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The war is over, but violence continues in Iraq; American soldiers are being killed with disturbing frequency, and law and order is still not established in the streets of Baghdad. Many critics say that the U.S. failed to plan for the violence on the ground after military operations were over. Could we have known what we were getting into? In these excerpts from their FRONTLINE interviews, U.S. administrators Jay Garner and Paul Bremer, USIP advisor Richard Perito, Iraqi leaders Ahmad Chalabi and Kanan Makiya, and former State Department official Richard Haass discuss the current situation in Iraq and debate whether the U.S. should have—or could have--done more to prepare for the war's violent aftermath.

photos of garner
jay garner

former U.S. administrator of the Iraqi reconstruction effort

You told CNN, I think, that if we go to war next time, the one thing you'd do is start planning for the aftermath right at the time.

read the full interview

I think the day you start building the war plan is the day you start beginning the postwar plan.

Did we do that?

No, we didn't do that. Not in this case, we didn't. But there's two answers to that. I think if you asked Tommy Franks or John [Abizaid], they'd say, "Yes, we did." Because they did begin planning immediately for the military part of the postwar -- the civil affairs battalions and what the engineers would do, that type of thing. But the civil side of that, the humanitarian crisis piece, and the reconstruction piece and the civil government piece, as an organization, it didn't start until really Feb. 1. …

[What was your plan for the Iraqi army?]

We were going to use most of the Iraqi army for reconstruction, we were going to hire them and make them, for lack of a better word, reconstruction battalions and use them to help rebuild the country…. They had the skill set to do everything I thought we needed to do. I mean, they know how to fix roads, they know how to fix bridges, they know how to move rubble around. They're all trained to a certain degree. They know how to take orders, they have a command and control system, they have their own transportation, you can move them around -- that type of thing. So that was a good concept. The problem with that concept is the Iraqi army evaporated. It wasn't there at the end of the war…. A lot of people said the Iraqi army would collapse, and when they said, "collapse," they meant "surrender," so, therefore, it would be available. No, it didn't surrender. It just evaporated. ...

Did you plan for looting?

Well, yes and no. I felt sure there would be looting, but I didn't think the looting would have the impact that it did have. When we went up north in 1991, there was looting up there. The looting up there was going into a building stealing everything in it, taking everything out of it, and that was it. So that when we went up north, we just took the building, put furniture in it, put people back in there.

What happened in Baghdad is not only did they take everything out of the buildings, but then they pulled all the wiring out of the buildings, they pulled all of the plumbing out of the buildings, and they set it on fire. So the buildings were not usable at all. In fact, some of them probably are not structurally sound enough to ever be used -- they'll have to be torn down and rebuilt.

These are all the ministries that you're charged with--

Yes, 17 of the 23 ministries were gone when we got to Baghdad.

So you've got to get a government up and running, and get the economy up and clicking, and you've got no buildings for 17 out of 23 ministries?

[Yes]. … But just as important, there's no communication. You're in a country that runs from the top down. Take the minister of health. The minister of health knows exactly what he tells his counterpart or his subordinate down in one of the 17 provinces. Say it's Babel province. He knows exactly what he tells them, he knows exactly what goes down there. Now, down there in Babel province, that deputy minister, he knows exactly what he sends down to the town of Al Hillah. So the health official there knows exactly what he sends into the little sub-municipalities. But none of those guys knows the other piece. No one knows the whole system. You know, that's part of totalitarian government. Without communications, it became extremely difficult to stand everything up and start running again. …

Take ministry of trade -- Ambassador Robin Raphel was the U.S. designee to oversee the ministry of trade. She's wonderful. She literally had to go down the streets of Baghdad with an interpreter and started asking, "Do you know anybody who's in the ministry of trade?" She -- as all of them did -- began to find these people and put together a little nucleus. Then they had nowhere to meet. So many times we brought them back to our headquarters and they found other places to meet. Then, in order to make things work, they had to come up with some way to communicate to the echelons below the ministries in Baghdad. ...

You needed a police force on the ground?

[Yes]. … Our plan was, we knew that the [Iraqi] police force would not be a viable entity for a long time. Because, number one, the police force is at the bottom of the rung, security-wise, in Iraq. If you want to be a cop in Baghdad or Basra or anywhere, you just walk in and get them to hire you. There's no training or anything. …

We knew that as we uncovered a town or a province, the police would flee. Then we knew that we would call for police to come back, some would be accepted and some would be rejected by the people. That's essentially what happened. But we knew even when we got the police reconstituted, they weren't a trained force. We'd have to spend time training them. We had a State Department and a Justice Department contract to bring over advisors to train the police, and that's going on now. But that takes time.

But why not bring in more military police or police from domestic forces that have been trained, bring in actually trained policemen from the United States or from wherever?

I guess we could. I mean, quite frankly, I never thought of that. ...

Nobody brought up the idea of bringing in police?

No, no. In fact, what was brought up … was the concept that probably we didn't need to spend much money on police advisors, and the police advisor footprint should be small. …

Who made that argument?

