The Accidental Statesman the Understanding

Topics: Iraq War

The 101st Airborne Division under the command of Major General David Petraeus had been ordered to move north of Bagdad and into the Nineveh province to the capital city of Mosul. With such a rapid deployment of troops to the north the 101st Airborne and Gen Petraeus had limited information about the city, its people, or the surrounding province. This made it hard for General Petraeus to apply his Operational Variables to understand what he and his subordinate commanders should focus on first.

General Petraeus and his full understanding of Mission Command gave him the advantage to visualize the mental process (Selhorst, 2014). Developing the situational understanding and analyzing operational variables and mission variables helped him visualize as well.

Understanding the Strategy

From the beginning, the strategy of the 101st was to achieve early victories in the ‘hearts and minds of the Iraqi population and then to continue building on that momentum. (Cordesman, The Iraq War: strategy, tactics, and military lessons, 2003), Accordingly, the division became heavily involved in several reconstruction missions, including the following: holding early provincial elections, repairing the main bridge spanning from Irbil to Mosul, solving severe fuel shortages, paying civil servants, reopening the Syrian border, and rebuilding the badly looted Mosul University and other educational facilities (Cordesman, The Iraq War: strategy, tactics, and military lessons, 2003).

From the moment that the 101st Airborne and General Petraeus entered the capital city of Mosul, they could see that almost all the Operation Variable was missing. During the invasion, most of the members of the political parties had vanished and there was no formal government in place to run the large city which was the hub of northern Iraq.

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Two parties were battling to see who was going to take charge of the city, however, no formal actions had been put into place to begin rebuilding and getting the main infrastructure operational again. General Petraeus took notice of this and saw that to begin the rebuilding he needs to get the local population involved. This is where is started using aspects of ASCOPE to begin planning and organizing his next decisive action. General Petraeus spent time with the local people and started asking them questions about the area, what the structure was like, what capabilities the city possess, what type of organizations existed in and around the city, and who the major players were in the area.

Understanding How to Rebuilding Mosul

While looking at all the Operation variables that applied to the ideas that he had as an end-state for Mosul, he had to assess the current political situation as well as the economy. With no current government and the economy at a standstill, he knew he had to take action. With the current state of the city, there was no infrastructure operational. General Petraeus look at the current social situation and found many people had ties to the community and were respected in the city. He employed their assistance in rebuilding the government that no longer existed by suggesting they hold an election and create a government in which the people felt like they had a say. General Petraeus has spent a lot of time with the locals and grasped the full operation process that he needed to use to reach the end state needed for Mosul.

In the Operation Process, (2012), visualization is defined as the intellectual procedure of creating a situational understanding, establishing a desired mission objective, and predicting an effective approach through which troops will accomplish the projected objective (Chesham, Clarke & Nugent, 2017)

Passing the Torch

With countless hours spent in meetings with the local respected groups and the election in the past. General Petraeus knew it was the time to give some of the control back over to the people of Mosul. He knew it would not be easy for them however with the understanding that he had of how it needed to be done, there was no other choice. The people have to be a part of the change to take ownership of it. In his easy, he had to win over the hearts of the people and he felt that giving back the control to the people would do that. In the months that followed the economy of Mosul regained momentum and the infrastructures began moving again. It was slow however it was in their hands and did not need to rely on the US Forces or General Petraeus to do it for them. There was only one person that could make something like this happen and General Petraeus did, with the understanding of the variables and the direction it needed to head in as well as the end state objectives General Petraeus has success with the full aspects of understanding and visualization of the plan.


General Petraeus moved forward with the plan to get the people of Mosul involved in the rebuilding of Mosul. By using the Operational Variables and ASCOPE he gained a clear understanding of what Mosul needed to be able to rebuild and restore the political aspects and infrastructure needed to get Mosul up and running with have the military involved and the city and its people havening to rely on the military and General Petraeus for future answers. With a full understanding of the Operational environment, he saw that the only way was to get the people of Mosul involved and for them to create a government of equal ethnic background. With this success, within a month of entering the city of Mosul, General Petraeus turn a lot of the decision-making power over to the newly elected government and charged them to build a new Mosul.


  1. Chesham, B., Clarke, R., & Nugent, N. (2017). The beginning of the end-The cost of liberation.
  2. Cordesman, A. H. (2003). The Iraq War: Strategy, tactics, and military lessons. Westport, CT: Praeger
  3. Lee, C. A. (2015). The Politics of Military Operations (Doctoral dissertation, Stanford University).
  4. Lundberg, K. (2006). The accidental statesman: General Petraeus and the city of Mosul, Iraq. Cambridge, MA: Kennedy School of Government, Case Program
  5. Selhorst, A. J. (2014). Operating in the Human Domain Lessons of a Decade of War for the Dutch Army. ARMY COMMAND AND GENERAL STAFF COLLEGE FORT LEAVENWORTH KS.

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The Accidental Statesman the Understanding. (2022, Jun 25). Retrieved from

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