Today's search for information brought more fodder for my tirades against the challenges of research. It has always frustrated me, and today it happened again.

Today's search for information brought more fodder for my tirades against the challenges of research. It has always frustrated me, and today it happened again.

I rely on military related calendars, almanacs, magazines, and other sources to find what happened in military history close to the date of a column. Sounds simple enough so far. When I checked the 2013 calendar from the National Museum of the Pacific War, the date block for March 19 was blank.

That supposedly told me that nothing significant happened in U.S. military history on that date. But not so fast, for when I checked the National Museum of the U.S. Army 2012 calendar, the entry said "2003 Iraq War begins."

Then it dawned on me that perhaps the Pacific War calendar listed only dates that occurred during wars in the Pacific. Sure enough, there was no entry for June 6, which had a pretty significant military happening from the air and over the beaches at Normandy, France, one year. My bad for not knowing, but now I do.

Although U.S.-led coalition forces had defeated the Iraqi army in only 100 hours in 1991, Saddam Hussein and his henchmen were never captured, and he continued to defy UN resolutions. Enough was enough by March 19, 2003, when coalition forces re-entered Iraq, and this time did not stop short of reaching Baghdad.

Saddam disappeared, his army was disbanded, and a new government was set up to run the depleted country. Saddam's two sons, Uday and Qusay, were discovered hiding in a house and killed by troopers of the 101st Airborne Division in a shoot-out. A major formerly stationed at Fort Leavenworth was the first officer inside the house after the brief engagement and described the scene when he spoke to members of the Kansas City Military Collectors Club a few years ago.

Saddam was found hiding in an underground tunnel a few months later, tried by an Iraqi court, and hanged. The country was on its way to purging itself of his evil reign.

A few short years later the first Iraqi student in many years reported to CGSC at Fort Leavenworth, and one has come almost every year since. U.S. combat troops were withdrawn, leaving a few thousand logistical and security personnel in Iraq.

Before most U.S. troops left the country a scandal occurred when photos were released of abuses at the Abu Ghraib Prison where U.S. soldiers guarded Iraqi prisoners. Troops from Fort Leavenworth's U.S. Disciplinary Barracks were quickly sent to Iraq to remedy the problem, which they did.

Some 135,000 U.S. troops served at the height of U.S. involvement, with 1,900 killed and more than 14,000 wounded. With Saddam gone, the two Muslim factions, majority Shiite and minority Sunni, resorted to guerrilla tactics against each other while vying for power.
Iraq is relatively quiet today, but military contingency plans are in place should open warfare break out again between or among warring factions. America's attention has turned to Afghanistan, which technically is also winding down after more than 10 years of strife.

The Middle East remains an enigma to most outsiders. I've seen a book advertised about understanding the Arab mind, and I'll have to put it on my list as one to read someday. But since I never really understood the long-running conflict in Northern Ireland, I doubt I'll ever understand what is happening, and why, in the Middle East.

John Reichley is a retired Army officer and retired Department of the Army civilian employee.