Col. Darron Wright thought he knew who the bad guys were on his first deployment to Iraq. They were Sunni Muslim insurgents giving his soldiers hell in the communities around Saddam Hussein’s hometown.
By his last tour six years later with a Joint Base Lewis-McChord Stryker brigade, Wright found himself sharing tea and meals with leaders of some of the same groups – men he blamed for those early fatal attacks on American soldiers and vicious assaults on Iraqi civilians.
“This dude had so much blood on his hands,” Wright, 44, remembered from a 2010 meeting with one sheikh. “And here I am shaking his hand, breaking bread. That was awkward for me.”
That’s what success looked like at the close of a confusing war: Bringing former enemies to your side and moving on for the sake of a fresh start.
Wright, now a senior officer in Lewis-McChord’s 7th Infantry Division, chronicled the Army’s hard-earned lessons in a new memoir, “Iraq Full Circle.”
The DuPont resident and 28-year-Army veteran aimed to present something different from all the many military memoirs from Iraq – a complete look at the war from beginning to end as seen through his three deployments between 2003 and 2010.
He jokingly says the title should be a play on the Clint Eastwood western “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.”
America’s experience in Iraq was more like “The Ugly, the Bad and the Good,” he says.
For the most part, Wright contends the Army adapted to a kind of war its civilian leaders did not expect when they launched the mission to topple Saddam’s government almost 10 year ago. He says he left Iraq with his head held high and hope for the country’s future.
“As a military, our job is done,” he said.
But his book is not a boosterish ode to military success. He faults senior civilian leaders for misrepresenting the dangers in Iraq and for disbanding an Iraqi army that the American taxpayer would have to pay to rebuild.
He’s critical of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, who in 2004 insisted in the face of rising sectarian attacks that “any remaining violence is due to thugs, gangs and terrorists.”
“This statement was patently false,” Wright contends, arguing the defense secretary was “in denial” about the state of the war.
His story begins at a final training exercise just before the war that revealed how unprepared American troops were for a long-running insurgency. That drill took place against a fictional army called the Krasnovians that could “out-think and out-gun” any U.S. force.
They were a mechanized foe that would have been a good model for Iraq if Saddam had maintained a well-trained and equiped military.
Instead, the Iraqi forces of 2003 melted away. Insurgents and trained foreign fighters took up arms against U.S. troops and melted into the civilian population.
“We thought it was going to be like Desert Storm,” he said, referring to the 1991 Iraq invasion in which U.S. forces did not stick around long enough for an insurgency to develop.