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The Lost Year in Iraq

Michael Kirk

Jim Gilmore

Michael Kirk

ANNOUNCER: Tonight on FRONTLINE: It was the year the war was won-

DONALD RUMSFELD, Secretary of Defense: Freedom's untidy, and free people are free to make mistakes!

ANNOUNCER: -and the year the war began.

Amb. L. PAUL BREMER, Administrator, CPA: The insurgency turned out to be bigger than we had expected.

THOMAS E. RICKS, The Washington Post: There's a war going on inside the administration. They don't even agree what they're doing in Iraq.

ANTHONY CORDESMAN, Cntr. for Strategic and Int'l Studies: You can't say what would have happened if we had gone into Iraq with a clear plan.

ANNOUNCER: Tonight on FRONTLINE, The Lost Year in Iraq.

FRANKLIN C. MILLER, Nat'l Security Council, 2001-'05: It was a lost year.

Gen. PAUL EATON, U.S. Army (Ret.): It's the year that they would love to forget.

THOMAS E. RICKS, The Washington Post: The United States dug itself a pretty deep hole in Iraq.

NARRATOR: The year began on April 9, 2003.

Lt. Col. BRIAN McCOY, U.S. Marine Corps: The Iraqis had gathered around the statue and were throwing their shoes at it.

RAJIV CHANDRASEKARAN, The Washington Post: What struck me was the Iraqis couldn't pull it down themselves.

Lt. Col. BRIAN McCOY: It was obvious it wasn't going to happen. It would be a pretty anti-climatic moment if we didn't help.

Amb. BARBARA BODINE, Office of Humanitarian Assistance: It was a dramatic moment. It was an American flag that went on it first. That's almost a metaphor for what's happened since. You know, then, ultimately, well, an Iraqi flag was put on it, and enough photographs were taken of Iraqis cheering.

STEVEN W. CASTEEL, Police adviser, CPA: By the way, that statue was very heavy. The problem was much more involved than I think anyone thought of.

RAJIV CHANDRASEKARAN, Author, Imperial Life in the Emerald City: It made me worry. Something told me, you know, this isn't going to be quite as easy as we thought.

NARRATOR: It took only three weeks for Baghdad to fall.

Lt. Col. R. ALAN KING, U.S. Army: People were just in pure exhilaration. At that point in time, you think, "This might just work, and we have an opportunity." And I remember seeing this guy with a- carrying a huge couch on his back, and he turns and says, "Yay, America!" You know?

NARRATOR: The Americans, hoping to be seen as liberators, would be challenged within hours, when the looting began.

ANTHONY CORDESMAN, Cntr. for Strategic and Int'l Studies: All of a sudden, the Iraqi people started looting, attacked the ministries, basically created a series of events which didn't stop with that. Less than two U.S. brigades were in isolated positions in a city of more than five million people, having no idea of what might come next.

MICHAEL GORDON, Author, Cobra II: The posture of the forces was a certain tolerance of this looting. They didn't come to Baghdad to shoot poor Iraqis who were trying to steal a carpet or a piece of furniture.

Amb. ROBIN RAPHEL, Office of Humanitarian Assistance: There was a great reluctance to kill Iraqis, which is what it would have required. You had this sense that we were the liberators. And this was a very conscious sense of identity for the military, liberators.

Amb. BARBARA BODINE: The looting, of course, you know, went from the spontaneous looting of ministries- it pretty soon got into the homes, the neighborhoods, the shops. It then became carjackings and kidnappings and unstructured crime and organized crime. And you could even probably do a DNA chain to the insurgency. That was the spark.

NEWSCASTER: Iraqis are looting on a grand scale. It is a clear sign that while war might be ending, there is trouble ahead."

DONALD RUMSFELD, Secretary of Defense: [Press conference April 11, 2003] Freedom's untidy, and free people are free to make mistakes and commit crimes and do bad things! They're also free to live their lives and do wonderful things, and that's what's going to happen here.

ANTHONY CORDESMAN: We were totally unprepared to secure the city, to secure the surroundings. We neither anticipated the mission nor had the troop strength.

Col. THOMAS X. HAMMES (Ret.), Counterinsurgency Adviser, CPA: It was with a great deal of despair that I watched the apparent paralysis of the American command, the absolute lack of understanding of what was happening or any effort to get it under control.

NARRATOR: The Pentagon had spent more than a year preparing for the war, but it was only eight weeks before the war began that Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld hired a retired Army general to handle post-war Iraq.

Lt. Gen. JAY GARNER (Ret.), Dir., Office of Humanitarian Assistance: Everybody was focused on the war. They were focused on regime change. And that took all of their energy. And so I wasn't a central focus of them at that time because the spotlight wasn't on me yet.

NARRATOR: When General Garner arrived at the Pentagon, there was no plan and no staff. And when he began to hire one, he walked into a political buzzsaw.

Amb. BARBARA BODINE: I was very surprised at how bitter and nasty the relations were between State and DoD. It was not one of differing views to serve the president, it was a full-scale war.

THOMAS E. RICKS, Author, Fiasco: On the one hand, the vice president's office and the Pentagon, on the other hand, the State Department, really didn't trust each other on Iraq. Garner is told again and again, "Get these State people off the team, get Pentagon people" - that is, loyalists - "on your team."

Lt. Gen. JAY GARNER: Any time you have the clash of titans and you're caught up in the middle of that, there's- that's- it's somewhat of a problem.

NARRATOR: Garner put together a team that Rumsfeld would accept, but that wasn't the end of his problems.

[ More on the power struggles]

Amb. BARBARA BODINE: We didn't have a structure. We didn't have a plan. We didn't have money. I'm not quite sure- we had a lot of will and enthusiasm.