Well, it was made inside the NSC. But I went to Condoleezza Rice and said, "This is not right. We don't want, at this point before the war, to make a decision on a small footprint for police advisors, because the probability is we're probably going to need a big footprint." She agreed. So she said, "We won't do that. We'll leave it open, and we'll get you what you need." The police advisors began arriving the last week in May.

Almost a month, six weeks after you've arrived.

Yes. Now, what could have happened, what would have been a better scenario is if the money had been appropriated and put into those contracts that the State Department and Justice Department had to go out and hire the police advisors and had them ready to standby to go immediately into Iraq as soon as we can get them in there.

But half of them, the money wasn't appropriated in time, the contracts didn't get signed in time. In fact, I tracked 13 contracts that had to do with reconstruction, government, had to do with schools, local governments, police, agriculture, infrastructure build, that type of thing. Of those 13 contracts, 10 weren't signed until after the war started. The major contract, the big reconstruction contract, wasn't signed until the middle of May. …

But when do you start to see this problem coming?

Oh, in February.

So what do you do?

I say, "You know, we need to get these signed, we need to get some money in there." And it just never really happened.

So you're saying nobody ever said no to you?

Nobody ever said no. Everybody agreed, but things just get caught up. ...

This is where a little bit more planning a little sooner would have helped you?

I wouldn't say more planning a little sooner. I'd say having the money available and the people in the inter-agency responsible for those contracts to get the money into them and get them signed, so that the contractors could put together their teams, get their teams trained, and get them over. Now, one place where it did happen rapidly was the team that was supposed to put out the oil well fires. Because it did happen there, we deployed them from Kuwait with us, and they were ready to go.

But you got to remember what's going on, though. The war hasn't started yet. There's tremendous debate going on in the U.S. The French are against us, the Germans against us, the Russians are against us.

People are in the streets.

I think there's probably some reluctance in the agencies to be [signing] big contracts for postwar before we've said we're going to go to war. I mean, I think that's a reality that you just have to deal with. I think that's probably what slowed things down. It wasn't a pre-meditated, diabolical plan on anybody's part. It was just the scenario we were in. …

When you get into Baghdad, … did you have enough support from the military to do your job?

I've got to answer that two ways. I got every bit of support they could possibly give me, and every day they gave me more than they did the previous day. But initially, no, because they didn't have enough. What happened is we put an incredible requirement on the military when we got there. As I remember, well, first of all, the ground rule is that we -- like our ministerial team, our government team -- we couldn't move people around Baghdad unless we had an armed Humvee in front of them, and an armed Humvee behind it.

So you couldn't send a couple of guys over to the ministry of minerals or something?

Not without them being escorted, and, quite frankly, that was a good rule. It should have been that way. But the moment I got there, I put a demand on them for somewhere between 50 and 60 armed Humvees daily. That's a big demand. Plus, I put a demand on them for pretty much an infantry battalion to protect the palace that we had our people living in, had our offices in. So there was instantly a huge security requirement placed on CFLCC [Coalition Forces Land Component Command] the day we got there. Every day we got more Humvees than we did the day before, and they kept peeling forces off to give to us. …

The conventional wisdom has been that Bremer comes in and cleans it up, and Garner just couldn't handle it. ...

No, I think what happened is DOD or the administration or whoever was in charge did a very poor job of prepping the press on what the plan was. The plan was for me to put a team together, take it over there, and hand it off to a presidential appointee, which was exactly what happened.

. . .
photos of bremer
l. paul bremer

Chief U.S. civilian administrator of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA)

What did you find when you got there?

read the full interview

I found what you expect to find in an immediate postwar period. I found a city that was on fire; not from the war, but from the looting. I found a city where there was virtually no traffic except for American military vehicles or coalition tanks and Humvees, a city where there was a lot of gunfire still going on. I mean, there was still combat here. When I got to the offices here, we had no power, we had no water. We obviously had no air conditioning, because we had no power. The temperature was in the mid hundred-teens. It was pretty rough. …

There is a sense that we certainly didn't expect looting at the ministries [here in Baghdad] because we didn't send anybody to guard them. So I'm wondering how that [planning process was conducted] ...

Yes. Again, I've heard a lot of people who have talked about what kind of planning there was or wasn't for the postwar. It's all very interesting, and I'm sure the historians will have a great time. I frankly don't have time to go back and read the plans that were written before the war. I got a 20-hour-a-day job here doing my job. Somebody wants to go back and look at the plans and write a very careful Ph.D. thesis on it, be my guest.

Fair enough. Is there ever a day, though, when you pull your hair thinking, "God, I wish they'd planned this a little bit better?"

No, the planning was clearly for a different outcome; that's clear. I've said it. The planning, as the people who [were] involved have pointed out, Jay Garner has pointed out, they were planning for things that fortunately didn't happen. That's the good news. We were planning for a humanitarian crisis -- didn't happen. We were planning for a refugee crisis -- didn't happen. We were planning for all of the oil fields to be destroyed -- didn't happen.

So at a strategic level -- and again, I haven't read these plans, but I take Garner and the others at their word -- that's good news. We weren't planning for a three-week war. We were planning for a longer war. We weren't planning for the kind of situation we found. I think it is clear that when we got here, we did not realize how devastated the economy was -- not by the war, not by the sanctions, not by the Iran-Iraq war, but by 40 years of comprehensive economic mismanagement and theft.

