The Iraq War: A 20-year Retrospective Symposium

Staff Report

Monday, January 30th, 2023

20 years later: military, academic experts to assemble in March to cement Iraq War’s legacy

Spanning more than eight years beginning in March 2003, the U.S. War in Iraq eventually involved more than one million U.S. troops. The incursion—known as “Operation Iraqi Freedom”—brought with it evolving wartime policies, modernized equipment and weaponry, and changes to U.S. military strategy. Alongside the war in Afghanistan, it was the first prolonged war fought by an all-volunteer military and relied heavily on National Guard and Reserve troops. It also sparked criticism as many Americans questioned the reasons for the invasion and grew concerned with mounting military and civilian casualties; the necessity of long and repeated soldier deployments; and the increased physical, medical, and mental health toll on service people, their families, and Iraqi civilians alike.

Columbus State University and the National Infantry Museum will explore those topics and others related to the Iraq War as they co-present a two-day public symposium March 10-11 at the National Infantry Museum. Military policymakers, veterans, Iraqi civilians, and academic experts from across the nation will gather for a series of keynotes and panel discussions that will consider the war’s impact on the United States, the Middle East, and globally as well as on veterans and their families, Iraqi civilians, and on military strategy and the future of warfare.

“The caliber of speakers and panelists makes this symposium the premier opportunity for scholars, veterans, Iraqi civilians, and members of the public to engage in serious, substantive and respectful discussion of one of the most significant events of the 21st century,” said Dr. David Kieran, Columbus State University’s Col. Richard R. Hallock distinguished chair in military history and an associate professor in its Department of History and Geography.

Kieran explained that the symposium’s overarching goal is to have frank and informed discussions that examine the war’s historical context and legacy from multiple perspectives. To that end, it will daily feature keynote addresses and hour-long panel presentations that include leading academics, military leaders, veterans and active-duty service people, and Iraqi civilians. Question-and-answer sessions will follow each of the panel discussions.

“The Iraq War: A 20-Year Retrospective Symposium” is free and open to the public. Registration includes admission to the keynote addresses and panel discussions. The symposium is funded in part by the Hallock Endowment for Military History at Columbus State University and will feature more than 30 speakers and panelists, including:

·      Col. Liam Collins, Ph.D. (U.S. Army, ret.), founding director of the Modern War Institute at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, who will present the keynote address on Friday, March 10

·      Catherine Lutz, Ph.D., the Thomas J. Watson Jr. Family Professor of International Studies and co-founder and co-director of Brown University’s Costs of War Project, who will present the keynote address on Saturday, March 11

·      Col. Scott Mueller (U.S. Army), director of the U.S. Army Center For Lessons Learned, Combined Arms Center at Fort Leavenworth, who will participate in the “Lessons and Legacies” panel discussion on Saturday, March 11

·      Gen. David Perkins (U.S. Army, ret.), 15th commander of the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC), who will participate in the Friday, March 10 panel on “Assessing U.S. Military Strategy in Iraq”

·      Command Segreant Major Retired Jeff Mellinger, CSM of the Multi-National Force – Iraq from 2004 to 2007

The Iraq War has been the subject of many post-war hearings, studies, and critiques in and outside of the military sector. In the two-part study, “The U.S. Army in the Iraq War”—co-published by the Strategic Studies Institute and the U.S. Army War College Press in 2019—then-U.S. Army Chief of Staff and current Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark A. Milley validated the need for an ongoing examination of wartime efforts.

“We have а professional and moral responsibility to learn the relevant lessons of the recent past,” Milley noted in the study’s forward. “[Operation Iraqi Freedom] is а sober reminder that technological advantages and standoff weapons alone cannot render a decision; that the promise of short wars is often elusive; that the ends, ways, and means must be in balance; that our Army must understand the type of war we are engaged with in order to adapt as necessary; that decisions in war occur on the ground in the mud and dirt; and that timeless factors such as human agency, chance, and an enemy’s conviction, all shape а war’s outcome.”

In addition to the variety of keynote presentations and panel discussions, symposium attendees will benefit from visiting one-on-one with symposium presenters (many of whom have published books on Iraq War topics), touring National Infantry Museum exhibits and interacting with students from Fort Benning’s Maneuver Center of Excellence. Symposium organizers are also planning to recognize Iraq War veterans, Purple Heart recipients and Gold Star family members attending the conference.

Brig. Gen. Peter Jones (U.S. Army, ret.), an Iraq War veteran who now serves as president and CEO of the National Infantry Museum Foundation, noted that the museum is a natural backdrop for commemorating the Iraqi War’s impact on America and the world.

