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turf wars and the future of iraq
Much has been written and said about the internecine warfare between the State Department and the Pentagon in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq. Yet it has only recently become clear just how much those bureaucratic battles over turf and ideology affected the planning for the postwar occupation. In early 2002, the State Department began forming what became known as The Future of Iraq Project, bringing together a diverse group of Iraqi exiles with experts from the department's Middle East bureau to begin a process of planning for a post-Saddam Iraq. But in January 2003, a mere two months before the start of the war, postwar planning was wrested away from the State Department and handed to the Pentagon, which proceeded to discard the State Department-led efforts.

FRONTLINE spoke to several people with inside knowledge of the turf wars over the postwar planning. Here are excerpts from our interviews with former Defense Policy Board chairman Richard Perle; former State Department policy planning director Richard Haass; Iraqi National Congress advisor Kanan Makiya; former assistant secretary of state Edward Walker; and prominent Iraqi exile Laith Kubba.

photos of perle
richard perle

Former chairman of the Defense Policy Board, an influential group of advisors to the Pentagon

What went wrong with our postwar planning? When does that begin to go wrong?

read the full interview

I think if one were to examine the ideas that were discussed about postwar planning, you would find that the argument for readying a capability from the beginning was pressed consistently by the Department of Defense and resisted elsewhere in the government, with the result that when the war was concluded -- rapidly, effectively, as it was -- we really were not ready.

We were not ready with the Iraqis who should have been formed into the organization that we're now working on forming. That could all have been done in advance. It wasn't done in advance, and it was largely the resistance of the State Department and the CIA that prevented it. If it had been up to the Defense Department, we would have had such a structure in place.

Somebody's supposed to knock heads together and get results here, namely the NSC, and if not the NSC, the president. Was there a failure on their part?

I think there's been a degree of tolerance for diverse opinions that has gone on too long in the NSC.

You put that very mildly. I mean, tempers run very hot about this.

It's very hard to put yourself in the position of somebody who's got to reconcile these disputes. So I am reluctant to criticize people who have to balance a lot of considerations that I don't have to think about. I just know the Defense Department was insistent in proposing a progressive program of organizing before the war, and it met resistance. That resistance was hopelessly parochial -- and I think misguided -- on the part of the Department of State. The result of the dispute was a semi-paralysis.

. . .
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richard haass

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

What was the Future of Iraq Project?

read the full interview

The project, as I understood it, was you have multiple groups that, essentially, were planning, down to considerable detail, various aspects of what would come afterwards. You had people off working about the economy, and people off working about security questions, and people off working about political questions and so forth.

And the idea behind it?

Again, was to have Iraqis ready to essentially take over their own country as soon as possible. ... There were a lot of people at State working on it, largely working out of the Middle East bureau. They had set up these working groups, or sub-groups, on virtually every technical question that was likely to arise in running this society called Iraq, once Saddam Hussein was gone. ... Policing. Justice. Macro-economic policy. Constitutions. Elections. Again, if you were going to set down on a piece of paper what were likely to be the 10, or 14, or 20, or 25 things Iraqis would have to get right, virtually each one of them was the subject of a sub-group or working group.

I spoke to General Garner. He told me that he was instructed by Secretary Rumsfeld to shelve the Future of Iraq Project.

I can't speak to that. I don't know what sort of instructions or communications went on within the Pentagon. I would just simply hope it's not true, because I thought a lot of good work went into that project.

That's what he said. He said that he looked at the papers. He talked to some of the people in the State Department. He thought it was good work. He wanted to use the work. But then he was instructed not to. Does that surprise you?

Yes. I can't speak to it, I simply don't know about it. …

Well, there was this, as Tim Carney told me, "ideological food fight" going on through this whole period between State and Defense. How can we best understand what was going on?

Obviously there were differences between the State Department, Defense Department, other aspects of the U.S. government. This is a controversial question. The war against Iraq was inherently controversial. It was not something we had to fight when we fought it. It's something we chose to fight.

Questions about how to fight it not so much in the military sense, but in the diplomatic sense, were obviously controversial. Hence all the to-ing and fro-ing about resolutions and so forth beforehand. Hence the debates about how important it was to bring in others.

Obviously it was controversial in the aftermath. What number of American troops? How much to bring in others? What should be the role of the United Nations? What should be the pace of Iraqi-ization? So all these questions were controversial. Underneath it all, there were some real differences in expectations. What would be the Iraqi reaction? How difficult would this likely be? What kind of resistance could we expect? You name it, there were differences in view about it. That's not exceptional. That's not surprising.

So as I was a participant -- or now, as I look on it all as an observer -- the fact that there was this kind of range of views to me is not, in and of itself, something that's shocking or even surprising.

Perhaps not that there was a range of views, but in fact that the Pentagon inherited the planning, and sidelined the State Department's efforts seems more significant.

