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key controversies and missteps of the postwar period

A closer look at the decisions and mistakes made during the 14 months (April '03-June '04) of the American-led occupation government in Iraq before sovereignty was handed over to the Iraqis. These comments are drawn from FRONTLINE's extended interviews with those on the ground in Iraq that crucial year, as well as other experts and journalists.

De-Baathification

 

bremer

Administrator, Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA)

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L. Paul Bremer III

Where does the CPA Order No. 1 come from, the de-Baathification decree? What was the thinking? How did it evolve? Did you come with it in mind?

The concept behind the de-Baathification decree was that the Baath Party had been one of the primary instruments of Saddam's control and tyranny over the Iraqi people for decades. Saddam Hussein himself openly acknowledged that he modeled the Baath Party on the Nazi Party because he admired the way in which Hitler was able to use the Nazi Party to control the German people. Just as in our occupation of Germany we had passed what were called "de-Nazification decrees" and prosecuted senior Nazi officials, the model for the de-Baathification was to look back at that de-Nazification. …

Did you feel like you were rolling the dice a little bit, though? I mean, it kind of intuitively makes sense that you don't want to let too many of them go. You want infrastructure.

I had to keep my eye on the broader strategic picture here, too, which was that we had sent an American Army halfway around the world to throw out this hated regime. American men and women had lost their lives in that process. The Iraqi people had a promise of a better life from this process of getting rid of Saddam Hussein, and the promise of better government.

In my view, one had to weigh the potential negative consequences of some people being unhappy against the broader goals and what we were trying to accomplish in Iraq. To me, it was the right thing to do. …

And I might add one thing on this de-Baathification which is important to remember: The State Department, a year before the war, had called together a group of Iraqi exiles to talk about what a post-Saddam Iraq would look like. And the resulting study, which was a 2,000-3,000 page study called the Future of Iraq Project, was all over the lot, in terms of what post-war Iraq should look like, except on one subject: de-Baathification absolutely had to happen. The senior members of the Baath Party had to be got rid of, and the Baath ideology should be got rid of.

So, the impetus for this was not some idea that sprung full-blown from somebody's head in the United States government. This was based on the recommendation of Iraqis who were in exile. …

Many people point a finger at you and say you gave Chalabi de-Baathification. …

Well, I didn't give it to Chalabi. I did make a mistake. … The implementation is where I went wrong. I knew that we, the foreigners -- whether it was Americans or British or Australians or Romanians or Poles -- we were going to have a hard time making the kind of fine distinctions that de-Baathification policy required. Did [a person] join the party because he was a real believer, or did he join it because he wanted to be a teacher, and to be a teacher you had to join the party? I said: "We're not going to be able to make those distinctions. I need to turn it over to Iraqis."

The mistake I made was turning it over to the Governing Council. I should have turned it over instead to a judicial body of some kind. The Governing Council, in turn, turned it over to Chalabi. I did not turn it over to Chalabi. It is true that once the Governing Council took it over, they started interpreting the policy, implementing the policy much more broadly, and we had to walk the cat back in the spring of 2004. …

ricks

Author, Fiasco

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Thomas E. Ricks

De-Baathification didn't really pay attention to the lessons of de-Nazification. The Army War College actually had studied this in the fall of '02 and made the point in a study that de-Nazification was very carefully done from the very bottom up. They went into each village, and they talked to anti-Nazi people about who the Nazis had been, and they compiled information at the village level.

Bremer did the opposite. He comes in at the very top and issues a sweeping rule that really doesn't even have information about who are Baathists, why they were Baathists, and who wasn't a Baathist. It's really just almost a casual imposition on the society that's not particularly informed about the nature of Iraqi society. I think the occupation of Germany was much more an excuse than real analogy. …


dobbins

Director, RAND Corporation's International Security and Defense Policy Center

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James Dobbins

The United States could afford to engage in a very broad effort of social engineering in Germany, because Germany had been devastatingly defeated. It had surrendered, and there were 1.7 million American soldiers in the American sector of Germany, which is only one-quarter of Germany. … That meant one person in 10 was an American soldier. It was a very obtrusive presence, which pre-empted any thought of resistance. In that kind of circumstance, one could engage in a far more ambitious project of reform than you were likely to do in a society in which you had 25 million people and only 100,000 American troops. …


garner

Director, Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance (ORHA)

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Lt. Gen. Jay Garner (Ret.)