I think there you could say, "Well, shouldn't we have known that?" Well, I don't know. I don't know how we would have known that. We didn't have a lot of people on the ground in Iraq. ...

[You made a decision to dissolve the Iraqi army.]

That's right.

Not pay the salaries.

No, I did not make a decision not to pay salaries. I made a decision to dissolve an army which is effectively already dissolved. The Iraqi army was dissolved by the American army in the course of three weeks of combat. There was no Iraqi army here. The institution existed on paper, but it didn't exist in reality.

What happened -- and particularly it's important in terms of our current security problems -- is that there were not units sitting in barracks waiting to surrender to us with their arms. They just went away; they disappeared, they went home. Two entire divisions of the Republican Guard assigned to defend the area around Tikrit simply melted away into the countryside. They are the basis of the people who are attacking us now.

But the army didn't exist anymore when we got here; it effectively was gone. And we felt it was very important, again, as with the Ba'ath Party, to make the point that that old Iraqi army is never coming back. What is coming back is a new Iraqi army, and in fact, we started recruiting for the new Iraqi army this week. …

Who is killing American soldiers?

The killings are coming from three or four sources. There are the sort of renegade remnants of the Saddam regime, the Ba'athists -- particularly the Fedayeen Saddam, which was a trained group of killers. The people who served in one or more of his intelligence services-- There were about six intelligence services that he had that overlapped jurisdiction, spied on each other. These were the really tough boys of the past regime, the people who really committed probably most of the atrocities and killings and tortures and rapes. We also have some international terrorists here. So basically it's those sort of four groups of people who are out killing our soldiers, and who are conducting the political sabotage that we've seen against the infrastructure ...

I think most of the attacks are from the first three groups - the Ba'athists, the Fedayeen Saddam, and the intelligence people. The international terrorists, it's a little harder to say whether they have been involved in some of these direct attacks on American forces or whether they are encouraging people or supplying them with arms.

You know, what concerns us, more frankly, is that we have a rather large number of terrorists from the Ansar al-Islam, which is an Al Qaeda-oriented group, several hundred of them here. When they conduct attacks, they conduct really major attacks, which so far we haven't seen here. So my guess is -- and our intelligence isn't precise enough -- but I would say probably the vast majority of attacks against coalition forces are from the Ba'athists, the Fedayeen, and the intelligence services. …

We now have the job of establishing a police force, and there's been a lot of criticism of the lack of planning along these lines -- that we should have had a constabulary, we should have had police in place the day after the statues fell.

I don't know who's saying that; they obviously have never been involved in reconstruction. I'm sorry they didn't come forward with that plan sooner. What we had done is called for the police to come back to work. We've got 27,000 police now on the job in the country, more than 8,000 here in Baghdad alone. They are conducting joint patrols with our forces in all the major cities, they are making arrests. We have the court systems working now. Criminal courts and the civil courts are now operating here. So it's not just a question of the police -- you also have to have a justice system.

Did you find this process in place when you got here?

It was started. …

You did disband the Free Iraqi Forces [the 700 armed men flown in with Ahmad Chalabi by the U.S.] Was that an order that you gave?

No. We disarmed them. Yes, we were disarming militia all over the country. We're still doing it, and we'll continue doing it. You can't have an independent united country if you've got militia going around. … We are recruiting an army. We've told them they're perfectly welcome to apply for jobs in the army. We are recruiting a police force; they're welcome to apply for that. We have announced that we're going to recruit a large Iraqi civil defense corps. We're going to raise eight battalions in the next 45 days. We have told them they are perfectly welcome to apply to that.

We've told the same thing to other militias -- told it to the peshmerga, which is the militia in the Kurdish north. We've told it to the Badr Brigade, which is a militia run by some of the Shi'ites in the south. There's nothing unusual about that. We're trying to stand down the militias, which is not a healthy thing for an independent country to have, and, where possible, absorb them into regular new Iraqi formations, whether it's the army, the police, the border guards, or in the case of most recently, the civil defense corps. …

You made a trip back to Washington. What were the highest items on your agenda for that trip?

Most important thing for me on the trip was to have a chance to brief Congress before Congress went on their summer recess about the situation in Iraq. I felt -- and when I got to Washington this was confirmed -- that the people in the United States were not getting an accurate picture of the progress we had made here, the really very substantial progress we have made here. They were distracted, understandably, by the trickle of casualities coming in -- almost every day -- from Iraq, and not getting the stories, the other 200 good news stories, about schools reopening, hospitals opening, health clinics opening, the lowest cholera rate in a decade this year in the south, in Basra. Better water in Basra than it's ever had in history, more power in Basra than it ever had.

There's a dozen [good] stories a day for every bad [one], and those stories were not getting through. I thought it was very important to get back and say two things to Congress and to the administration and to the American people through the press. Number one, we have a plan, we are executing on the plan, we're on target, and we know what we're going to do over the next 60, 90, 120 days.