RAJIV CHANDRASEKARAN: The guy who would be told to be in charge of the Ministry of Industry and Minerals literally had no information about that. You know, there was no briefing book for him, no other government resources brought to bear. He spent his days surfing the Web, trying to find things, and eventually took to sort of reading poetry and ordering books on line.

NARRATOR: In the first week, as the looting verged on chaos, as one ministry building after another was being destroyed, General Tommy Franks made his first triumphant visit and a surprise announcement.

MICHAEL GORDON, The New York Times: A very striking thing happened. General Franks gave guidance that his commanders should be prepared to withdraw all American forces, except for a little more than a division, which would remain, by September of 2003.

NARRATOR: Franks was telling more than 110,000 troops to get ready to leave in the next four-and-a-half months. A division - about 30,000 troops - would be left to occupy Iraq.

RAJIV CHANDRASEKARAN: There was this power vacuum. Nobody quite knew what was the plan. The soldiers thought they were all going home.

NARRATOR: Early the next week, when Jay Garner entered Iraq, he began his mission by appearing in a series of photo ops.

RAJIV CHANDRASEKARAN: Nobody told Garner, "This is what we're going to do," so Garner was just sort of flailing around.

NARRATOR: Garner worried Iraq was on the verge of spinning out of control. He decided it needed its own government right away. He surprised Washington by beginning to plan elections.

Lt. Gen. JAY GARNER: I did immediately start talking to them about elections. "Let's get elections started. Let's start writing a constitution. Let's get a leadership group here. Let's transition, if we can. Let's transition into an interim government. Let's start handing over functions back to the Iraqi people," et cetera, et cetera, yeah.

NARRATOR: At the White House, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, who had been marginalized by Rumsfeld, began to worry that he had lost control of Garner and Iraq.

RAJIV CHANDRASEKARAN: Of course, this freaked out people in Washington. This wasn't the plan. And so Garner starts sort of calling audibles on the field. He starts making it up as he's going along.

NARRATOR: The white House had expected to quickly liberate Iraq, hand it over and leave. But now Garner seemed to be off the reservation. Don Rumsfeld acted.

NEWSCASTER: There's an absence of authority, a vacuum of authority for-

Amb. L. PAUL BREMER, Administrator, Coalition Provisional Authority: I was contacted by two people, Paul Wolfowitz and Scooter Libby, who was the vice president's chief of staff, who asked if I would be interested in being considered to go over and run the Coalition Provisional Authority.

NARRATOR: In L. Paul Bremer III, Rumsfeld saw a solution to his problems- a businessman, a diplomat, managing director of Henry Kissinger and Associates.

THOMAS E. RICKS, Author, Fiasco: Here's a guy who had worked for Henry Kissinger but doesn't know a whole lot about the Middle East, doesn't speak Arabic, doesn't know the region.

Amb. JAMES DOBBINS, Fmr. Asst. Secretary of State: What he lacked was the practical experience, and it was that lack of experience that commended him, in large measure, to the Bush administration.

MICHAEL GORDON, The New York Times: Given where the Bush administration was coming from, these apparent lack of qualifications was seen as a plus because he didn't have the Middle East mindset of the State Department and he wasn't contaminated by the Clinton-era thinking. But there were really huge gaps in his resume.

NARRATOR: Bremer would have a couple of weeks to get up to speed- a crash course in Middle Eastern politics, economics and religion. In Iraq, Garner and his team knew nothing about Bremer being hired. They were just moving into Saddam's shattered Republican Palace.

Lt. Gen. JAY GARNER: I get back in the palace, and it's kind of in shambles, and they're all trying to find a place to- to sleep and there's no bathrooms or- you know, there's no running water or anything. This kind of is a mess. And the phone rings. And I pick it up and it's Secretary Rumsfeld. And he says, "Hey, I'm calling just to tell you what a great job you're doing. It looks like things are really moving. I watched everything going on, and just keep up the good work," and all that. "And by the way, I wanted to let you know that today the president chose Jerry Bremer to be his presidential envoy and he'll be coming over there." And he said, "I don't know when the president's going to announce that, but it could be today or it could be tomorrow, it could be next week." And that was that. So I- essentially, I guess, the first day I got to Baghdad, I was a lame duck.

NEWSCASTER: And then you come across clusters of people looting, but they're not looting stores, they're looting government ministry buildings.

NARRATOR: In Washington, Bremer was looking for a big idea he could bring with him to Iraq.

Amb. L. PAUL BREMER: It was a bit of a kaleidoscope. There were only two weeks, two-and-a-half weeks there, so it was pretty intense. I don't remember all the details, but there were certainly- there were certainly a lot of- a lot of papers around, that's for sure.

NARRATOR: Then, during briefings with the top civilian leaders in the Pentagon, Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith, Bremer heard an idea he could use.

THOMAS E. RICKS: I think they emphasized Germany and the occupation of Germany, in that both Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith, the two top policy people at the Pentagon, both are- from members of Holocaust families, families who were deeply damaged by the Holocaust.

NARRATOR: Feith and Wolfowitz drew parallels between Saddam's Ba'ath Party and the Nazis.

Amb. L. PAUL BREMER: Indeed, Saddam Hussein himself openly acknowledged that he modeled the Ba'ath 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.

NARRATOR: Feith had been working on a tough de-Ba'athifaction order. Bremer decided to deliver it personally when he got to Baghdad.

