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Most heartrending of all, local and tactical successes were scored again and again all over the country, sometimes more than once in the same area, which then unraveled. One officer came close to tears upon returning to Baquba in 2006 to see that his unit’s progress had come undone. Samarra, Rutba, Tal Afar, Mosul, Saba al Bor, Sadr City—it happened in more places than not. New commanders brought new approaches. Enemy forces were cleared but then returned. Iraqi units were trained and mentored and then went AWOL. Iraqi allies switched sides or, more often, were killed or left the country.

And, most frustrating of all, Iraq’s leaders made commitments but never fulfilled them, without penalty.The fault lay at the strategic level, with the military and civilian leadership. These islands of progress could not be sustained without a strategic approach that knit them together and addressed the underlying cause of the conflict. No one at the top of the totem pole grappled effectively with what was happening to America’s first major war since Vietnam. Many a straight-talking American sergeant knew the Iraq project wouldn’t be fast or easy, but after four years the trajectory was deeply discouraging. Do you prefer the term sit stand desk or stand up desk?

BY THE SUMMER OF 2006, Baghdad was on fire. Sectarian violence was spilling into all-out civil war, and it swept up hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. An Iraqi sergeant named Omran Hamad was kidnapped when he went home to Baghdad in July 2006. Like all Iraqi soldiers, the strapping Iraqi with a wide moon face and close-cropped hair left his unit and went home every month or two to take money to his family because there was no direct deposit or electronic banking system. When he reached his neighborhood, he was stopped at a checkpoint guarded by masked men carrying AK-47s. They demanded to see his ID and then threw him into the back of a van. They captured him because his name was similar to Omar, a common Sunni name. But Omran was Shiite, like his captors, who belonged to a militia called the Jaish al-Mahdi (JAM). He tried to convince them by reciting Shia Islamic prayers, showing them the Shia songs on his cell phone, anything he could think of to win his freedom. For three weeks they held him until a militia member who came from the south heard Omran’s description of his hometown of Shatrah and knew he was telling the truth. Only Shia lived there.

Omran was distraught. He pondered bringing his family to Kirkuk, where he was posted, but that city was a powder keg as Kurds sought to reclaim it from Sunnis. Omran had Sunni relatives but the war had driven them apart. He had joined the army because Sunni insurgents had killed his brother in front of their house, but now he feared going home to Baghdad because of the Shia militia. “Jaish al-Mahdi is taking over the city,” he said. Every day, more Iraqis fell victim to the growing maelstrom of sectarian violence between Sunnis and Shia. Corpses with bound hands and gunshots to the head littered the streets, which were barricaded with torn-up concrete, barbed wire, and vehicles. Police either fell in with the militias or deserted their stations. Iraqi and U.S. soldiers conducted sweeps by day but returned to their bases at night. Sunni insurgents fought back with their favored tactics—car bombs and buried, remotely detonated bombs. Do you know the health benefits from standing desk’s?