Secondly, we've done a lot; we've come a very long way. And thirdly, even though we've come a long way, this is going to be a very long, tough slog. We are not going to fix a country that was comprehensively mismanaged for 35 years -- we're not going to fix it in three months. It's not going to happen. …

We have undertaken a major noble cause here, which is repairing a country that was under the boot of a brutal, brutal dictatorship. Every day that goes by, we find another mass grave -- today, every day that goes by, it becomes clearer how tyrannical this group was. The American people have every right to be proud of what their soldiers did here in three weeks. Now we have to carry through our promise to the Iraqi people from the president, which is to give them a stable, democratic, representative democracy here, and we'll do that. I think when the American people think about it, they'll say, "That's right, that's what America is about. We're not going to quit."

. . .
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robert perito

Special advisor to the Rule of Law program at the Unites States Institute of Peace; helped organize peacekeeping operations in Bosnia, Kosovo, and East Timor.

[You were invited to brief the Defense Policy Board on post-war planning. What did you talk to them about?]

read the full interview

The thrust of it was that it was very likely that in a post-conflict situation in Iraq, there was going to be a lot of violence. … It was very likely, we thought, that there was going to be widespread civil disturbance. It was also going to be necessary for the U.S. to be prepared going in to deal with that. So my presentation was largely about the kinds of forces that we would need in order to deal with that kind of violence. The recommendations were to create a constabulary and a police force and rule of law teams that would be able to go in and deal with civil disturbance. ...

At the end of the discussion -- there were, of course, mixed views on both sides -- but at the end of the discussion, it seemed like this was something that the board might want to take a further look at.

There were people on the board who disagreed with the need for such a force?

There were people on the board who had different experiences. There were military officers who'd been in other operations. There were people who thought that perhaps this could be done by the military. My recommendations are that this be done by civilians, that what's missing here is that the United States military needs an effective civilian partner. It needs to be able to hand off to civilian constabulary and law enforcement personnel, who can then deal with civilians.

What do you mean by civilians? Are we talking cops on the ground? Policemen?

Right, there's a major difference between military and police. Soldiers are trained to deal with soldiers. They're trained to deal with opposition armies. They're not trained to deal with civilians. There's a different ethos here. Police are trained to deal with civilians. They're trained to interact on a whole different basis. So while soldiers are trained to, as one officer said, "shoot people and break things," police are trained to preserve and protect.

The ethos is evident to the people on the other side. Civilians looking at U.S. military forces in full battle rattle with tanks and armored personnel carriers have one kind of reaction. Civilians looking at police who are not armored, who generally wear civilian-style uniforms, carry sidearms, and whose whole ethos is, "Let's see if I can help you" -- it creates a whole different kind of environment. We know this because of the experiences we've had in Haiti and Somalia, in Bosnia and in Kosovo. ...

Civilians and people instinctively feel this. We wouldn't have the kind of incidents that we've had in Iraq -- where you've had troops firing wildly when they're attacked, or where you have troops roughing people up -- if you were using police, because police are trained not to do that….

You say there was a lot of interest at the Defense Policy Board when you made your presentation.

Yes. Well, we have to keep in mind the Defense Policy Board is an advisory group; it's not a policy-making body. … The fact that these recommendations never translated into policy is a sort of unanswered question. Why that happened is an unanswered question. …

There were a number of assumptions, too, about how we would be received generally in terms of coming in, presenting them with democracy.

[Yes]. I think the assumption was that we would be welcomed as liberators. But, you know--

We were welcomed as liberators, in some sense, were we not?

We were welcomed as liberators, but the welcome was different than the welcome we expected. There was no assumption made that there would be widespread civil disorder.

But you had said so.

Right. There was no thought given in the planning, obviously, to the possibility that as soon as U.S. troops arrived in Baghdad, that the people in Baghdad would go on a systematic campaign to loot the city. This is just ignoring the lessons of history.

The same thing happened in Panama during Operation Just Cause. As soon as the fighting ended, mobs went into the streets of Panama City and destroyed Panama City, looted the city, did more damage to the Panamanian economy than the conflict did. ... It happened in Sarajevo. ... It happened in other places as well.

In all of these cases, U.S. military forces that were there, on scene, stood by and watched. Why? Because they had no instructions to intervene, and because there is this feeling -- and has been on the part of the U.S. military, consistently -- that the U.S. military doesn't do police. It doesn't do policing functions. So the same thing happened in Haiti. On the third day of the U.S. intervention in Haiti, U.S. soldiers in full battle gear stood by and watched as Haitian police beat to death demonstrators that were demonstrating, welcoming the American presence in Haiti.

You can just go time after time after time. It's the same situation that's occurred over and over again. That lesson was there, that lesson is in the writing that we did, the things that we said and other people said in Washington, that knew the history of these kinds of operations; and those lessons were ignored. ...

You watched the secretary of defense react to the looting that was going on. What was going through your mind at that point?

If you remember, Secretary Rumsfeld made these now-famous remarks about people should be free to do stupid things, or these remarks about, "This is what happens when you allow people the freedom to act on their instincts."

"Stuff happens," I think he said.