Pres. GEORGE W. BUSH: [May 6, 2003] Today, it's my honor to announce that Jerry Bremer has agreed to become the presidential envoy to Iraq. In selecting Jerry Bremer, our country will be sending one of our best citizens. He's a man of enormous experience-

Amb. L. PAUL BREMER: We flew on the C-130 into Baghdad. The thing that was striking to us was the fact that a lot of the buildings were on fire.

NARRATOR: Baghdad had been burning for one month.

MICHAEL GORDON: There'd be buildings on fire. The fires would just have to burn themselves out because there was no fire department.

Amb. CLAYTON McMANAWAY, Deputy Administrator, CPA: There was no government. There were no police. The army was gone.

NARRATOR: As they drove into Baghdad, Bremer made a decision and promptly announced it to his new staff.

Amb. L. PAUL BREMER: I did one thing that wasn't very smart, which was suggest to the staff meeting that I thought we should shoot the looters, that our military should have authority to shoot the looters, which they did not have at that time.

DAN SENOR, Adviser to Amb. Bremer, CPA: His point was you only needed to shoot a few of them to make that point and the looting would stop.

Amb. L. PAUL BREMER: It wasn't very smart to do because somebody on the staff immediately told the press that I had suggested shooting the looters, and we had a problem.

THOMAS E. RICKS: That day, I was embedded with Teddy Spain, the M.P. commander for Baghdad, essentially the U.S. police chief for Baghdad. And I turned to him and I said, "Hey, Colonel Spain, I'm reading in this New York Times story that you're going to shoot looters." And he said, "Uh-uh! Nobody's told me that."

MICHAEL GORDON: General Blunt, who was in command of the 3rd I.D., made sure that his soldiers understood they were not supposed to go out and shoot looters. They didn't want to start killing the population.

THOMAS E. RICKS: And I think one thing Bremer found out that day was he had no command of the military.

NARRATOR: And so ended Paul Bremer's first day

THOMAS E. RICKS: He thought he was coming in to be the proconsul. A proconsul runs the politics and the military. He had no military command. He couldn't tell the U.S. military what to do. And they were at odds with him. They didn't like him. They didn't want to listen to him.

NARRATOR: The military in Iraq was run by Don Rumsfeld, and he was determined to run Bremer, too.

DAN SENOR: He spoke to Rumsfeld. He was always speaking to Rumsfeld- I mean, at least daily, but it was usually many more times than that per day. Ambassador Bremer got frustrated with it. He'd call it the "8,000-mile screwdriver," was the term he used to use, when Washington was micro-managing everything we did from 8,000 miles away.

NARRATOR: At Bremer's headquarters, the micromanagement was in evidence, especially in the hiring process.

THOMAS E. RICKS: It was this children's crusade, especially of former Republican campaign workers, White House interns, Heritage Foundation people.

NARRATOR: They were vetted by the White House liaison to the Pentagon.

RAJIV CHANDRASEKARAN: The hiring process involved questions that would have landed a private sector employer in jail. They asked people what their views on Roe versus Wade were, whether they believed in capital punishment. A man of Middle Eastern descent was asked whether he was Muslim or Christian. People were asked who they voted for for president.

Amb. JAMES DOBBINS, Fmr. Asst. Secretary of State: The CPA operation became an exercise in heroic amateurism, in which hundreds of dedicated, courageous Americans went and filled positions for which they had not the slightest preparation.

NARRATOR: At the Ministry of Interior, there was a new staff person handling planning for the prisons and police.

Col. THOMAS X. HAMMES (Ret.), Counterinsurgency Adviser, CPA: The plans counterpart, who I had to work with in the Ministry of Interior, was a 25-year old. It was his first job after college. So I asked him- I said, "That's pretty interesting. How big a plan cell do you have?" He said, "I have four guys." I said, "That's pretty small." He said, "Yes, but we're really tight because we're frat brothers." I never in my life thought I would encounter "frat brothers" and "strategic planners" in the same sentence.

NARRATOR: From the first day, Bremer went right to work. He decided that de-Ba'athification would be order number one.

Amb. ROBIN RAPHEL, CPA: Bremer hadn't been there very long, literally a day, and these papers were coming out of his briefcase. I was in the office outside of the front office and began reading them, and so on.

Lt. Gen. JAY GARNER (Ret.), Dir., Office of Humanitarian Assistance: I'm walking down the hallway and Ambassador Robin Raphel says, "Have you seen this?" She has a piece of paper. I said, "No. What is it?" She says, "De-Ba'athification order." I said, "Wow." So I read it real quick, there in the hall. I said, "This is too deep."

Col. THOMAS M. GROSS (Ret.), Office of Humanitarian Assistance: He was very, very, very angry. And Jay's very personable. His head was down. He was walking fast-paced all over. I could tell he was very upset about it.

Lt. Gen. JAY GARNER: I walked down, and the CIA guy, a great guy, was coming across the hall, and I said, "Hey, Charlie, have you read the de-Ba'athification?" And he said, "Yeah, that's why I'm here." I said, Well, let's go in and talk to the ambassador."

THOMAS E. RICKS: Garner had briefed Rumsfeld on de-Ba'athification. He had briefed Condi Rice on de-Ba'athification. And he had, I thought, a fairly cold-hearted but realistic assessment, which is the Ba'athists are an Iraqi problem, and more or less, let the Iraqis take care of it. They know who the really bad guys are and they will kill them. And he was pretty content to let that happen.

Lt. Gen. JAY GARNER: So we went in and we talked to Ambassador Bremer for a few minutes. And 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 on the phone with Rumsfeld to see if we can't soften this a bit."

THOMAS E. RICKS: And Bremer kind of says, "Look, you don't understand. I'm not asking you, I'm telling you. This is what I'm going to do. I'm not asking for your advice." And they argue a bit more. And finally, Bremer says, "Look, I have my orders. This is what I'm doing."

