Cordesman prolifically chronicles Middle Eastern military affairs, and Iraqi Security Forces is a typical work for him with much information but little analysis. He does not debate the rationale for the Iraq war—what's past is past—but, with the benefit of hindsight, suggests that strategic mistakes could have been avoided. Included on a long list of bullet-points are failures to assess Iraqi nationalism accurately, to plan effective information operations, establish the civilian infrastructure necessary for nation-building and post-conflict stability, and establish workable systems of governance.
The strength of Cordesman's analysis lies in its clear chronology of attempts to rebuild Iraq's security forces. One chapter, for example, examines "coalition training and equipment efforts" in 2003. The next one outlines the failure to deliver adequate training and equipment through the first half of 2004, and the following one describes growing momentum in efforts to train the Iraqi military (curiously, without mentioning then-lieutenant general David Petraeus, who spearheaded such efforts).
But Cordesman's work has problems. It reads like a notebook with facts and figures cut-and-pasted, then poorly integrated into the narrative. A chapter outlining Iraqi security and defense views includes no Iraqi Arabic sources and just a few quotes culled from the Western press. Nor does Cordesman make any use of captured Iraqi documents that might, for example, shed light on the evolution of the insurgency.
Some opinions are presented as fact, to his work's detriment; he is critical of U.S. over-reliance on exile groups, which he says lacked credibility in Iraq without ever explaining why such exile groups dominated every Iraqi election. If only "internal" figures who remained in Iraq have legitimacy, does he counsel partnership with Shi‘i cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, the only such "internal" leader to emerge in post-Saddam Iraq?
Cordesman can also be imprecise. While he is correct to note that de-Baathification applied only to the top four tiers of party members, representing perhaps 40,000 individuals out of two million total party members, he is wrong that these firqa' level employees became Baathists only for convenience, to qualify for jobs. Achieving firqa' status required complicity in Baath operations. There are also critical omissions, such as the absence of discussion about prewar efforts to train the Iraqi security forces and the subsequent operations and integration of these Free Iraqi Forces.
Sloppiness with sources and citations is a problem. On page 3, for example, he reproduces practically verbatim and without citation several paragraphs of an article this reviewer published in 2005. Although Cordesman does not intentionally plagiarize, this incident does suggest inattention and an over-reliance on careless research assistants. To Cordesman's and the publisher's credit, they are rectifying the problem and including the citation on the electronic version of the text and all future editions. The lack of an index and bibliography make Iraqi Security Forces inconvenient to reference.
Iraqi Security Forces offers no earth shattering solutions. Cordesman's recommendations—emphasis on force quality and more attention to the police—are too general to be valuable. So, too, are his broader asides on the need for better policy integration and a more articulate U.S. grand strategy. Cordesman's works often read like compendiums, and this book, which offers little utility to the journalist, academic, or policy practitioner, is no exception.
Compare and Contrast
Michael Rubin, "A Comedy of Errors: American-Turkish Diplomacy and the Iraq War," Turkish Policy Quarterly, Spring 2005.
… Both the State Department and the U.S. Embassy in Ankara fumbled American approach to Turkey in other ways. In February 2003, Powell dispatched Ambassador Marisa Lino to lead negotiations. Lino was the wrong woman for the wrong job. While she had experience in Syria and Iraq, and has been ambassador to Albania, she had little experience in Turkey. As the head of the U.S. delegation negotiating military memoranda of understanding regarding Turkish-American cooperation in Iraq, Lino was antagonistic and, according to even pro-American Turkish diplomats, dishonest. Simultaneously, though, Ankara's choice of Ambassador Deniz Bölükbaşi as head of the Turkish team was unfortunate. While Ankara and Washington eventually reached agreement, the excessive nationalism for which Bölükbaşi is well-known in Ankara coupled with both his and Lino's lack of negotiation experience, soured the atmosphere.
The bulk of responsibility on the American side for the erosion of bilateral relations in the run-up to the war rests on the U.S. Embassy in Ankara. During pre-war negotiations, Ambassador W. Robert Pearson leaked derogatory comments about Turkey to the American and Turkish press. He had a tin-ear for Turkish politics. Despite private entreaties by Turkish officials, he ignored warnings that the presence of American diplomats in the Grand National Assembly on the day of the vote would spur a nationalist backlash against the American deployment. He also shirked his own responsibilities. He shocked American policymakers when, shortly before his departure, he remarked at a diplomatic reception that he had spent the day before the vote playing golf with Turkish businessman Mustafa Koç.
Both Pearson and his staff failed to make the case for American policy to the Turkish press. Journalists who published falsehoods would often be invited to embassy functions with little mention of their incitement, while the embassy excluded many pro-American reporters and officials. Perhaps unintentional, such slights nevertheless demoralized if not embittered Turkish proponents of American policy and signaled to the larger Turkish audience that Washington did not care for its friends. …
Anthony H. Cordesman, Iraqi Security Forces: A Strategy for Success, 2006, p. 3.
... Both the State Department and the U.S. Embassy in Ankara mishandled American approach to Turkey in other ways. In February 2003 Powell dispatched Ambassador Marisa Lino to lead negotiations. Lino's competency in negotiations is highly criticized. While she had experience in Syria and Iraq and was ambassador to Albania, she had little experience in Turkey. As the head of the U.S. delegation negotiating military memoranda of Turkish-American cooperation in Iraq, Lino created an antagonistic and dishonest image. Simultaneously, though, Ankara's choice of Ambassador Deniz Bolukbasi, well known for his nationalistic sentiments, as head of the Turkish team was also unfortunate. While Ankara and Washington eventually reached an agreement, the lack of personal chemistry and cooperation between [the] two ambassadors soured the atmosphere.
The bulk of responsibility for the erosion of bilateral relations in the wake of the war is attributable to the U.S. Embassy in Ankara. During prewar negotiations Ambassador W. Robert Pearson leaked comments about Turkey to the American and Turkish press. He ignored the private warnings of Turkish diplomats that the presence of American diplomats in the Turkish Grand National Assembly on the day of the vote would create a nationalist backlash against the American deployment. He also shocked policymakers when, shortly before his departure, he mentioned at a diplomatic reception that he had spent the day before the vote playing golf with a famous Turkish businessman.
Neither Pearson nor his staff made an effort to defend the case for American policy to the Turkish press. While anti-American journalists were often invited to embassy functions with little mention of their provocation, many prominent pro-American reporters and officials were excluded from these functions. Perhaps unintentional, such moves nevertheless demoralized Turkish proponents of American Policy. ...
 Michael Rubin, "A Comedy of Errors: American-Turkish Diplomacy and the Iraq War," Turkish Policy Quarterly, Spring 2005.