Stuff happens. There were all these remarks that he made, and that struck me as -- "irresponsible" is a pretty harsh word -- but basically irresponsible; that we could not have stopped the Iraqis from demonstrating in the way that they did. The Iraqis would have come out into the streets in any case. But what we had control over was our own preparation. We could have been ready. We could have been ready to deal with the situation, and the proof of that is what happened at the petroleum industry in Baghdad.

The oil ministry.

The oil ministry in Baghdad was protected by U.S. Marines. The oil ministry in Baghdad was the only institution that survived intact. ... I think the lesson that the Iraqis drew from that is, what was the United States' real goal here? Was it to get our oil? It wasn't to protect the National Museum, which was destroyed and looted. It wasn't to protect the National Library, where priceless manuscripts were lost. It wasn't to protect the hospitals which were looted, et cetera, et cetera. It was to protect the petroleum ministry. So given the directive to do it, we demonstrated in that case that we could.

One point that I think doesn't get made enough is how the looting affected the entire postwar effort.

The looting was disastrous. There's no other word for it. …When the looting took place, the looting was not just one day. It went on for weeks and weeks and weeks and weeks. It was a very systematic process in which the first couple of days, it was people getting in to get what they could grab.

But after that, there was a very systematic program carried out, I believe by the former Iraqi security forces, to do several things. One, to make the mechanisms of government inoperable, so they wouldn't be available to the United States. Two, to destroy the records. There was a lot of systematic burning of files, particularly those files that would have been incriminating. Three, there was a systematic effort to destroy sites where weapons of mass destruction could have been produced.

The role of the security services in the Saddam regime was to protect the weapons of mass destruction program. Those security services were never defeated. They were never destroyed. Presumably, when the coast was clear, those guys came back out and took care to clean up the mess. We had no way of protecting those sites. There was no plan to protect them, and those sites were looted for weeks before anybody got to them. The same with the nuclear sites. There was no plan to protect those sites. Those sites were open to anybody who wanted to walk in them for days, if not weeks. By the time the United States got there, there was no hope of determining whether those sites were operative or not.

. . .
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Richard Haass

President, Council on Foreign Relations; director of policy planning at the State Dept., March 2001 - June 2003

Is it fair to say that the Pentagon were too optimistic about the postwar situation?

read the full interview

I'll let you make the judgment and characterizations. I would just simply say that the aftermath has proven to be far more expensive in every sense of the word, in terms of human expense, in terms of the financial expense. I think in part, it was based upon some planning assumptions. I think part also, what made it a lot more difficult was in the immediate aftermath of the war, the degree of looting that took place. Looting doesn't really capture the degree of physical destruction that took place. [It] meant that the job suddenly grew in magnitude and some precious time was lost. So the entire undertaking became far more demanding because of what happened in the initial days and weeks afterwards. …

The question that I think is legitimate to ask is, should we have had more forces ready to deal with the so-called peace stabilization side of things? Should we perhaps have been more sober in our expectations of how the Iraqis would react once the thumb of Saddam Hussein and his henchmen was lifted? So one can argue that the coalition forces at that point, there simply weren't enough of them and they weren't involved enough to deal with it. Or to put it another way, there was too long of a lag between war fighting and then dealing with the war's aftermath.

Your view on that would be that we didn't have enough troops on the ground.

In part number, in part mission; we were slow to transition from war fighting to dealing with the afterward. That either would have argued for additional forces or a more rapid transition from one mission to another. Though to be fair, it was a difficult call to make -- how fast to make that transition -- because you still had the reality or the possibility of residual resistance from the Iraqis.

You were making recommendations about the postwar period while you were in the State Department. You made recommendations to Secretary Powell. What were your recommendations as to what that situation was going to look at and what it was going to require?

I'm not going to go into every details of what sort of advice or recommendations I made. What I simply did was look at the history of these situations, really going back to Germany and Japan and looking back over the more than one dozen experiences the United States had had since the German and Japanese occupations after World War II and ask questions. What it was we could likely expect? What is it we needed to be prepared for?

My view was that we should be thinking very large; that we were talking about a situation that would be very demanding; that we should try to use local forces as much as possible; that while we should dismantle the upper level of those, say, who had been involved in the Ba'ath Party, we should try to take advantage of the lion's share of the army and police.

Interestingly enough, after World War II, the initial thinking about de-Nazification was to get rid of lots of people. But very quickly on, the United States and others realized that we really needed to work with the existing German forces and only get rid of the top level. So that was a lesson that I thought we should apply here.

But essentially, also I was arguing that we should make this as international as possible. There was no reason to hoard this to ourselves in some "victor gets the spoils" mentality, but rather that we should see this as something to be shared with others -- for two reasons.

One, to help repair some of the breaches that are opened up diplomatically in the run-up to the war. Second of all, I thought this would likely turn out to be an extremely demanding mission based upon looking at these parallel situations, and we did not want this to distort American foreign policy. We did not want this to drain the human and financial resources of the United States.

So you make these recommendations based on your study of Germany, Japan. How were they received?