How do you hear about [the de-Baathification order]?

I'm walking down the hallway, and Robin Raphel, Ambassador Robin Raphel, says, "Have you seen this?" She has a piece of paper. I said: "No. What it is?" She says, "De-Baathification order." I said, "Wow." So I read it real quick, there in the hall. I said, "This is too deep." She said, "This is why you have to stay here." And I said, "Well, let me go talk to Ambassador Bremer."

I walked down, and Charlie [the former Baghdad station chief] was coming across the hallway, CIA guy, great guy, and I said, "Hey, Charlie, have you read the de-Baathification [order]?" And he said: "Yeah, that's why I'm here. Let's go in and talk to the ambassador."

We went in, and we talked to Ambassador Bremer for a few minutes. I said, "You know, this is too deep." I said: "Give Charlie and I about 45 minutes to an hour. Let us digest this thing, and then let us recommend some changes to you, and come back here, and we'll get Donald Rumsfeld to see if we can't soften this a bit."

And he said: "These are the directions I have. I have directions to execute this." And I said, "Well, I think it's too deep." And he said, "Well, it's the directions we have, and we're going to execute those."

So I said, "Well, Charlie, what do you think?" To the best of my memory, Charlie said, "Well, if you do this, you're going to drive 40,000 to 50,000 Baathists underground by nightfall. The number is closer to 50,000 than it is [to] 30,000."

Bremer again said, "I understand what you're saying. I understand that's your opinion, but I have my directions. I have directions [to execute] these orders," which told me, I thought, he didn't have any choice. It was another one of the decrees he brought over in a briefcase that he was told to execute. …

rajiv

Author, Imperial Life in the Emerald City

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Rajiv Chandrasekaran

The immediate impact [of de-Baathification] wasn't that severe. It wasn't like overnight you detected a change. … But guys who would come to work after the war and tried to make things work, particularly in the Health Ministry or with electricity and public services and the Ministry of Industry, a lot of these people were told, effectively, to go home.

Even more significant than that, what it meant was that people like Ambassador [Robin] Raphel and the other CPA senior advisers now were going to be forced to spend weeks and months vetting all the senior people in the ministry. While they should have been out trying to figure out how to get things running again, they were distracted and diverted into this whole process of background checks. It was just an incredible waste of time.

The process of driving people underground, I think, happened gradually, but it did happen. You had a lot of people who knew that they'd never have a future in that Iraq. Some of them who had money fled the country, and others said, "Look, if this is the way this new government is going to turn out, I'd better oppose it." It turned people into enemies.


cordesman

Center for Strategic and International Studies

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Anthony Cordesman

I think, frankly, there wasn't a single person in the CPA who understood what Order No. 1 meant. Nobody made any effort to survey how many people would be excluded or affected by issuing the order in that form, and it went down to far too low a level, in far too many areas. It created a climate where people could be expelled as university teachers or grade school teachers, not simply people who had some kind of tie to the senior structure. That suited some of the Shiite and Kurdish groups; it didn't suit most of the Sunni exiles. It created an almost hopeless problem, because it removed the secular core from the government of Iraq, and it crippled it economically.


gordon

Author, Cobra II

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Michael Gordon

The American military tended to take a very pragmatic view of [de-Baathification], the guys with whom I was embedded and the Marine Commander Gen. [James T.] Conway and others. Their sense was, you're going to have to rely on a lot of the existing bureaucrats and government officials to run the country; we don't want to run the country for them. They didn't want to push the de-Baathification too far. The CIA, by the way, had the same view. They also were not a big fan of de-Baathification for some of the same reasons, plus they had their own connections in the country.

