Ten Years On - a Troubled Past and Unpredictable Future

Iraq is as volatile as it was after the fall of Saddam in 2003. Politics are fought along sectarian lines, and grievances run deep. Nevertheless, Iraq remains united and has the potential to be a regional, and democratic, powerhouse.

Reflections on the 9/11 Decade
RUSI Journal
The events of 11 September 2001 shocked the Western world, catapulting the US and its allies into Afghanistan and Iraq. Ten years on, those conflicts have cost blood and treasure in the name of the ‘War on Terror’. How will history judge 9/11 and the decade that followed? A number of eminent policy-makers, academics and commentators offer their thoughts on the significance of 9/11 for the US, Europe and beyond.

The Mental Health Of UK Armed Forces Personnel: The Impact of Iraq And Afghanistan
RUSI Journal

Deployment to Iraq and Afghanistan has not led to increased mental health problems amongst UK armed forces personnel, but alcohol misuse is an ongoing concern.

The Remaking of Syria, Iraq and the Wider Middle East
Briefing Paper
This paper analyses the impact the Syrian civil war could have on the future of the Middle East state system across the Levant. The report warns that ongoing conflict may prompt the fragmentation of the region's twentieth-century defined states.


From the Archives

The 1917 Mesopotamia Commission: Britain's First Iraq Inquiry
RUSI Journal

The Geographical Importance of Iraq
RUSI Journal

Great Britain and Iraq
RUSI Journal

Eight Years of British Control in Iraq
RUSI Journal

RUSI Journal

By  General Rowan Robinson who had served for four and a half years as Inspector-General of the Iraq Army and had been in Iraq throughout the period when independence was granted to that State.



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