Again, I was an adviser to the secretary of state. I gave my advice to the secretary of state. These things then go into the inter-agency process. At the end of the day, others have to decide. I was in a kind of position where I would be recommending, rather than deciding, in this administration.

You had influence, but not power?

At most, I had some influence; clearly had no power. I think also in this situation, whenever war is fought, it's important to keep in mind that the bulk of the responsibility falls to the occupation forces. So in this case, the Department of Defense had the lion's share of the say about the specific policies of the occupation.

So they look at these recommendations and draw different conclusions as to what the postwar situation is going to be like?

Again, I'll let them speak for themselves, and you're welcome to interview them on this show. But I would think that the policy speaks for itself.

. . .
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laith kubba

Senior program officer for the Middle East and North Africa at the National Endowment for Democracy; president, Iraq National Group

You've said, "Following its remarkable military success in Iraq, the U.S. has been incurring political losses through a series of misjudgments, a series of political miscalculations." What were they?

read the full interview

The most fatal misjudgment was to allow power vacuum in the first three days. I thought that was fatal. Iraqis are used to military coups when they take place. They tune in to their radios. Many of them who are just used to working for bureaucracies, they obey orders. They waited for announcement, number one, to tell them "All important personnel working in electricity and water, report back to work, and you'd be given access. Everybody else is under curfew from so-and-so hours." This is the way things are done, and people know exactly how to respond to it.

Instead, there was a day, two days and three days of no authority. Suddenly people start to probe the streets and realize there was no authority. Unfortunately, then, there was the ransacking of office, government buildings, offices, even hospitals and universities, were just ransacked. That was a crime, really, at a very large scale. Then there was the run by different political parties, who simply assumed that they will take over authority, a de facto authority, by taking over buildings, houses--

Iraqi political parties.

INC. The Kurdish parties, in particular, and others. They took over not only government buildings, but other properties. Cars, equipment. It was as if it was free-for-all. That set also a bad example for the rest of the population, who was looking forward to see an alternative political leadership emerging. So that also sent a bad message.

Of course, that low period with not knowing what to do ultimately led to state of paralysis for about six weeks. I think this is when the U.S. really squandered its political gains. There was a lot of good will from the Iraqis towards the U.S. -- of course, a level of apprehension, and maybe concern --but at the same time, a lot of good will. People were grateful to whoever helped them, freed out of Saddam's grip. Despite what happened, even now people are grateful. But unfortunately, many scars were left since then, until now.

The measure to dissolve the Iraqi army was not a smart one. I thought the measure suddenly to announce that all Ba'ath Party members are suspects and have no future in Iraq was a bad one. Those who know Iraq, they know that Iraqis were co-opted by the Ba'ath Party; not because they like the Ba'ath Party or believe in it, [but] because that was just a way of getting on in life.

De-Ba'athification was an attempt, just like de-Nazification was in Germany, to get a fresh start. What was wrong with it?

The key task here is to focus at the end game, and the end game is to make the transition in Iraq. The end game is not to settle scores. The end game is not to have ideological scores. The end game is to help Iraq make the transition from where it was under Saddam Hussein to the point where it is stable, open and democratic. Now if that means you need to utilize some of the people who were in the bureaucracy, in the army, in the regime, and if they're vital and crucial to make that transition, then you take them on board. The goal you're aiming at is much bigger than simply trying to score ideologically or personally against the people who served in the regime…. Alienating large numbers of people, and not using them or utilizing them, was not a smart move.

… By doing that, you have made those people part of the problem instead making them part of the solution. They have become part of the organized crime, part of the snipers shooting at the Americans, and part of the people who see no place for them in future Iraq, and that was not the idea. They could have been useful. Those people did not have a vested interest in Saddam Hussein. Many Ba'ath members wanted Saddam out. They were part of the Ba'ath Party because of Saddam, not because they wanted to be part of the Ba'ath Party. I would have thought political management would have been a smart move.

Another fatal error was not to put an effective media organization from day one. For days and weeks, Iraqis did not hear the voice of Iraqis with a message clearly going out, telling them what to do. I think part of the problem was technical, and part of the problem was simply nobody has put it together.

Other media organizations were up and running. The Iranians were up and running.

The Iranians, the Syrians, the Kurds. I mean, everybody else, it was very simple. People cannot understand why America could not put television or radio, quickly, broadcasting there and put the right team there, with all the money and the resources they have. … It's hard to believe that this does not take place. People can argue electricity did not run because of saboteurs, because the Iraqi staff were not there; but people cannot understand why you couldn't broadcast. …

Why this series of miscalculations? Why this power vacuum for several days?

I do not know. I can only make observations from the outside. I was not part of the real planning. I was not part of the transition teams that were operative. … The impression I had, listening to different comments, maybe too much emphasis was put on the humanitarian needs, and maybe a humanitarian crisis would take place, and maybe Saddam will use weapons of mass destruction. Maybe this has absorbed most of the planning, the hardware, hard stuff. But on the soft side, political planning, media planning, human resources--

Well, basic law and order on the street is not a soft issue.