But the party that pushed for de-Baathification was the Defense Department. Ambassador Bremer really took on the program and agenda of the Defense Department when he came to his post. Then some of the Iraqis themselves -- like [Iraqi National Congress founder] Ahmad Chalabi, for example -- favored it, partly for reasons that had to do with intramural Iraqi politics. …

Nobody disagreed that the people who were most loyal to Saddam should not be a part of it. The question was how far to push this. … [I]f you push it too hard, you not only end up without qualified people at an early stage of the occupation, but you also feed the anxieties of the Sunnis, who feel that they're being excluded from the new order and that they're really just going to be bit players in a new state that's going to be dominated by the Shiites and, to a lesser extent, the Kurds.

 

 

 

 

Dissolving the Army

 

bremer

Administrator, Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA)

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L. Paul Bremer III

The decision to undo the Iraq army and the police, where does that come from?

First of all, there's a difference between the army and the police, and it's an interesting difference. In the case of the police, we asked the police to come back on duty. They had left. The looting going on in Baghdad was, to some degree, because there were no police on duty in the city. So we called the police back, and we tried to basically rebuild the police. That was a different approach than the approach dealing with Saddam's army. …

Recalling [the army] had both political and practical problems, [a] practical problem being that more than 300,000 of the enlisted men were basically Shi'a draftees. They had gone home. They went back to their homes and their villages, their farms. They hated the army because they were brutalized and hazed by their mostly Sunni officers. Recalling them would have meant, in effect, sending American soldiers into the Shi'a homes and villages and farms and forcing them at gunpoint back into an army they hated.

The political problem was that because the army had been instrumental in genocide against the 20 percent of the [population who were] Kurds and killing fields against the 60 percent [of the population], of the Shi'a, to recall the army would have been a clear signal to Iraqi people that while we got rid of one terrible man, Saddam Hussein, we were prepared to see the Sunni elite come back in the form of the officer corps.

Therefore, the recommendation that I made to my government was that we not do that, that we effectively build a new army from the ground up, always allowing that anybody from the old army who wanted to come and apply for enlisted men in the new army was able to do that. Anybody in the officer corps up to the level of colonel was able to apply for those positions. So that's what we did. …

I think the decision not to recall Saddam's army, from a political point of view, is the single most important, correct decision that we made in the 14 months we were there. …

We have now built a new army, and the new army, which was built from the bottom up -- although it contains a majority of people from the old army now -- [was] readily trained by the United States. The new army has been relatively reliable. We recalled the police, … and we've had nothing but trouble with the police since then. I think … that the fact the we decided to rebuild the army from the bottom up, using people from the old army but rebuild[ing] it from the bottom up, has proven to be politically, and from a security point of view, the right thing to do. …

gordon

Author, Cobra II

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Michael Gordon

The decision to issue an edict dismantling the army is the decision that Secretary Rumsfeld sanctions, according to Ambassador Bremer, but it's also a decision that's made without the knowledge of Condi Rice or Colin Powell. They learn about it after the fact.

It's a very odd case, because a decision was made to move into very different policy than the one President Bush decided on in March, and the entire Bush administration isn't even aware of this policy until after it's already articulated. I've talked to some of these Bush administration officials, and the way they explain this period is it was understood that Bremer was the viceroy, that he would have maximum power and flexibility to make decisions on the ground, that he shouldn't be second-guessed too much by Washington. … But what's happening is he's making a decision that the senior military leadership thinks is ill advised. So you have a totally schizoid command.