Lt. Gen. JAY GARNER: And so I said, "Well, Charlie, what do you think?" And to the best of my memory, Charlie said, "Well, if you do this, you're going to drive 30,000 to 50,000 Ba'athists underground by nightfall. And the number's closer to 50,000 than it is 30,000."

Amb. L. PAUL BREMER: He may have come in and spoken to me at great length about it. I just don't remember it, honestly don't remember it.

INTERVIEWER: You don't remember these guys coming in and saying this is 30,000 to 50,000 people, and my God, what are you doing?

Amb. L. PAUL BREMER: I just- you know, I was working 20 hours a day in that period, as well. This wasn't the only thing on my list of things to do the first five days I was there. I had a lot of other things to do.

INTERVIEWER: But this is a big one, right?

Amb. L. PAUL BREMER: There were a lot of big things that first five days. There were a lot of big things the first 48 hours. So I don't remember every meeting. I don't say it didn't happen, all I'm- I knew there were concerns. I knew the agency made the assessment that there were about 20,000 people to be thrown out of work. And I judged in the end that that was a risk that we were worth- we were willing to take.

[press conference, May 15, 2003] And those who were on high before, in particular the Ba'athists, who used their power to repress the Iraqi people, will be removed from office. I will issue an order on measures to extirpate Ba'athists and Ba'athism from Iraq forever. We have and will-

ANTHONY CORDESMAN, Cntr., Strategic and Int'l Studies: I think, frankly, there wasn't a single person in the CPA who understood what order number one meant. 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.

STEVEN W. CASTEEL, Police adviser, CPA: You have to recognize that the vast majority of Ba'athists in Iraq were Ba'athists because that got them more money. I think the teachers were the best example. If you were a non-Ba'athist teacher, you made X amount of dollars. If you were a Ba'athist teacher, you made four times that amount. So common sense would dictate, "I'm going to be a Ba'athist."

Col. THOMAS M. GROSS (Ret.), Office of Humanitarian Assistance: Two reasons we wanted to keep the Ba'athist Party intact. One, the only folks who have experience running the government, so we needed to keep them. Number two, the Sunnis need to have a voice. And if you don't give people a voice, they have relatively few options. And what the Middle Eastern history and Middle Eastern- what it tells you is their next option is violence.

NARRATOR: With the de-Ba'athification order, Bremer made his decisive statement. In doing so, he gave the CPA staff, the military and the Iraqis the first glimpse of who he was.

Amb. JAMES DOBBINS, Fmr. Asst. Secretary of State: Tough, could get things done. Anybody who was Henry Kissinger's right-hand man had to have a certain amount of steel in his personality.

RAJIV CHANDRASEKARAN, The Washington Post: After Bremer got into Baghdad, Colin Powell was meeting with Henry Kissinger. And Powell asked Kissinger, "Henry, can you tell me a little bit about Jerry Bremer's management style?" And Kissinger snorts and says, "He's a control freak." And if Kissinger, who's a legendary control freak, is calling somebody else a control freak, well, to Powell, this meant that Bremer was a control freak without parallel.

NARRATOR: And then seven days later, another decisive and controversial announcement, CPA order number two, the decision to dissolve the Iraqi military.

Amb. L. PAUL BREMER: 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.

NARRATOR: This time, the policy had been designed by Bremer and then approved by the civilians at the Pentagon, Feith, Wolfowitz and Rumsfeld.

WALTER SLOCOMBE, National Defense Adviser, CPA: We believed, Bremer believed, and I think the leadership in Washington believed that it was very important to demonstrate to the Iraqi people that whatever else was going to happen, Saddam and his cronies were not coming back.

NARRATOR: But the U.S. commanders disagreed with the civilians. Desperate for boots on the ground, they had been counting on the pacified Iraqi army to do the grunt work.

Col. THOMAS X. HAMMES: We actually had people negotiating with Iraqis to bring them back, and there were a lot of Iraqis saying, "OK, we can bring back units."

Col. PAUL HUGHES (Ret.), Office of Humanitarian Assistance: They were clearly anticipating, at least as late as 9 May, of having available Iraqi forces for us to use in the reconstruction effort.

NARRATOR: And the Iraqi military, waiting for more than a month to be called back, were equally surprised.

Col. PAUL HUGHES: But it shocked many of us. Up to that point in time, I had these guys pretty much doing anything I wanted them to do. They were offering us forces. If we needed military police, I was told I could get 10,000 military police in seven days. They could produce that for me.

Col. THOMAS X. HAMMES: Now you have a couple hundred thousand people who are armed because they took their weapons home with them, they know how to use the weapons, who have no future and have a reason to be angry at you.

Col. THOMAS M. GROSS: Who knows how many folks who got disgruntled and went to the other side? I will tell you this, 72 hours after the decision was made, the first major attack from the airport road took place, and I got two of my military police killed. And it's been downhill from there.

NARRATOR: At the White House, they were also surprised by the announcement.

MICHAEL GORDON, Author, Cobra II: The decision to issue an edict dismantling the army is a decision that's made without the knowledge of Condi Rice or Colin Powell. They learn about it after the fact.

NARRATOR: They are surprised because CPA order number two is different from what the president had agreed to after a briefing just nine days before the war started.

FRANKLIN C. MILLER, Nat'l Security Council, 2001-'05: The briefing recommended that the regular Iraqi army be maintained as an institution because we believed that it would be dangerous to put 300,000 men on the street with guns, without jobs.

NARRATOR: Now in Iraq, the attacks on American forces were becoming more frequent.