It could have been a soft issue. I would have thought symbolic presence by the military or the police with strong, clear media messages would have filled that vacuum. Iraqis who've been timid under Saddam Hussein all these years respect authority, and they would have stayed in check. I think it's extremely misleading to assume that Iraqis behave like this normally and that is a natural reaction, as some might have suggested, because they got rid of Saddam Hussein, [Iraqis were] tasting their freedom.

This was not normal. It's not a sign of liberated people. I think it's a sign of people who sense there is no authority. If the message initially was sent to them through the media and through symbolic presence of troops in the streets, in front of office buildings, then this would have deterred them.

Let me give you concrete examples, not only from the working groups of the Future of Iraq Project, but even within the conferences we held at the Iraq National Group, the group that I led. We held three conferences. We mobilized over 600 Iraqi experts, and we paralleled some of the work that was done by the Future of Iraq Working Group, because we thought that was such a good move, let's add a strong Iraqi flavor to it and carry on with it.

We anticipated clearly not only the looting, but the post-Saddam possibility of organized crime. We looked at international criminal organizations moving to Iraq, drugs and prostitutions, and others. We looked specifically at what would happen to Iraq's antiques, museums, and banks. We looked at the possibility of the growth of organized crime, and how, if it's not tackled from day one, it will become a chronic, serious problem.

What happened to your recommendations?

We were shocked that what we feared most and recommended against was just unfolding in front of our eyes as if nobody knew it. To us, that was heartbreaking.

. . .
photos of chalabi
ahmad chalabi

Founder, Iraqi National Congress; Iraqi governing council member

What do you think your biggest challenge is?

read the full interview

My biggest problem, I believe, would arise if there is serious acrimony between the U.S. troops and the Iraqi people. This has been my basic concern from the beginning, before the war. That is something that I would like to move forward to address quickly, and to resolve.

Who is killing American soldiers?

Ba'athists, mainly. … There are some non-Iraqi -- Wahhabis and Salafis who have come into these areas who are making an effort to kill U.S. soldiers. But the main support for this, and the main funding is from Baathists.

Once the Baathist [money] dries up, do you think that that opposition will go away?

It's a long way drying up, but I believe that this opposition can be removed quickly.

Without drying up the money?

Yes. ... There are other ways to resolve this, other than waiting for the Baathist money to run out.

By getting the Americans off the streets?

Well, this is one thing. And by interning many Baathists.

By interning? By jailing many Baathists?

Yes. Yes.

How are you going to do that? You don't have a police force.

Not I. I don't have any jurisdiction over--

Well, no, but how are you, the Iraqis, going to be able to do that without--?

We cannot do it ourselves because we don't have jurisdiction over any security force. The Americans must do it.

So you think they're moving aggressively enough as it is?

Not yet, no.

No. You think they need to do more arrests, more sweeps?

Yes, a lot more.

But won't this just increase [the acrimony] at the same time?

No.

I mean, you get into a vicious circle here where they increase the acrimony.

That is not true. There will be no vicious circle.

Why not?

Because now the situation is very soft. Baathists are able to remain here -- very near here. There are people who have killed hundreds of Iraqis living at home. All the way along the airport road on both sides are houses of Mukhabarat officers. There are many incidents on the road to the airport. They planted bombs. There are Baathists and Fedayeen Saddam and other elements who don't wish the U.S. well at all, roaming around the cities of Iraq, and nothing is being done about it.

You know who they are and where they are?

Indeed, we do. We do.

When you say "we," you mean the INC's intelligence?

INC and the governing council.

So why are they not arresting these people if we know where they are?

Because communicating information to the U.S. does not produce the desired result and there is no policy in the U.S. now to do this. There are some people in the U.S. who think the same way that you asked the question -- that this is counterproductive, and will only increase the violence.

So how do you persuade them otherwise?

I think they'll eventually persuade them.

In other words, the killing will continue and they'll be forced into it?

Yes.

So we're going to see a number more American soldiers killed?

Same level. But it will become cumulative, and that's not good.

This is going to be difficult to sell a policy of such aggressive behavior on the part of the United States.

Well, that's all right. Then they will get -- the casualties will continue at this rate.

Well, that's not all right, because eventually that's not going to translate into political support at home for the continued occupation of Iraq. ...

Well, we really don't need continued occupation.

You need security.

We need security, but we can -- if the U.S. pulls out, we have to have our own plans.

But you don't have any.

Oh, we do.

You have plans, but you have nothing on the ground. You do not have a police force.

We can develop a police force quickly.

Are you saying that if the Americans pull out tomorrow, you'd be OK?

No. There will be fighting in Iraq. There would be a lot of bloodshed. But we will not abandon the situation. We will fight, and I believe we will win. We will fight the Baathists. …

. . .
photos of makiya
kanan makiya

Advisor to the Iraqi National Congress

Why did the government fail to understand the needs of Iraq on the security front?

read the full interview

We all failed. I don't blame the U.S. government on that. I think that was a more general failure. I have written about the looting that took place after 1991 or the looting in Kuwait. You know, I'm fully aware of incidents of looting in Iraqi history, written about by Iraqi sociologists. ... But the scale of it this time was new, and I don't blame anyone for not predicting it.