It's a twofold decision. It's not so much the decision to formally disband the Iraqi army that worried the military; it was the decision [about] how to reconstitute it. It was the three divisions over two years -- no senior officers need apply. … One reason why they didn't want any senior Iraqi officers from the old army to be part of this new apparatus was they were trying to de-Baathifize the country. …

They later got hold of the personnel records for the Iraqi army, and they discovered there weren't nearly as many Baathists in the senior ranks of the Iraqi army as they thought. In fact, half of the major generals in the Iraqi army were not serious Baathists. They had based this whole concept of really decapitating the old Iraqi army based on bum information. …

I think that's extremely odd, because one fact that was well known in Iraq was that the regime didn't trust much of its own army. … [Saddam] didn't allow them to go anywhere near Baghdad. Even the Republican Guard was not allowed within the capital. … Only the special Republican Guard was allowed inside the capital. So how Baathist could this military be that Saddam himself did not trust it? It's one of the major mistakes of the postwar period, and it's one that ran against the Bush administration's initial policy predilection.


ricks

Author, Fiasco

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Thomas E. Ricks

The effect of this was to tell a bunch of powerful and wealthy people inside the society: "You have no future here. You're going to become a non-person." I think it really did spur the insurgency.

It really also, I think, sent the message to the Sunnis that you're going to have to fight for any power. You're not going to get offered anything here. You're going to have to cut your deal, which is what the politics are of 2006 now -- the Sunnis try and cut a deal for their future in Iraq. …

When you're over there … and the police have been disbanded --

Actually, [they're] lined up outside the Green Zone for their pay. At the same time that [former Director of National Security and Defense in the CPA] Walt Slocombe and Bremer are saying, "The Iraqi military fell apart; it doesn't exist anymore," you go outside the Green Zone, and I can tell you with this bunch of officers, 1,000 line up for their pay stipends that the CPA has arranged for them.

I never bought the "Oh, we didn't dissolve the Iraqi military; it just fell apart by itself." … There are lots of guys in the Iraqi military who wanted to work, who could have worked, as Garner planned, on reconstruction, providing security. Or you could have used them to provide security for those huge arms dumps that are still in Iraq several years later.

garner

Director, Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance (ORHA)

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Lt. Gen. Jay Garner (Ret.)

… How does this order strike you?

Well, our initial plan when we were in Washington, and initially in Kuwait, was that this war went in much like the first Gulf War, where you have thousands of POWs, maybe hundreds of thousands. … The army was about 400,000, so from that, we would bring between 150,000 and 250,000 back. We wanted to keep them in their unit structures, because they had already had a command-and-control system. They had vehicles, what was left. They knew how to take orders, and they had the basic skill sets to do the things you need to do in early reconstruction of a country. So they were a labor force, and they provide a certain amount of security, like guard static locations -- guard buildings, guard ammo dumps or displaced ammunition, that type of thing. …

By the 15th of May, we had a large number of Iraqi army located that were ready to come back, and the Treasury guys were ready to pay them. When the order came out to disband, [it] shocked me, because I didn't know we were going to do that. All along I thought we were bringing back the Iraqi army. … Why we didn't do that, I don't know.

Bremer and [CPA Director of National Security and Defense Walter] Slocombe, to this day, still say: "We couldn't bring it back. It had gone; it disappeared."

It had disappeared, but we had relocated a lot of it. If we had started bringing it back, the rest would have followed.

The other thing that that process was going to do for us, it was going to allow us to identify the real leaders for the future Iraqi army. …

[Do you think Order No. 2, along with de-Baathification, led to the insurgency?]

The problem you have there is, with that order, you suddenly tell somewhere between 300,000 and 400,000 soldiers that they're out of jobs, and they're all still armed. Now, whether they became terrorists, we don't know. But to me, that's just not a good beginning. Sun Tzu says you don't want to go to bed at night with more enemies than you woke up with that morning. Well, we went to bed with a whole lot more enemies that night than we had begun the day with.

But again, I don't fault Ambassador Bremer for that. I think that was another decree that he brought over in his briefcase; I think he was told to do that.