Lt. Gen. JAY GARNER: We shifted from the Iraqi perception of us being liberators to the Iraqi perception of us being occupiers. And they resented that.

NARRATOR: But surprisingly, just at this moment, the top military commanders began to leave.

THOMAS E. RICKS: It's a real sign of official inattention that almost the entire leadership of the U.S. military changes over. Secretary of the Army gets fired almost as soon as the war is over. General Franks retires. The ground commanders, McKeirnan and the people around him, and Wallace are gone, replaced by the most junior lieutenant general in the U.S. Army, Ricardo Sanchez, who until that point, had been commanding one division of about 17,000 people, suddenly is commanding 150,000 troops.

MICHAEL GORDON: Sanchez was not an inspired choice. And in fact, if someone had mentioned to you prior to the war that Sanchez would be the senior military figure in Iraq, no one would have believed it.

THOMAS E. RICKS: So across the board, it's almost like people are wiping their hands, saying, "Great job, fellows." You know, " You guys play the next game. We're out of here."

[ Read Ricks's extended interview]

NARRATOR: Sanchez and Bremer would both work for Rumsfeld. They would share the Republican Palace and control of Iraq. It was not an easy fit.

RAJIV CHANDRASEKARAN: Civil-military relations were a disaster, everything from the top on down. Bremer and General Sanchez hated each other. They couldn't stand each other. They barely talked. Their interactions were stiff, they were awkward, and that sort of filtered all the way down.

NARRATOR: By early summer, Iraq was becoming a very dangerous place.

Lt. Col. R. ALAN KING, CPA: The first week in June, the military had been disbanded. The sheiks were telling me that the insurgents were paying them money, paying them up to $500 per operation. If they could videotape to show that they had killed someone, they got a bonus.

Col. THOMAS M. GROSS: It's got a military spin on it. Now you weren't seeing looting, criminal things, as much as you were seeing grenades off of bridges, all types of things.

DONALD RUMSFELD: [press conference, June 24, 2003] In Iraq, difficult work remains. Coalition forces have captured now some 32 out of 55 of the most wanted. They're making progress against the dead-enders who are harassing coalition forces. Just as they were unable to stop the coalition-

Col. THOMAS X. HAMMES: We refused to accept there was an insurgency going on. The denials from the very top up, the Pentagon, are absolutely stunning. Well into the summer of 2003, even when General Abizaid takes over and says, "We're seeing classical insurgency," immediately, the secretary of defense comes out and corrects him and says, "No, we're not."

NARRATOR: The area around the Republican Palace became known as the Green Zone.

THOMAS E. RICKS: The Green Zone became the Emerald City, walled off from the rest of Iraq. The rest of Iraq, electricity is intermittent at best, sewage problems, dusty, dirty, potholes. Inside the Green Zone, it's calm, it's quiet.

STEVEN W. CASTEEL, Police adviser, CPA: We always called it "Groundhog's Day" because- like the movie, because we never knew what day of the week it was because every day was the same.

THOMAS E. RICKS: Life gets pretty good inside the Green Zone. The complaints you hear in the Green zone are the Cable TV channels aren't very good.

[ Life in the Green Zone]

Col. THOMAS X. HAMMES: Every day at lunch, the pool would fill up with people sunbathing and stuff, and I thought that was kind of odd that they had time to do that.

RAJIV CHANDRASEKARAN, Author, Imperial Life in the Emerald City: The problem was, a lot of those people never got out and confronted the real Iraq enough. You know, they came to believe that a flat tax is what a country with 40 percent unemployment needs, rewriting the traffic code. And they came to, you know, believe in that because they were so isolated.

THOMAS E. RICKS: I heard military Commanders, some call it "the Emerald City" and others called it "Oz." I mean, there was a real consciousness that the civilian occupation authority was a kind of facade and that there really was nothing behind the curtain. That's why military Commanders also called it the CPA. They joked that it stood for "Can't Provide Anything."

NARRATOR: In August, any debate about whether there was an insurgency was settled. It began with a car bombing at the Jordanian embassy.

THOMAS E. RICKS: August 2003 is when the real war for the future of Iraq began. August 7th, the Jordanian embassy gets blown up, and a few days later, the U.N. gets blown up.

DAN SENOR, Adviser to Amb. Bremer, CPA: I am in Ambassador Bremer's front office. We get the news, and we go into his office and that's where things take off.

Amb. L. PAUL BREMER: It was a very emotional situation for everybody involved, and I wound up doing these television interviews at the site itself. We will leave no stone unturned to find the people who did this.

REPORTER: With this new kind of attack, how can you secure this city and this country?

Amb. L. PAUL BREMER: We'll do our best to find these people before they attack and deal with them. And we will. This clearly suggested a new order of magnitude of violence. I mean, we had certainly been losing soldiers and we'd been having some problems, but nothing on that scale.

NARRATOR: One week later, another attack, this time at a Shi'ite mosque in Najaf. Then coordinated attacks on Iraqi police stations. To the experts, it was clear America was still at war.

Col. THOMAS X. HAMMES: I knew for absolute certain when they had the series of bombings - the police station, the Jordanian embassy, the Red Cross and the U.N. - that was clearly a campaign to drive out all of the elements that could help the United States govern a country.

NARRATOR: Rumsfeld, angry, demanded General Sanchez deliver better intelligence about the growing insurgency. Sanchez pushed his commanders hard. Thousands of young Iraqis were swept up and interrogated.

Lt. Col. R. ALAN KING, CPA: It was their reality that, you know, we had these dragnet arrests. You'd go into a village and just arrest everybody.

NARRATOR: Bremer reopened Saddam Hussein's most notorious prison. General Sanchez's sweeps filled Abu Ghraib.

