Besides rebuilding Iraq’s economy, infrastructure, and government, the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) also focused upon creating new security forces for the country. This was greatly complicated by the fact that CPA head Paul Bremer disbanded the Iraqi military as soon as he arrived in Iraq, and then lacked the money, personnel, and time to achieve his goals. Infighting, and lack of pre-war planning back in Washington crippled many of the CPA’s ideas as well. The growing insurgency undermined much of the early work at creating new police and military units as they were thrown into the fray before they were ready. In the end, one of the few successes the U.S. had in the reconstruction of Iraq was to create a new Iraqi military and police, but it would take years. In the early period of the occupation, that outcome could hardly have been predicted due to all the setbacks and problems the Americans ran into trying to secure the country.
Before the 2003 invasion of Iraq, there was some sound planning for Iraq’s police, but the White House rejected it. Richard Mayer of the Justice Department drew up a report recommending that 5,000 advisers be sent to Iraq to help rebuild the police. The National Security Council (NSC) turned down the plan, because it believed that Iraq would be secure after the invasion with the Iraqi police continuing on with their regular duties, and did not want the U.S. to be responsible for occupying the country. It would also have been an extremely expensive program to carry out, and there was no money available, plus the Americans knew little about the country, and had few Arabic speakers. This represented much of the pre-war thinking in Washington. While some officials had good ideas about Iraq, the leadership in the White House were not interested. They had a best-case view of what the nation would be like after the fall of Saddam Hussein, which would allow the U.S. forces to quickly withdraw. Any programs aimed at rebuilding the Iraqi police were in direct contravention to that idea, which was why the Mayer plan was never accepted.
Another issue with America’s post-war planning for Iraq was that there was always a plethora of groups and plans in the works, with no real coordination between them. In May 2003, after the U.S. invasion, the Justice and State Departments sent a team to Iraq to review Iraq’s police, judiciary, and prisons. This was despite the fact that Justice’s Mayer had already come up with a plan for these. Jerry Burke was a member of the review team, and said that the police needed everything. The team came into the country when much of the looting was over, which did not spare the police. The Interior Ministry and many of the police stations had been ransacked and destroyed with little left in them. The group’s assessment found that the Iraqi police could not bring back law and order, and had to be completely rebuilt. It recommended that 2,500 international police be brought in to help restore order, and an additional 6,660 trainers and advisers be deployed to help rebuild the police. Just like the Mayer plan, the assessment team’s report was rejected by the NSC, because of its costs and the trouble it would require to implement. Sending in a team to Iraq after the government had collapsed, and mass looting had broken out to come up with suggestions that should have been done before the war was irresponsible. Burke believed that the entire exercise was a delaying action, because Washington did not want responsibility for Iraq. U.S. planners believed that American forces would only be in the country for a little while after Saddam Hussein was overthrown, so the White House could claim that it was considering securing Iraq with the review, but would not have to actually do anything about it, because the U.S. would shortly be withdrawing.
When the CPA was created in April, it too cast its ideas for the Iraqi police. Paul Bremer asked Washington for 1,500 police advisers, a far modest proposal from the 5,000-6,900 suggested by the Mayer plan and the assessment team. This idea was rejected as well, this time because of infighting between the Defense and Justice Departments over who would control them. Inter-agency rivalry and lack of coordination had been a feature of American planning on Iraq almost from the get go. This would continue long after the 2003 invasion, and be a major impediment to success.
When the United States finally took action on the Iraqi police it was woefully inadequate. Bernard Kerik, the former New York City police commissioner who gained fame during 9/11 was chosen to head the rebuilding of the Iraqi police. Kerik knew nothing of Iraq, and only had a measly 12 Justice Department advisers to create a force of 60,000. At the time, security was quickly deteriorating with the emergence of the insurgency, and the CPA wanted to put the police out in the field as quickly as possible as well as reform it as an institution. Kerik put his 12 advisers to work restoring police stations and academies, setting up a training regime, and rebuilding the Interior Ministry. When Kerik left in just over three months, he claimed to have reopened 35 police stations in Baghdad, and brought back 40,000 Iraqi police. His time in Iraq was widely derided however. General Ricardo Sanchez, the American military commander in Iraq thought that Kerik was a waste of time, because he only focused upon Baghdad, and didn’t provide the police with any equipment. Jerry Burke who was one of Kerik’s 12 advisers thought that all he cared about was publicity, because he spent most of his time running around Baghdad out on operations with a string of reporters in tow. In addition, the Army’s V Corps ordered the 18th Military Police Brigade under the command of Colonel Ted Spain to organize and advise the Iraqis in central and part of southern Iraq. They worked alongside Kerik’s team in Baghdad, and tried to get police stations up and running, and officers back on duty. Sending Kerik to Iraq who had no knowledge of the country, international police, or training them was another example of Washington not taking the post-war situation seriously. How Kerik and his small staff were to accomplish anything meaningful was a mystery. Col. Spain believed that the U.S. forces were not interested in restoring the police either, because it was only thinking of the military situation instead of law and order or the justice system. All together, there was little support, and not enough personnel nor money committed at this time when it was direly needed since the Iraqi government had ceased to exist, and there was widespread lawlessness.