If that is indeed true, it is more significant. I would simply say that the aftermath has not gone well, even if it ultimately works out; even if you ultimately, at the end of the day, have an Iraq that's pretty functional; that's more democratic than not; that's stable; that doesn't harbor terrorists and so forth. Essentially, if we succeed, with using a reasonable definition of a success, it's still quite possible we could have gotten to that point sooner with less expense, certainly financial expense. So to the extent that good planning was done and may not have been used, that's unfortunate, to say the least.

. . .
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kanan makiya

A leading Iraqi intellectual and advisor to the Iraqi National Congress, he has close ties to the Pentagon

When does your involvement with the State Department begin?

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It begins in June 2002, actually, in a conference held in Michigan. ... I deliver a talk there and at that talk I am approached by the State Department to participate in a series of meetings called "The Future of Iraq Project." ... And [I'm asked] if I would participate in a workshop that was originally called a "Political Principles Workshop." It was one of 12 or 13 workshops being [convened] at the time. This was a workshop, incidentally, the State Department had not wanted to have, but Congress insisted upon convening. ...

The State Department didn't want to do this?

No, the State Department wanted to do the whole project, certainly. But it did not want to do the political principles part, because that looked like it was too political. The State Department wanted to talk about how best we can collect garbage in the streets the day after liberation, or how we can recruit a thousand health workers to go to this or that area the day after. I said I didn't have anything to contribute to such questions, unfortunately. I'm sure there were people inside Iraq who would know much better how to go about doing these things.

But I could contribute on matters of the type of political entity that we would be heading towards in Iraq as a result of such a dramatic change. They did not want to discuss the big framework, the big picture questions, the constitutional questions, the shape of the state, the kind of state we'd be looking at. They wanted that entirely left out. So I said it was impossible for me to participate in any such endeavor. ... They were urging me to do so. I would not do so unless the agenda was explicitly about democracy. I refused to do so. ...

You have to remember that's the time when the State Department was courting military guys for potential leaders to replace Saddam Hussein. So the idea of making democracy a central focus, a central plank of the agenda of transformation, was not on the State Department's mind.

You actually said to one journalist, "The enemies of a democratic Iraq lie within the State Department and the CIA."

I think that was correct. Yes -- I'm sad. It's very sad to have to say it, but the State Department and CIA have consistently thwarted the president's genuine attempt, I think, to do something very dramatic in this country. Fortunately they have not totally succeeded, and in some ways, the struggle is still on, although the situation has changed now inside Iraq. I mean, ever since the appointment of Paul Bremer, we have a very different dynamic now at work inside Iraq. ...

So you agreed to join the Future of Iraq [Project]?

After I made a big fuss, I wrote to all kinds of people, I denounced the existing setup, refused to be a part of it, then got invited in to talk to people in the State Department. Came in with ideas about how the whole program should be reorganized. ...

What the democratic principles workshop was, in the State Department view, was providing an opportunity for Iraqis to talk to one another and then assembling together a whole lot of views ... about which there was no purpose, to which there was nothing other than dialogue; a discussion for discussion's sake. No synthesis at all. No direction, no project. ... So I just said, "We do this all the time anyway. We don't need you to spend millions and millions of dollars holding meetings for us to do this, and then write up little memos and so on. We know these things and we've been doing this for years. We want a result. We want a synthesized result which is more than that, a collaborative venture between you guys and us. Therefore it's on the record as being an American-Iraqi enterprise, direction, project, policy, statement -- call it what you will -- which is going to be guiding the thinking behind the change inside Iraq."

So whatever they thought, really, they finally acceded to that. I said, "For that, we need structure." We need to be able to put together a team that will do this. It's a proactive vision, it's not, "Let's sit back and watch 100 flowers bloom and watch what so and so said, and isn't that nice and everybody's equal." No. We're going places. We're discussing federalism, we're choosing types of federalism, we're arguing pros and cons of each one of them. We're talking about how to do that. We're coming with ideas. We want transitional justice, we talk about truth and reconciliation commissions as real things. We want them, we don't want them, how are we going to set them up and so on. We're not just a chat shop, for God's sake. ...

So I joined ... with the understanding that if I emerged out of this process -- there were 32 Iraqis in the Democratic Principles Workshop -- and led such a team, it looked like the team as a whole was going to go in that direction, the State Department would accept the final results. That was the deal, and so I said, "I accept the challenge." ... We formed committees, we formed a secretariat, we formed an editorial group, and we subdivided the work and we charged ahead. We came up with a document called "The Transition to Democracy in Iraq" ... which we asked the State Department be put officially as a working document of the meeting of the Iraqi opposition that was being held in London in December of [2002]. Again, I came away with the impression that that was going to be the position of the State Department. ...

So you ran into problems?