THOMAS E. RICKS, Author, Fiasco: The biggest single tactical mistake was to 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.

NARRATOR: Abu Ghraib and the other 16 prisons in Iraq became de facto boot camps for the insurgency. In early September 2003, Don Rumsfeld visited Iraq. He met with the generals and even toured Abu Ghraib. And he met with Bremer. It didn't go well. Bremer was worried about troop strength and security. Rumsfeld was worried about how long it would be before America could leave.

Amb. L. PAUL BREMER: At one point, he said he wasn't sure that we had a sense of urgency about what we are doing. And I was pretty frosted by this comment. We were people there working 18 to 20 hours a day, seven days a week. I thought we were working very hard.

NARRATOR: Rumsfeld told Bremer the Pentagon was growing impatient.

Amb. L. PAUL BREMER: The policy side of the Pentagon was saying, "The best way to cut all of this short is simply to hand over power to some Iraqis. Find us some Iraqis. Give them authority. We'll end the occupation. We'll get out of here."

NARRATOR: But Bremer had no idea who to hand the government to. He had formed a governing council of various Iraqi leaders but had no confidence in them.

Amb. L. PAUL BREMER: And I told Secretary Wolfowitz, who was pushing this idea of early sovereignty, just handing sovereignty over, I didn't think the governing council was up to this. They couldn't organize a two-car parade. They were simply not able to make decisions in a timely fashion, or any decisions.

[ Read Bremer's extended interview]

NARRATOR: Increasingly isolated from Rumsfeld and the civilians at the Pentagon, frequently at odds with Sanchez, Bremer struck out on his own.

MICHAEL GORDON, The New York Times: Bremer started out as someone who reported to Rumsfeld. But once he was out in Iraq, Bremer became his own Rumsfeld. He was in charge. He was the viceroy.

THOMAS E. RICKS: I think, effectively, Bremer didn't report to anybody. I mean, Wolfowitz told me flatly that Bremer ignored him.

NARRATOR: Bremer devised a complicated, seven-stage, multi-year plan to bring democracy to Iraq.

Amb. ROBIN RAPHEL, CPA: Clearly, it was going to take two or three years and develop a constitution and have the constitution ratified, and finally, elect a permanent government.

ANTHONY CORDESMAN, Cntr. for Strategic and Int'l Studies: Very few people thought we ever had three years, or even a year, or that we ever should have tried to completely restructure Iraq's political system, who had any background.

[ Read the plan]

NARRATOR: Nevertheless, Bremer continued to refine his plan. Then he surprised official Washington by unveiling it in a newspaper.

THOMAS E. RICKS: Bremer lays out this plan in an op-ed piece in The Washington Post.

MICHAEL GORDON: It came as a surprise to people in the government.

RAJIV CHANDRASEKARAN, The Washington Post: That wasn't sent up to Rumsfeld. It wasn't sent to Colin Powell or to Condi Rice. He was his own man. He was the viceroy.

NARRATOR: Now the White House decided to get Bremer and Iraq under control. The presidential reelection campaign was beginning. Bremer's seven-stage plan loomed as a big political problem for the president.

RAJIV CHANDRASEKARAN: They don't want to do the business of still occupying Iraq while going to the polls in November of 2004.

NARRATOR: The task of reining Bremer in and taking him away from Rumsfeld would fall to National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice.

MICHAEL GORDON: It was a problem. This National Security Council apparatus was just not very strong, or particularly effective.

NARRATOR: In the inner circle, Rice had been overmatched.

ANTHONY CORDESMAN: She came to this position with a remarkably strong outside group of leaders- Colin Powell, Donald Rumsfeld, Vice President Cheney. I don't think there have been many national security advisers in recent memory who had so many countervailing leading forces.

RICHARD CLARKE, Nat'l Security Council, 1992-'03: Then you combine the fact that the vice president is really personally close to the secretary of defense, that they've been working together, playing together for decades, and you have the secretary of defense ignoring the national security adviser, not taking advice, not taking suggestions, because he talks to the White House at a higher level. That made it difficult for Dr. Rice, too.

RAJIV CHANDRASEKARAN: Early on, it was difficult for Rice to sort of stand up to Rumsfeld. It wasn't until Rumsfeld demonstrated an inability to manage Bremer that provided Rice with the opening to go in and say, "Look, we've got to bring him under my control."

NARRATOR: In order to get the president's men under control, Condoleezza Rice hired some muscle of her own.

Amb. ROBERT D. BLACKWILL, Nat'l Security Council, 2003-'04: Well, I was ambassador to India. I was on my way back to Harvard. And Condi raised- who was an old, dear friend of mine, as I think you know, and we'd worked together in 41 - Papa Bush's administration. And so she asked me whether I would be interested in coming to the NSC.

NARRATOR: At the State Department, Bob Blackwill and Jerry Bremer had been competitors.

MICHAEL McFAUL, Hoover Institution: Bob has a reputation for being a no-nonsense guy, willing to crack heads, willing to call somebody an SOB. And I think he was kind of brought in as the muscle for the White House.

NARRATOR: At the White House, Blackwill sifted through the cable traffic from Iraq and classified CIA briefing documents. And then he read Bremer's op-ed piece in The Washington Post.

Amb. ROBERT D. BLACKWILL: When I read that, given my reading and reflections, I immediately believe that we are not going to be able to sustain our position in Iraq on that three-year timetable. I immediately spoke with Condi Rice and Steve Hadley about this and we discussed, "Well, what is a reasonable timeline for this?" And we decide that it is the following summer, that it is June of the following year.

