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Six years in Iraq: three American stories

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As he prepares for a third deployment – this time to Afghanistan later this year – Bowers says he’ll carry one key lesson with him: “Reaching out with a handshake instead of a bayonet will always be more effective when it comes to counterinsurgency ops.”

The reconstruction expert

Mr. Hughes has been to Iraq eight times since the invasion. He has gone with the military. He has gone as a reconstruction expert. And he has taken the Iraq Study Group on a fact-finding trip in 2005. But what he remembers most are two moments that point to the initial failures and subsequent successes that have defined the US campaign in Iraq.

The first begins at a barbecue at the US headquarters in Baghdad in late May 2003, some 10 weeks after the March 19 invasion. Word came that an attack on two humvees had killed two American soldiers along the road to the airport.

It was, to Hughes’s mind, the beginning of the insurgency, and it had come just five days after the US had given the ill-fated order to disband the Iraqi Army.

The two were connected, he says. What many officials had mistakenly believed would be a quick and stable takedown of Saddam Hussein would in fact be a long and unpredictable war.

“It was a harbinger of what was to come,” says Hughes, who was in Baghdad in May 2003 as an aide to the first postinvasion American administrator, Gen. Jay Garner.

It was not until four years later, during a stint in Mahmoudiyah – a district in what had become known as the “triangle of death” southwest of Baghdad – that he began to feel that important changes in US policy were taking hold.

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