 

 

 

 

Inadequate Troop Levels

 

dobbins

Director, RAND Corporation's International Security and Defense Policy Center

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James Dobbins

I had been doing a study since leaving the government and coming to the RAND Corporation, looking at the American experience in nation-building, going back to Germany and Japan after the Second World War and then the more recent post-Cold War episodes. We had concluded that in dealing with a collapsed society and the aftermath of a conflict where the local institutions for security had either been totally discredited through their abuse or had been disintegrated as a result of the conflict, that the intervening power would need a force of approximately 20 men per 1,000 inhabitants in order to maintain security and prevent the emergence of a resistance movement. Translating that to Iraq, it meant between 400,000 and 500,000 men. …

The other lesson that [the administration] didn't learn from the 1990s is the lesson that [former Secretary of State] Colin Powell learned, and that's the lesson of overwhelming force; that you don't go in and wait to be challenged. You go in with such a large force, nobody even thinks about challenging you, and then you cut it back. We went into Bosnia with 60,000 troops; within two years, we cut them in half. We went into Kosovo with 50,000 troops; within a couple years, we had cut that in half. We went into Haiti with 20,000 troops, and we cut that in half within six months. You go in with five times more than you think you need, and then you can quickly withdraw them once you've made your point.

In both Afghanistan and Iraq, we did the exact opposite. That is, we put in the absolute minimum we thought would be adequate, and then when it wasn't adequate, we had to increase them. The problem with doing that is that you embolden the opposition rather than pre-empt, deter and overawe them. …

ricks

Author, Fiasco

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Thomas E. Ricks

[What was the debate about the number of troops we should send?]

The basic argument among people who wanted a relatively large force was, look, getting to Baghdad is the easy part; the hard part is what you do after you get there. This was rejected, though, because it was seen as a form of resistance. …

But what the troop numbers tended to be based on was past experience, which was: "This is the ratio of peacekeepers to people we needed in Bosnia or in Kosovo. This is the ratio we've seen in other counterinsurgency campaigns by other countries, whether it's the French in Algeria, the British in Malaya and other experiences." So there were real numbers that said this is what you need to do to bring security, but the Bush administration response was: "Well, look, we didn't do that in Afghanistan. We're going to be viewed as liberators. We'll install an Iraqi government, and everybody will like us." …


bremer

Administrator, Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA)

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L. Paul Bremer III

The problems, the tensions with the military inclination to want to cut down quickly and the president's guidance, "Let's do this right" -- those tensions didn't become apparent to me, really, until September of 2003. …

Was the Dobbins report, the RAND study, important?

Yes, it was important. About a week before I went to Baghdad, Jim Dobbins came to me with a draft study he had done of, I think, six or seven previous post-conflict situations, including Germany and Japan after the Second World War, and then the Balkans and Afghanistan, … Somalia.

RAND had arrived at a metric on how many soldiers in relation to the population of the country you're going into -- what is the proper ratio to ensure that you get security? The long and the short of it was that their metric suggested that in Iraq, a country of some 27 million, we would need something like 450,000 to 500,000 coalition forces on the ground for security. At that time, we had about 200,000.

I respect RAND. I've worked with them for decades, so I didn't have any reason to question their methodology. The draft report suggested to me that we didn't have enough troops.

And what did you do with that report?

I took the summary of it and sent it up to Secretary Rumsfeld, and I said, "I think this is worth taking a look at." Again, I didn't know. All I had to go on was I knew how many troops we had; I knew we were planning to draw them down; and I had a study from RAND which suggested that not only should we not draw them down, but we may need more. I sent it to Rumsfeld, and I mentioned it to the president.

And?

I don't know what Rumsfeld may have done with it. He probably shared it with the Joint Chiefs of Staff, would be my guess. That's the way he normally treated those kinds of documents. What they did with it, I don't know. They all along maintained that they had enough forces, at least to me. I never heard them ask for more troops, so they probably just said, "Well, that's a study of different countries, and it's different in Iraq."