NARRATOR: Blackwill told Bremer they wanted him to hand over sovereignty by June 30th, 2004. But Bremer fought back. He wanted to thrash it out in Washington. He believed he'd been following George Bush's original marching orders.

Amb. L. PAUL BREMER: In terms of Iraq, it was- my guidance was quite clear: "Let's see if we can get the Iraqis on a path to democracy, to representative government, and help them rebuild their economy, help them reconstitute their economy."

NARRATOR: Now, having designed a plan and a multi-year timetable, the question was whether the president was willing to stay the course.

THOMAS E. RICKS: Bush doesn't like personal confrontation. He's unhappy with it. I think they'd much rather make the decision without ever saying it, really, because- I imagine that meeting between Bush and Bremer, I think there was sort of a sense of, "You're doing a hell of a job, Jerry. Let's go work out. Oh, and by the way, we're out of there in July." "OK, Mr. President."

RAJIV CHANDRASEKARAN: It was the death of his grand agenda. That was the referendum on Bremer's plan, and Bremer's plan lost.

THOMAS E. RICKS: And basically, the new policy is three words, "We're outta here."

Amb. ROBERT D. BLACKWILL: Then, being this extraordinary public servant, he saluted and did everything he could to carry out the president's instructions.

NARRATOR: Behind closed doors, Rice would now do the talking to Bremer. Rumsfeld, who hadn't been told Rice had hired Blackwill, was now even more out of the loop.

Amb. L. PAUL BREMER: He took me aside and said that his impression was that I was dealing with her, and directly with the president through her, on political matters, so- and I said, "Well, yeah. She's certainly very active in this thing." And I got the impression, at that point, that he was essentially going to focus now almost entirely on the security aspects, and the political stuff was going to be left to the, you know, Rice channel.

NARRATOR: On November 15th, 2003, in Iraq, the Bremer-appointed governing council publicly announced America would hand over sovereignty by June 30th of the following year.

RAJIV CHANDRASEKARAN, The Washington Post: Then on November 16th, he meets with his senior staff. Now, do whatever you have to be able to get out in time. And it's the end of the vast American neo-conservative experiment in Iraq.

NARRATOR: Bremer, who runs marathons, was in a race with the clock.

LARRY DIAMOND, Senior Adviser, CPA: He was constantly- I'd say he was even obsessed with the ticking of this clock and the need to get things done and get the resources spent effectively, get the activity going - the democratic activity, the economic reconstruction, the electricity, the water, the schools - with the days beginning to run out like sand in an hourglass, looking toward June 30th.

NARRATOR: Bremer himself focused on two key goals: writing an interim constitution and forming a government, all the while presiding over a country at war.

ANTHONY CORDESMAN: What you also saw were the rise in the west of very organized insurgent efforts which were taking control of cities.

NARRATOR: They detonated a bomb at the main entrance to the Green Zone. And all over Iraq, dozens of soldiers and hundreds of civilians were being killed every week.

Amb. L. PAUL BREMER: The April/ May period of 2004 was certainly the fundamental crisis of the occupation.

NARRATOR: Bremer's agenda was hostage to the growing insurgency. He wanted more troops. Bremer pressed his case, and he found an ally in Bob Blackwill.

Amb. ROBERT D. BLACKWILL: His views were that we needed more troops on the ground. And he and I agreed- it was one of the things- quite apart from the pace of the transfer of sovereignty, it's one of the things we talked about when I was out there. Jerry argued separately up his chain of command to Rumsfeld about this.

Amb. L. PAUL BREMER: I did, a number of times, talk about the need for more troops. The consistent view was they had enough troops. I never heard them ask for more troops. So if you're 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."

Amb. ROBERT D. BLACKWILL: I was present often when the president made clear to Rumsfeld and Dick Meyers and the military that he would abide by their advice with respect to the troop levels in Iraq. And 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.

NARRATOR: In April of 2004, just south of Baghdad, the cleric Muqtada al Sadr's Mahdi Army had attacked American troops. And at the same time, up in the Sunni triangle, in Fallujah, four American contractors were murdered.

Col. THOMAS X. HAMMES: Dragged around and hung off a bridge. Two of the bodies are hung off a bridge. This creates a "We must do something" response.

NARRATOR: The president was outraged. So was Bremer. The impulse for revenge and to finally make a statement to the insurgents prevailed. Rumsfeld ordered the Marines to clean out Fallujah. The civilians - Bremer and Blackwill - agreed.

Col. GARY ANDERSON (Ret.), DoD Counterinsurgency Adviser: Marines understand an order. So they shaved off their mustaches, fixed bayonets and went in and did what Marines do best.

NARRATOR: The Marines ran into fierce resistance. Hundreds of Sunnis and nearly 40 Marines were killed.

Amb. ROBERT D. BLACKWILL: We underestimated the ferocity and the skill of the enemy, and we didn't have enough troops. And we took very heavy fire and we took casualties.

NARRATOR: But within a week, the spectacle of heavy Iraqi causalities threatened to cause the governing council to fall apart.

Amb. ROBERT D. BLACKWILL: Once it flies apart, there's no one to transfer sovereignty to. And we can't put Humpty-Dumpty back together again in two months.

NARRATOR: It was Bremer's toughest challenge.

DAN SENOR, Adviser to Amb. Bremer, CPA: He held it all together. He was managing a major armed conflict in Fallujah, a major armed conflict in southern Iraq with Sadr, a political process that was on the cusp of completely crumbling, all up against a deadline of us having to hand over sovereignty to somebody, while Americans, coalition forces and Iraqis are getting killed. He had to hold all that together.

NARRATOR: And in the end, Bremer asked the president to stop the Marines.