We ran into problems at the conference [in London]. At the conference itself, the moment the report came out the State Department started taking distance from it because it apparently challenged a central tenet of the U.S., of the State Department policy, which was they were against the idea of a provisional government, outside, led by the Iraqi opposition. They wanted the discussions on government to take place after the change had taken place. ...

Did the report explicitly choose the INC as a leader of the provisional government?

No, no, it did not.

The State Department is on record as having been opposed to the INC.

That's right. We were then at a point when things had gotten so personal and so petty within the U.S. administration over this question of the INC that it was coloring everybody's judgment. Much of our problems afterwards in Iraq are a consequence of that squabbling within the U.S. administration, that petty level of dealing with things -- that desire to push aside people who were in a position to be very effective and help move this process in such a way that we wouldn't be in quite as big a mess as we are now. ...

But slowly the Defense Department is taking control ... and you're moving away from any association with the State Department towards the Defense Department?

Yes. I mean, I'm finding the people who are interested in the things I'm interested in having. The kinds of discussions I've had with Mr. Wolfowitz before, or other people -- these people are just not in the State Department; they were in the Pentagon. ...

. . .
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edward walker

President, Middle East Institute; assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, 1999-2001

So how does it evolve to a state where you have this almost debilitating struggle between the State and Defense Departments over the future of Iraq -- not the Future of Iraq Project, per se, but just the planning for postwar reconstruction -- that, in some ways, leads to this disorder we have on the ground today?

read the full interview

... I think that there's been a suspicion sort of between the two departments -- State and Defense, or at least elements of State and Defense. I'm not sure that it exists at all between Powell and Rumsfeld, by the way. I think it has its origins at lower levels, primarily. I can tell you that, from my own experience when I was in the NSC meetings and so on, this was not a hostile engagement between individuals. Now, granted, a lot of water's gone under the dam since. But they were all working in tandem towards the same objectives, and most of our work at that time was on Iraq.

We were doing many different papers and studies. Joint Chiefs were engaged. We were doing position papers. That was done really with a great deal of solidarity. So I don't know, and I'm not prepared to say that there is this so-called rivalry at the top. But it definitely exists at the next level down, or the next levels down.

[Describe] the Future of Iraq Project. ...

What we were trying to do originally was just to pull together a group of people, Iraqi people, including the INC and the Shiite organizations, the Kurdish organizations ... so they could start to consider where Iraq's going to go. ...

There are committees set up to consider each aspect of the future life of Iraq and how you could deal with it in the immediate days thereafter; then how you would try to organize a program so that it could be increasingly turned over to Iraqi control.

Was this good postwar planning?

I don't know. You never can tell, because it never got put into effect. But it was certainly intensive. It involved an awful lot of very bright people, many of whom have the credentials in economics and banking and agriculture and so on, that you would at least have to take some count for what they had to say. As far as I know, it never got into the actual operational stage.

But you expected it to? It was not just an idle exercise?

Not at all.

This was a real effort to plan?

Right. To be there on the ground the day after and ready to go with some people designated already who could come in as Iraqis -- who had the experience, who knew the situation -- and work with some Iraqis that were already there, and ensure the continuation of a governing structure.

So this is a real project to plan postwar Iraq. What happens to it?

Well, as far as I know, there may have been some elements that were pulled into the Garner planning, and so on, that took place, or the proposal. But for the most part, I think it sits on somebody's desk somewhere -- or is gathering dust somewhere.

Should we care about that? Is that an outrage in your view?

No. ... I'm not at all sure it was the right project. I don't even know whether the advice was good advice. But why I think it was an outrage is that the United States government didn't have something ready to go the day after. It didn't have a clear-cut concept of how it was going to proceed and that we could put in play immediately. ...

To be fair to these guys, in the fog of war ... it's understandable, to a certain extent. But I think there was some real gaps in the program. If there had been a greater degree of confidence between the Pentagon and the State Department, they could have worked in tandem a lot better than they did, instead of going off in different directions--

Some people would say that's an understatement, given the amount of arguing that was going back and forth. And this isn't me making much of it. I mean, when I talked to Richard Perle, he said, yes, it was a "debilitating" process.

Yes, it was. It still is, to that extent. Except that right now you have a unifying figure in L. Paul Bremer, who has been given the authority to direct the operations, which is what they should have had from the very first day. It just didn't exist. ...

. . .
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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

The Future of Iraq Project. In your view, this was a serious attempt on the part of the State Department to grapple with postwar Iraq?

read the full interview

... The reality is, by the beginning of 2002, Iraqis have not mobilized their expertise to map out what the issues and challenges are in a post-Saddam Hussein [Iraq]. Everybody agreed that Saddam should go. Everybody would like to have democracy afterwards. Nobody had a clue what the challenges are ahead. So for the State Department to have started to gather Iraqis, 200 of them in fifteen working groups, was a good step; not perfect, not final, but certainly an important step in the right direction. One should have built on it and added momentum to it, and developed it more. It was an important step. ...