"As the home of the Global War on Terrorism Memorial—the only location in the world with the name of every single casualty from The Global War on Terrorism etched in granite—the National Infantry Museum provides a solemn and unique venue for this discussion,” Jones noted. “Additionally, this community paid an incredible toll in particular, as the majority of the names of those granite panels passed through the gates of Fort Benning during their career.”

Jones noted that the museum, in conjunction with Columbus State University, has plans to catalog and share symposium proceedings as another means of documenting the Iraq War’s global, military, public policy and cultural significance.

Allegations that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein maintained a stockpile of weapons of mass destruction and sponsored international terrorism led the administration of then-President George W. Bush to order the invasion of Iraq in March 2003. Although the United States military quickly defeated the Iraqi Army and ended Hussein's rule, growing sectarian strife led to protracted warfare. The U.S. military ultimately occupied Iraq until 2011, when then-President Barack Obama ordered the withdrawal of U.S. combat troops and declared the United States' war in Iraq over. During the course of those eight years, more than 4,500 U.S. troops and approximately 200,000 Iraqi civilians died as a result of the war. In the ensuing years, the stability of both the Iraqi government and civil society has continued to be tested by internal and external threats, and roughly 2,500 U.S. troops remain in the country to train and advise Iraqi security forces.

For more information about the symposium—including a full schedule of events, an evolving list of panels and speakers, and links to register—visit  

Click or go to to RSVP.

See below for tentative list of speakers and schedule.

Tentative Program as of 1/25/2023 (subject to change).

Friday, March 10: The U.S. Military Experience in Iraq

0900   Opening Remarks by Michael Denehy (LTC Ret) and Dr. David Kieran

0915   Opening Keynote:

Dr. Liam Collins, COL (R), Former Director Modern War Institute, USMA 

1030   Panel #1: Evaluating Military Strategy in the Iraq War / The Character of War

COL (R) Conrad Crane, PhD

US Army War College

COL (R) Gian Gentile, PhD


GEN (R) David Perkins

Former Commanding General, USA TRADOC

COL (R) Rick Brennan, PhD

RAND Corp 

1130   Lunch 

1300   Panel #2: The Experience of US Service Members in Iraq     

CSM Ret. Jeff Mellinger

Former Multi National Force – Iraq Command Sergeant Major

Kyle Longley, PhD

Director of the War, Diplomacy, and Society Program and

Henry Salvatori Professor of American Values and Traditions, Chapman University

Kara Dixon-Vuic, PhD 

Lance Corporal Benjamin W. Schmidt Professor of War, Conflict, and Society, Texas Christian University

1415   Panel #3: Veteran Perspectives on Service in Iraq

Lee Crognale

USN LtCdr Retired

Carey Eichorst

USAF COL Retired

Josh King

CSM, 5th SFG, US Army

Erich Fricke

SSG, NH National Guard


1530   Panel #4: Veterans and Their Families After War           

Kenneth MacLeish, PhD

Associate professor of Medicine, Health & Society and Anthropology, Vanderbilt University

COL Brian O'Leary, PhD

Command Psychologist, 5th Special Forces Group

Tyler Merritt

USA Major Retired. Founder, 9Line Apparel Company

Haley Uthlaut

Gold Star Parent / Spouse

1630   End of day 

1830   Dinner and Keynote Address

           Warehouse 9

           Keynote Speaker TBD

Saturday, March 11: The Costs of War

0900   Opening Remarks

0915   Keynote Address:

Catherine Lutz, PhD, Thomas J. Watson, Jr. Family Professor Emerita of Anthropology and International Studies, Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs, Brown University; Co-Director, Costs of War Project 

1030   Panel #1: The Impact of the War on Iraq 

Kali Rubai, PhD

Assistant Professor of Anthropology, Purdue University

Zainab Saleh, PhD

Assistant Professor of Anthropology, Haverford College

Bridget Gurasci, PhD 

Associate Professor of Anthropology, Franklin & Marshall College 

1130   Lunch 

1300   Panel #2: Iraqi Perspectives on the US War and Occupation

Panelists TBD

1415   Panel #3: Lessons Learned and Not Learned           

COL (R) Gregory Daddis, PhD

USS Midway Professor of Military History, San Diego State University 

LTC (R) Mike Nelson

Institute for the Study of War

COL Scott Muelle 

Chief of Staff, US Army Center For Lessons Learned, Fort Leavenworth, KS      

1515   Reception with BOLC, CCC, etc. 

1830   Farewell Reception for Panelists/Speakers

           Location TBD