Amb. L. PAUL BREMER: I said to the president that, "You must understand, Mr. President, that the consequences of continuing there are very likely going to be that it's going to blow up this political process, and we're not going to be able to transfer sovereignty and we're not going to be able to, therefore, get onto the election program for 2005."

NARRATOR: The President, having set the goal of disengaging from Iraq by June, agreed with Bremer. The Marines were ordered to pull out of Fallujah.

LARRY DIAMOND, Senior Adviser, CPA: The same guys who had- a couple of weeks before who had wanted blood, saw a lot of blood, and Bremer was one of them. And quite frankly, they- you know, they realized what they'd done, so they told the Marines to stop.

NARRATOR: Then Abu Ghraib.

Lt. Col. R. ALAN KING, CPA: A very senior cleric had told me about it. He had said that, you know, there were abuses at Abu Ghraib. So I said to him, I said, "Look, you know, I can't believe an American soldier would do such a thing." You know, "Bring me pictures."

NARRATOR: The photos appeared in late April.

Lt. Col. R. ALAN KING: And then when the pictures came out, he sent a message back, "Was that enough pictures for you," so- and very smug about it.

NARRATOR: On June 28th, 2004, under deadline, Bremer had pushed an interim constitution through, formed a new government and handed Iraq back to the Iraqis.

Amb. L. PAUL BREMER: [press conference, June 28, 2004] Sincerely, L. Paul Bremer, ex-administrator of the Coalition Provisional Authority. [laughter, applause]

NARRATOR: It was time to go home. But getting out of Iraq wasn't that easy.

Amb. L. PAUL BREMER: The intelligence was suggesting that the terrorists and the insurgents were planning a major series of attacks on June 30th to embarrass us, make it look as if we were being chased out of Iraq, not that we were leaving on our own.

NARRATOR: Fearful of attacks, he had to leave two days early. The road to the airport wasn't secure. He had to take a helicopter.

Amb. BARBARA BODINE: It says a lot about the security in the country by the time we did turn over sovereignty that that is the way that we had to leave.

RAJIV CHANDRASEKARAN: It was sort of an ignominious departure. It was yet another metaphor.

MICHAEL McFAUL, Hoover Institution: The way he left, how he left was the best evidence that what he had come to accomplish, he didn't accomplish.

Amb. L. PAUL BREMER: I think, on the whole, the American people can say we did a noble thing. 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.

Amb. JAMES DOBBINS, Fmr. Asst. Secretary of State: We lost a good deal of ground. Once the Iraqi people were at least open-minded and prepared to work with the United States and optimistic about the future. And that has largely been lost, and was largely lost over that first year.

NARRATOR: On that last day, Bremer still had trouble getting out of Iraq. They were worried about surface-to-air missiles.

Amb. L. PAUL BREMER: So we had to devise a way to get out that didn't involve a C-130. And we had to keep, of course, all of it secret.

NARRATOR: For the cameras, Bremer appeared to leave on this airplane.

Amb. L. PAUL BREMER: And we pulled up the stairs and we just sat in the C-130. We sat there for about 15 minutes while the press and everybody went away, and then we went off, out over the cargo that was in the C-130, in the back, and flew on a helicopter to another part of the airport. And instead of going out on a C-130, went out on a government plane, a smaller government plane to Jordan, safely.

NEWSCASTER: Yet another spasm of violence in Iraq-

NEWSCASTER: Chaos returns with a vengeance-

NEWSCASTER: -fourteen young men abducted and tortured-

NEWSCASTER: I think that's possible that Iraq could move towards civil war.

NEWSCASTER: The insurgents have stepped up their attacks as an interim Iraqi government-

The Lost Year in Iraq

Michael Kirk

Jim Gilmore

Steve Audette

Mike Wiser

Ben McCoy

Carl Franson
Steve Lederer

Colette Neirouz

Will Lyman

John E. Low

Scott Anger
Tim Grucza

Rob Rainey
Erich Roland

Don Hooper

Jim Ferguson

Jim Sullivan

APWideworld Photo
AP Archive
Combat Films
Department of Defense
Geert Van Kesteren/Magnum Photos
Getty Images
Greg Miller/The New York Times/Redux
Ilkka Uimonen/Magnum Photos
Image Bank Film by Getty Images
Karen Ballard/The New York Times/Redux
Thomas Dworzak/Magnum Photos
Zuma Press


Tim Mangini

Chris Fournelle

Missy Frederick

Steve Audette

Jim Ferguson
John MacGibbon

Melissa Roja

Mason Daring
Martin Brody

Diane Buxton

Andrew Ott

Sandy St. Louis

Phil Zimmerman

Peter Lyons

Jessica Cashdan

Nina Hazen

Kirsti Potter

Lisa Palone

Eric Brass
Jay Fialkov

Cynthia Ahn

Mary Sullivan

Tobee Phipps

Bill Rockwood

Kate Cohen

Sarah Ligon

Richard Parr

Sarah Moughty

Catherine Wright

Sam Bailey

Kito Cetrulo

Robin Parmelee

Ken Dornstein

Sharon Tiller

Marrie Campbell

Jim Bracciale

Michael Sullivan

Louis Wiley Jr.

David Fanning

A FRONTLINE co-production with The Kirk Documentary Group, Ltd.


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ANNOUNCER: This report continues on our Web site. Watch it again on line in high-quality video, explore a chronology of the decisions, mistakes and daunting realities during that first post-war year in Iraq, read extended interviews with key officials and observers, explore more about the policy disputes, personality conflicts, misjudgments and missed opportunities. Then join the discussion about this report at

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posted oct. 17, 2006

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