Did you ever again raise it with him yourself, with Rumsfeld?

I don't remember talking to him about the RAND study again specifically. …

Did you ever in NSC meetings, or either for or around the president or [then-National Security Adviser] Condi Rice, ask for more troops?

I did, a number of times, talk about the need for more troops. Now again, it's important to make a couple of points. First of all, I'm not a military expert, and I don't hold myself out to be a military expert. I'm a diplomat and a historian, so I gave one view.

The consistent view in all of the meetings I was in with all of the generals who were in Iraq, the generals who were in CENTCOM forward headquarters at Doha, [Qatar], in Tampa, [Fla.], at the NSC meetings, and all these meetings, the consistent view was they had enough troops. I never heard them ask for more troops.

If you're the secretary of defense or the president, you have this guy on the ground saying, "I think we need more troops"; you've got all these military experts saying, "We've got enough troops." …

When the RAND report moved to the president, did he ever talk to you about it?

I just mentioned it to him at my farewell luncheon. He just said, "Well, we're trying to get more troops," as indeed they were. They were trying to broaden the coalition -- it wasn't a question necessarily of American troops. It could have been other countries.

blackwill

Deputy national security adviser for strategic planning (2003-'04)

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Robert D. Blackwill

Jerry Bremer concluded in August, September that we needed more troops … on the ground to execute the strategy. I concluded the same thing in September, obviously on the basis of a lot less knowledge than he had. But as I was watching the insurgency grow, I concluded the same thing. …

Did you or Dr. Rice talk to Rumsfeld about these things? …

… I don't know what she did with Secretary Rumsfeld on this score. … My chain of command was up through Condi Rice and the president, and I told her my view. …

What I do know is that Jerry argued separately up his chain of command to Rumsfeld about this. But I was never myself present at a discussion in which the issue explicitly was put on the table of more troops in Iraq. I was present often when the president made clear to Rumsfeld and [Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff] Dick Myers and the military that he would abide by their advice with respect to the troop levels in Iraq. I was there many times when he would say to them, and did say to them: "You tell me. If you need more troops, you'll get more troops." But they never made such a recommendation. …

gordon

Author, Cobra II

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Michael Gordon

[Bremer] was right, too, about that. More troops were needed. … The reason is the number of forces you require to destroy something is a lot less than the number that's required to protect and secure an entire country that's the size of California or even larger. If you're going to control the borders, protect the population, control all of these areas from the north to south to Anbar, that's what generates the massive troop requirements.

All of this was known to the White House, because there was an internal study that was done in the National Security Council by a young Marine major. He looked at the Balkans, looked at everything from East Timor to Kosovo to Bosnia, and he looked at how many forces we had there. He presented a study to Condi Rice and [then-Deputy National Security Adviser] Steve Hadley, and he said, "Look, if you wanted to apply the ratios we had in the Balkans -- the number of forces we had relative to the size of the population and terrain -- what you would have in Iraq is around 300,000 or 400,000 troops." … It's just the numbers, and it's very similar to what [former Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric] Shinseki said. The RAND Corporation report essentially did the same thing. …

What was Condoleezza Rice doing with this information? Why does something like that get generated and get stopped?

Because they're not going to do nation-building. Therefore, what the Clinton administration did in the Balkans they consider to be irrelevant. … They held up as their model Afghanistan, which we see now is in more difficult shape than they actually realized. They didn't want to learn anything from the Balkans.

Then there's another factor, which just has to be mentioned here. Gen. Franks didn't push for more troops for Phase IV because he had never been in the Balkans. He didn't have his head in the postwar game. That's just not the kind of military background that he had, and he left when things were just getting difficult. He retired and handed things over. Don Rumsfeld had this notion that we could kind of get in and get out, and neither the chairman or the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff pressed the issue forcibly either.