There were all sorts of questions where participants differed. But at least the differences were spelled out in terms of options and emphasis. I thought the recommendations were useful. ... The democratic principles working group put out a draft report where it outlined most of these ideas. The ideas were put forward in the opposition conference meeting in London, in mid-December 2002, and then it was left for whoever would have authority.

But by that time there was quite a bit of tension within the working group over the direction that things were taking. … What was happening there?

I think all Iraqis realized that, although they are Iraqis, and maybe the war was meant to liberate them and to transfer power to them -- I think all of us realized at that time there wasn't really consensus amongst ourselves on how to proceed. We all realized that different players relied on different backers, so to speak. There were some who were strongly backed by the Pentagon, by Defense. ...

But after the democratic principles working group comes apart, there's a shift to the Pentagon only at that point. Before that, wasn't the State Department an important player?

I recall that the real shift took place in early January 2003, when suddenly a transition team was formed under Garner. They started mobilizing Iraqis and non-Iraqis to work on their own plans on how transition should take place. … From there on, I felt that all the effort, that was still going on, even at that late hour, by the different working groups, was simply put aside.


I don't understand it, and I can only speculate.

All the work of the Future of Iraq Project was just ignored, then, by the Defense Department?

I had the impression that it was simply not only not appreciated, but I felt that the planners maybe, at Defense, really felt or thought that they had it all under check and they knew exactly what they were doing and they don't need this input….

My reading was, even two years before this had happened, a solid core group emerged in Washington that had not only an agenda to bring [down] Saddam Hussein by war, but I think they had a clear agenda. They want to dominate the whole process from A to Z, and they wanted all other players, Iraqis, Americans, and others, more or less to follow their rules. ...

This would be Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz, Dick Cheney? The group of people that really were the architects of this war plan?

... It would take maybe an expert like yourself to try to identify exactly who that group was. But it was very clear that they had their say in the media, at Congress, and, amongst the Iraqis, and certainly within the U.S. government. ...

We have someone on camera that says Chalabi, through Kanan Makiya and Salim Chalabi, hijacked the democratic principles working group.

Yes. I mean, initially the Chalabi group, if that is the right expression, boycotted totally the Future of Iraq Project. They did not want to participate in any of the working groups. Then, suddenly, there was a change of heart. I think the change of heart happened when the democratic principle working group was established, and for the first time I think Kanan Makiya, and other members of the INC, Entifadh Qanbar, Salim Chalabi, and others, wanted to participate and wanted to lead, not only participate. They came in with a strong thrust. In fact, they came in with, I think, a pre-drafted plan on what should be presented and adopted by that group. My impression that the drafting of at least Kanan's ideas took place, maybe somewhere else, and they were determined to push it through.

What was their agenda?

I think they had a very simplistic agenda that can be summed up in few words. Reducing Iraq to the opposition, reducing the opposition to the INC, reducing the INC to that small group; that all the post-Iraq planning should start from that small group, to be given all the resources and support, to become the nucleus for reestablishing authority in Iraq through the money, the arms, the U.S. support, become the central point for redefining order in Iraq. The worrying thing about it -- it had been drafted in abstract as if there were no 24 million people out there with views, history, different outlook and different agenda, and as if those people can be subdued by the U.S. presence. ...

I think at a later stage -- maybe too late in the game, maybe by end of December -- there was a realization by the planners at the Pentagon that this is not going to fly and their rosy assumptions are not real. Suddenly there was a rush to develop a parallel team. ... By that time, we were all running really around the clock, trying to decide what's going to happen. The war is about to take place; nobody knew the outcome. ...

Every American agency backed somebody. Who backed Laith Kubba?

I made my views public. I have received no financial backing from any government, American or otherwise, from any agency within the U.S. or outside the U.S. ... I think some of my views found some echoes or resonance at the State Department. I believe they were appreciative that there were Iraqis like me thinking the way I was thinking. Maybe that led other people at the Defense Department to fear what I say and alienate me, because there was a turf battle.

What was that turf battle about?

Control of policy, politics, power, money. I don't understand it. But there was that obsession about control, that nobody, even amongst the Iraqis, should be allowed to emerge, or his or her point of view ought to surface, if we don't allow it to do so. Maybe there was a sense of a threat of other views emerging. I don't know. But I certainly was perceived by that small group as being backed by the State Department. There were a couple of articles accusing me, that I am backed by the State Department, and in fact I had some unpleasant phone calls from within that circle--

Within the Defense Department?

Well, I wouldn't say within the Defense Department. I would say ... within that informal group that has pushed that hard line. I had [them] calling me even names, "a stooge of the State Department," as if the State Department was the enemy of the United States. ...


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posted october 9, 2003

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