Chapter 6 of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction’s “Hard Lessons” report on the American effort to rebuild Iraq focuses upon the first days of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA). The appointment of Paul Bremer as the new head of the occupation of Iraq would turn out to a fateful one. The lack of coordination and consultation between the different government agencies in charge of Iraq would continue, and Bremer’s first decisions would turn a large segment of the populace against the United States.
In April 2003 Vice President Dick Cheney’s office contacted Paul Bremer about whether he would like to serve in Iraq. Bremer was a former State Department official with no experience in the Middle East, with civilian-military operations, or reconstruction. By the end of that month he had accepted the job, and on May 6 President Bush announced that Bremer would by the U.S. envoy to Iraq. The White House told the press that they wanted to transition Iraq from military to civilian rule, and that this was a first step, but the real reason was that Washington had lost confidence in the head of the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Affairs (ORHA) retired General Jay Garner.
At the time, ORHA and Garner had only been in Iraq for one month, and were being overwhelmed by the amount of problems they were facing. There was no government, no electricity, no security, and mass looting was still going on. As reported before, America’s pre-war planning for Iraq had been haphazard, disorganized, and based upon best case scenarios. The U.S. thought that it could go in quick and leave just as fast. The ORHA had neither the staff nor the know how to deal with a country that suddenly found itself with a political and security vacuum after the toppling of Saddam. This led the Bush administration to panic, and make a dramatic about face in strategy from a short stay in Iraq to a long-term occupation symbolized by the replacement of Garner and the ORHA by Bremer and the CPA.
The appointment of Bremer would make the situation little better. First, his arrival continued the disconnected chain of command in Iraq. Bremer reported to President Bush through Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, but Bremer felt he was directly under the President. The Multi-National Forces in Iraq were a separate entity as well. This led to little coordination with both the Defense Department, and the U.S. military, and ultimately with the White House as well, as Bremer would make many decisions on his own without any higher consultation or authorization.
The first problem that occurred was that officials were working at cross-purposes. When Bremer arrived in Iraq in May 2003 Garner, Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. envoy to the Iraqi opposition, and the U.S. military were still thinking in terms of the old policy to create an Iraqi interim government and withdraw. Garner and Khalilzad were consulting with Iraqi leaders, and the head of the Central Command (CENTCOM), General Tommy Franks had issued orders in April to have most U.S. troops home by the end of July 2003. Bremer on the other hand, said that the transition to Iraqi control would take a lot longer than expected. Washington officials would say the same thing such as Rumsfeld telling the press in May that the U.S. could be in Iraq for more than a year. Undersecretary of Defense Doulgas Feith captured this confusion when he told Congress that the U.S. was committed to remaining in Iraq and leaving. In fact, the creation of the CPA was the beginning of an open-ended commitment to stay in the country.
That was implied by Bremer’s political plan that he announced on May 22. He said that the Iraqis would form a governing council, then a constitution, and then hold elections for a permanent government, which could take 1-2 years. As a further sign of the change in policy, in July, the new head of CENTCOM, General John Abizaid halted the withdrawal of U.S. troops.
Bremer than set about issuing a series of orders that would come to haunt the United States’ occupation of Iraq. First CPA Order Number 1 started deBaathification. The idea originally came from Washington where many officials were enthralled with comparing the occupation of Iraq with the post-World War II occupation of Germany. Bremer also liked that analogy, and felt that the deBaathification was a sign that the old Iraq was dead. The order banned the top four ranks of the Baath party from office. It also did away with the top three ranks of management in any government institution. Garner and the CIA Chief in Baghdad both objected to the decree saying that it would create new enemies. Since the state ran everything in Iraq, deBaathification decapitated the already struggling government. Afterward, U.S. officers such as the new commander in Iraq General Ricardo Sanchez and General David Petraeus, who at the time was leading the 101st Airborne Division in Mosul, questioned the entire process, believing that it did more bad than good by turning people against the new Iraq.
Bremer than issued CPA Order Number 2 that disbanded the military in Iraq. It got rid of the Ministries of Defense, Information, and State for Military Affairs, the intelligence services, the National Security Bureau, the Directorate of National Security, and the Special Security Organization. In one fell swoop, Bremer had put 500,000 Iraqis out of a job. This was another reversal from previous plans that envisioned the Iraqi army helping with security and reconstruction after the war. U.S. soldiers and members of the ORHA were even consulting with Iraqi officers to reconstitute their units. Bremer’s national security adviser Walt Slocombe drafted the order, and believed that the Iraqi military had already disbanded itself during the invasion. The idea was sent to Washington where Rumsfeld, the Defense Department, and President Bush okayed the plan. Like CPA Order Number 1, this one caused even more resentment amongst Iraqis. Riots quickly broke out in Baghdad, Mosul, and other cities as unemployed soldiers demanded pay and pensions, and ten days later, Bremer was forced into agreeing to cover those costs. General David Petraeus would later say that this decision helped create a nationalist backlash against the Americans, and fuel the insurgency.
When Bremer was appointed the head of the CPA, the U.S. was already struggling with the situation in Iraq. The country was a collapsed state, and the Bush administration lacked the planning or manpower to handle it. The idea of American officials in Washington and Baghdad was to get out as soon as possible, and turn things over to the Iraqis. Bremer ended all that, and turned the U.S. presence into a prolonged occupation. This angered many Iraqis who had been told that they would soon regain their sovereignty. On top of that, Bremer made a series of fateful decisions that would only make things worse. With deBaathification and demobilizing the military, he turned thousands of Sunnis against the U.S. They simply had no place in the new Iraq, and this dissatisfaction led to militancy. The Americans and Baghdad are still struggling with these orders to this day, as the Iraqi military is a work in progress, and former Baathists and soldiers continue to try to find their place in society.
For previous chapters in Hard Lessons see:
Part I Planning for Postwar Iraq September 2001 to May 2003
Chapter 2 The Agencies Engage
Chapter 3 The Department Of Defense Takes Charge
Chapter 4 Staging In Kuwait
Chapter 5 ORHA In Baghdad
Foreign Policy, “Seven Questions: The De-Bremerification of Iraq,” January 2008
Gordon, Michael, “Fateful Choice on Iraq Army Bypassed Debate,” New York Times, 3/17/08
Harkavy, “Paper Trails in Iraq,” Village Voice, 9/5/07
Loeb, Vernon and Gellman, Barton, “Rumsfeld foresees year in Iraq,” San Francisco Chronicle, 5/10/03
New York Times, “Bush appoints new overseer to run Iraq,” San Francisco Chronicle, 5/7/03
PBS Frontline, “Interview L. Paul Bremer,” Truth, War and Consequences, 10/9/03
- “Interview Maj. Gen. David Petraeus,” Beyond Baghdad, 2/12/04
Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, “Hard Lessons,” 1/22/09
Tyler, Patrick, “Big step toward a new Iraq,” San Francisco Chronicle, 7/8/03