 

 

 

 

Cordon-and-Sweep Operations

 

ricks

Author, Fiasco

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Thomas E. Ricks

The biggest single tactical mistake probably in the fall of 2003 was the big cordon-and-sweep operations: Go out and round up all the military-age males in this area and ship them out of here, and send them down to Abu Ghraib, and stuff Abu Ghraib with tens of thousands of Iraqis who may have been neutral about the Americans when they went in but weren't when they came out.

That also swamps the intelligence apparatus. The purpose of a lot of this operation was to get better intelligence: Who was the insurgent? When you go out and you attack friend and foe and neutral by sweeping them all up, you send a signal: We don't even know who our friends and our enemies are. Then when they get to Abu Ghraib, the interrogators were so overwhelmed by this flood of people coming in that even hard-core people weren't interviewed for 90 days after they were captured. The rule of thumb on counterinsurgency is you must conduct your interrogations within 24 hours of capture; otherwise the information goes stale and is useless. And we weren't [interrogating] them for 90 days.

As you say, an insurgency training ground.

What a great opportunity. You've got a bunch of guys who aren't happy with the situation, who have been captured by the Americans, put bags on their heads, might have been beaten, might have had their dignity offended in a country where dignity is a core value. They've got nothing to do, and they're sitting on their hands. Here's an Al Qaeda guy, and here's 1,000 Iraqis sitting here with nothing to do. But what an opportunity we gave them.

As far as I know, even now we don't segregate prisoners by hard-core Al Qaeda, probable insurgent, probably neutral. We have them all intermingled. It's professionally inattentive in a way that is bothersome, because this is a clear lesson from other insurgencies. You have to first of all treat your prisoners well -- a key lesson in insurgencies. But also, you need to pay attention to the politics of your prisoners. …

bremer

Administrator, Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA)

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L. Paul Bremer III

I think the sweeps were justified. The problem wasn't that. The problem was that we had no effective system of triage, of deciding who we needed to keep. …

It was pretty clear to me that we had a really big problem managing this large number of detainees. I could understand that we would sweep them up. You're running a small platoon in through a neighborhood. You're fired on from a house, you go in, you arrest all of the men over 16 or 17 in the house. You take them in; you don't have time to interrogate them right there, because there's fire coming from the next building. … I could understand that.

The problem was what we did with them then afterwards. We never really got an effective system for identifying [individuals], and doing effective triage on these detainees was very, very difficult. …

 

 

 

 

Failure to Stabilize Security

 

dobbins

Director, RAND Corporation's International Security and Defense Policy Center

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James Dobbins

Probably the most important flaw in our immediate response to the collapse of Saddam's regime and the disintegration of all the indigenous institutions for security was not to quickly grasp that we were responsible for providing public security; that American troops were now responsible for protecting the Iraqi population from muggers, looters, rapists, as well as terrorists and insurgents. We did not grasp that, even though it's a clear legal responsibility. I mean, we occupied Iraq under the laws of armed conflict, the Geneva Convention, which specify that that is indeed the responsibility of the occupying power. …

Because we didn't protect them, we never gained their loyalty. An occupied people looks to their occupier for one thing, and it's not electricity; it's not air conditioning -- it's security. And if you don't provide them security, it doesn't make any difference what else you're doing for them. They're not going to collaborate, because it's too dangerous. …


cordesman

Center for Strategic and International Studies

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Anthony Cordesman

Iraqis, in some ways, are exactly the same as Americans. If you can't send your child to school safely, if you can't stop yourself from being extorted when you run your business, if you have no idea what's going to happen tomorrow, you are not going to feel safe, and you are going to turn to virtually anyone who can give you that safety and security. The police had collapsed; the courts had collapsed; local governance had collapsed.

The CPA was, I think in many ways, far more concerned [with] creating a new political system than with creating a functioning Iraq. …

[Could it have been different?]