We could talk about why that happened, what exactly happened with the collapse of the Iraqi state that was to create that. We can talk about the effects of 30 years of this regime that all of us can write about theoretically and try to study and understand from outside. But you understand only really by living persistently inside.

I think very few people understood just how little investment had been made in the infrastructure of Iraq over the last 15 years. What the impact of that was. ... I think it was $3 million for the entire educational infrastructure in Iraq ... $3 million, with over $1.4 billion, $1.9 billion for the Republican Guard alone.

I mean, just for a moment try to push those figures back, and you understand the state of the Iraqi social and economic system -- the state of degradation that's taken place here. ...

So the looting that took place is a more complicated phenomena. There were ways in which the looting could have been dramatically reduced, and very simple ways. These are legitimate failures that the Pentagon especially is responsible for. Like not positioning tanks before every ministry, for God's sake -- that's just unbelievable. Why stick it only in front of the oil ministry? Do you actually want the world to go get the very wrong conclusion? ... Do you want to create that condition, then you go and put a tank in front of the oil ministry and you don't put it anywhere else, in front of the ministry of culture, in front of the national museum? You make that kind of a stupid mistake, which was made.

But what I'm saying is there was more. One of our problems that we faced was when you take the lid off of a repressive system of 30 years in making, which includes a system that has now degraded the entire economic and social infrastructure of the country, utterly let it rot -- and the population, in a sense, paid the price for this system -- you now take the lid off this thing and you don't have an alternative, especially law and order, system to replace it. The population went wild. ...

So people had every reason to doubt American intentions -- and don't forget they paid a terrible price for hope, for believing in American intentions, back in 1991; that memory lingered. Look at the massacres, look at the price they paid. All of us underestimated that price. We used to calculate the casualties of the 1991 uprising at 40,000 to 60,000. ... We're now talking 200,000 to 300,000 people killed immediately afterwards because of the questioning of the uprising that followed the last Gulf War. That price is buried in people's fears and apprehensions. "What are they really here for, what do they want?"

...

Tommy Franks?

Tommy Franks, I think, was a mistake. He may have been technically a very good commander. But he didn't have any political vision or guidance, and I don't think listened enough to his civilian counterparts in the Pentagon--

To Secretary Rumsfeld, to Paul Wolfowitz?

I don't know about Secretary Rumsfeld, but certainly to the people who knew the Middle East better than he did. I say this because there were some very, very fundamental mistakes made, simple things. Just utterly -- just matters of oversight: not protecting the eastern border; allowing Iranians to pump people in the tens of thousands through the borders; not controlling, not realizing that one of the first things -- especially after the last Gulf War when they did exactly that. He should have closed that border off right away. … So that was one thing. Secondly, the tanks. I mean, not positioning tanks in strategic locations.

Not protecting the ministries?

Not protecting key installations.

There was no plan before the war? You hadn't advised--

You know, I was never asked on these kinds of questions. I wish I had been. Me or the INC or others. I mean, I can't recall anybody asking our opinion on things. I remember just once being asked -- just once -- one question which was of some relevance. [That was], could I think of Iraqi artists who might accompany the American troops to point out artifacts that needed to be saved as the troops went through there? Nothing came of it, unfortunately. I thought it was a great idea, very smart. ... We know the archeological sites were protected from targeting. We know they had the x-y coordinates of these things. ... They very carefully worked around to avoid hitting archeological sites and so on. So if that's the case, why not protect them as well from looting?

But you see, that comes from not knowing, it comes from ignorance. ...

Take, for instance, the absence of Iraqis. It wasn't important to [Franks] that he didn't have any Iraqis. He didn't think there were Iraqis that could be of help to him. I know that for a fact. So, why? I mean, why were we in that position? You need people who have a hands-on knowledge, who have relatives in places, who have friends around corners, who can pick up the phone, who can penetrate a city and pick up the phone and call a few cousins and organize a few others and go in, and who know where the Fedayeen are precisely located. This is a key element of information.

But if you've got some grandiose plan, you're going to swing by cities really fast, you're going to march up to Baghdad and it's all very beautiful and it's perfectly precision-made and so on -- it's got nothing to do with the fact that, Well, what do these people think about what you're doing there? You want them to rise, right? Isn't that what the whole idea was?

But they don't even know what your plans are. They don't know anything about the democracy that you want to bring into this country. They don't know for sure you're going to knock him out or not. After all, you didn't the last time. They're worried. They don't want to pay the price a second time around. How do you deal with them? How do you talk to them? What radio stations were being beamed into them? Is that enough? You need physical presence of Iraqis that they can trust. …

It's about physical, tangible contact between people on the ground living with Fedayeen in their midst, thugs who are about to shoot them in the back, and strangers coming into their land who are claiming things that they are brought up to disbelieve. How do you bridge that gap? You bridge it with people from the same culture and so on who are part of the values of the coalition. ... Iraqis were needed for that, principally. Not as a fighting force. They were needed to be seen physically as brethren who were part of the coalition forces. That alone would be the magical touch that would transform sentiments and lead people once again to pick up guns and put their lives on the line and take on the Fedayeen.

 

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