The 2003 Battle of Baghdad
A Case Study of Urban Battle during Large-Scale Combat Operations

 

[Source: “The 2003 Battle of Baghdad”, Army University Press, Military Review,  September – October 2020.]



“History instructs that for a variety of reasons, cities have always been targets for attack by adversaries.”  —Gen. Donn A. Starry


The U.S. Army has a long history with urban warfare, from the Continental army’s 1775 inaugural campaign to besiege British forces in Boston to the 2017 liberation of Mosul from the Islamic State. Since World War II, sweeping improvements in operational reach, mass urbanization, and the proliferation of irregular warfare increasingly compelled modern armies to fight in cities despite strategists’ aversion to the high casualties and collateral damage that characterize urban combat.5 Most recently, the major battles of the Syrian Civil War and the war against the Islamic State clearly demonstrate that neither the Russian nor American armies can avoid urban battle. Although both forces achieved their strategic objectives, visual media from Aleppo and the liberation of Mosul reminded the world how destructive urban battles can still be.6 American military strategists questioned whether American voters, policy makers, and military leaders would continue to accept such high levels of casualties, collateral damage to infrastructure and the environment, and the concomitant reconstruction expense to U.S. taxpayers.7 From a historical perspective, the devastation of Mosul’s urban center was quite normal, but LSCO doctrine expects U.S. Army and allied land forces to replicate the exceptionally low destruction of the 2003 Battle of Baghdad, even when fighting peer adversaries.8


Read the entire article


5. Roger J. Spiller, Sharp Corners: Urban Operations at Century’s End (Fort Leavenworth, KS: CGSC Press, 2001), v–27.
6. Thomas Arnold and Nicolas Fiore, “Five Operational Lessons from the Battle for Mosul,” Military Review 99, no. 1 (January 2019): 56–71.
7. Gian Gentile et al., Reimagining the Character of Urban Operations for the U.S. Army: How the Past Can Inform the Present and Future (Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 2017).
8. John Spencer, “The Destructive Age of Urban Warfare; or, How to Kill a City and How to Protect It,” Modern War Institute at West Point, 28 March 2019, accessed 4 May 2020, https://mwi.usma.edu/destructive-age-urban-warfare-kill-city-protect/; The White House, National Security Strategy, 2. The National Security Strategy names four adversaries: China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea.

About the Author
Maj. Nicolas Fiore, U.S. Army, is an armor officer and battalion operations officer for 1st Battalion, 67th Armored Regiment, 3rd Brigade, 1st Armored Division. A graduate of the School of Advanced Military Studies at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, he holds a BS from the U.S. Military Academy and an MBA from Dartmouth College. He has served in command and staff positions in Iraq, Germany, Afghanistan, Fort Hood, the Army Staff, and Fort Bliss.