We can't be sure what would have happened if we had gone into Iraq with a clear plan to deal with the economic dimension, unemployment, the immediate needs of the Iraqi people, some fantasy of rebuilding Iraq's economy or the entire infrastructure, or somehow dealing with the oil industry's future rather than its present. We can't be sure what would have happened if we'd created or sustained the core of the Iraqi military that we could use; if we'd been prepared to really provide the level of aid to the police that was needed, to the court system, to local government presence. We can't be certain what would have happened if we had gone in and we had known we had to prevent the militias from taking over in many areas, which we easily could have done initially.

We don't know what would have happened if we had relied on Iraqi political leaders from the start and kept the center, the Baath core, the secular structure of Iraqi society in the political system as well as offering opportunities to exiles. We can't say what would have happened if the president of the United States had clearly said to the Iraqis: "No permanent bases. We will not in any way exploit this situation to take the oil. We are not there in any way to try to dictate your future." But at all of those dimensions -- economic, security, political and ideological -- we failed. Every one of those actions helped create insurgency, division and resistance.

bremer

Administrator, Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA)

read the full interview

L. Paul Bremer III

I think the sweeps were justified. The problem wasn't that. The problem was that we had no effective system of triage, of deciding who we needed to keep. …

I felt I had two major goals. First of all, it was to provide security for the Iraqi people. It's the fundamental goal of any government. It was my number one priority from the day I arrived virtually to the day I left. And secondly, [it was] to help the Iraqis rebuild their country, reclaim their country, rebuild it economically, put them on a path to political democracy.

It was clear to me you couldn't do the second goal without achieving the first goal. Right from the start, I had put a very high emphasis on security. It was an ambitious undertaking to help Iraq reclaim its country, rebuild it economically, put it on a path to political freedom. …

Now, it is true, I think, that we didn't have sufficient resources, military and economic, to accomplish all of that in the 14 months of the occupation. By the time I left Iraq 14 months later, the American people had voted $18 billion to help reconstruct Iraq. By the time I left, less than 1 percent of that had actually been spent on Iraq reconstruction, and that's a problem I had with the bureaucracy in Washington. But it shows you that we were not bringing the resources quickly to bear on one of our major goals, which was to show improvement in the daily life of the Iraqis.

Some people call the year of the CPA occupation the "lost year in Iraq." … Would you agree with that description?

No, I don't think it was a lost year. We faced three challenges, and we did pretty well on two and not as well on the third. Ones which we did very well on was getting them a political process, a constitution, a path toward elections. They had three elections in 2005, which is remarkable, both for the region and in Iraq's history. They now have a democratically elected government. Those are pretty thin on the ground in that part of the world. So that's a substantial achievement. …

We had to help the Iraqis rebuild their economy. Here we had some successes, not as much as I would have liked. It was very difficult to get the major amount of money that the American taxpayers have committed to Iraq spent while I was there. Less than 1 percent of the $18 billion had been spent on reconstruction by the time I left, which was very frustrating. But we had spent billions of Iraqi dollars, funds from the Iraqi government, on reconstruction. We had spent almost a billion dollars through very small projects that the military commanders ran. We had some progress there.

Security was the area where we had, I think, the most disappointing results. Did we lose a year? Well, I don't know if we lost a year. The security situation was difficult. We faced an insurgency which was more resilient than we thought. We had not [had] good intelligence on that insurgency, certainly not for the first six months or so.

We had difficulty coming up with a military strategy to defeat the insurgency. There was, perhaps, some wishful thinking on the part of our military about the speed with which we'd be able to substitute Iraqi forces for coalition forces. I think that wishful thinking was pretty much shown to be wishful thinking in the spring of 2004.

But on the whole, the American people can say we did a noble thing throwing over one of the most vicious regimes anywhere in the world at the end of the 20th century. We put the Iraqis on the right path, politically, to a better political future, and they now have got, certainly, the right plans to rebuild their economy. All that remains now is to effect a security strategy that defeats the Sunni insurgency. That's the most important missing ingredient, at this point. …

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posted oct. 17, 2006

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