The shortcomings of the American effort did not mean that nothing was achieved in the period immediately after the fall of the old regime. In May, Bremer was upset with the small amount of police on duty, and issued an order the following month that any officers who did not report back to their posts would be fired. That led to 38,000 returning to duty. The U.S. military also hired 30,000 more. By June, a few police academies had been rebuilt, and classes started. They had a severe lack of capacity however, which led the U.S. to approach Jordan to train Iraqis. By September 2003, 1,500 police were being sent there a month for classes. There was still a lack of funds to carry out all these tasks, so the CPA increasingly relied upon the Iraqi budget to try to meet the shortfall. In the 2003 budget, only $2.4 million was allotted for the police, going up to $122.4 million the following year. Most of that went to salaries and pensions however, instead of equipment and facilities. That didn’t stop the CPA from coming up with some grand plans for Iraq’s new security forces, something the Authority had been guilty of since the day it was created.
Bremer presided over the creation of several new Iraqi forces. In August 2003, the CPA created the Department of Border Enforcement. It excluded former officers for possible corruption or ties to the Baath Party, provided little funding for training, and deployed them almost immediately to the border even though they were not ready. By June 2004, there were only 255 borders officers who had completed their classes. That led the U.S. army to try to carry out the task, but it was completely unprepared since hardly any of them spoke Arabic, and didn’t know the documents for checking crossings and trade. It would continue doing this job for years however, as the building up of the new force would take a long time. The CPA also created the Facilities Protection Service to look after infrastructure and provincial government buildings. By 2004, there were 80,000-100,000 on duty, but they only received 3 days of training, and lacked heavy equipment. They were open to influence by militias and political parties, which only deteriorated their already poor skill set since many of these infiltrators were not qualified for their new jobs. Bremer had big ideas for Iraq, but lacked the personnel, funding, strategy, and time to follow through with most of them. The Facilities Protection Service and the Border Enforcement were perfect examples, since there was no way adequate forces could be trained, equipped, and put to work in the short lifetime of the CPA. When the Coalition turned over sovereignty to the Iraqis in 2004, it would leave behind two weak forces for the Iraqi government to manage, when it had even more problems than the Americans. Both would suffer from mismanagement for years as a result.
Finally, the CPA tried to rebuild the Iraqi army after Bremer disbanded it. One of the first things he did when he arrived in Iraq was to issue CPA Order Number 2, which closed the Defense Ministry and got rid of the military with no compensation. Eventually, Bremer realized the error of his ways and in August, CPA Order Number 22 called for the creation of a new Army. It would be smaller than the previous one, be under civilian control, be made up of volunteers, and be focused solely upon external defense in the Western tradition. At the time, the CPA did not think the military was as important as the police, because they were needed to restore internal security. The Coalition ended up planning for only three light battalions in two years as a result. Including headquarters units that would only amount to around 40,000 troops. Around the same time, General Paul Eaton was placed in charge of training the army. He found that the U.S. forces and the CPA did not really care about his mission, as shown by the fact that the only instructions he received from the CPA initially was a 24-page PowerPoint slide show from Central Command (CENTCOM), and he only had a staff of six with $173 million to spend. Eaton quickly got to work asking the U.S. division commanders to come up with 45 former Iraqi officers in each of their areas of operations. After some initial problems, the CPA was eventually able to bring back many officers and non-commissioned ones from the Saddam era. Bremer’s decision to get rid of the Iraqi military was considered one of the worst mistakes the U.S. made. There were several U.S. officials and officers who warned him of the consequences of his actions, but he ignored them. Bremer’s national security adviser Walter Slocombe claimed that the Iraqi army had disintegrated during the invasion, and therefore what the CPA did was just officially declare what had happened. The Office for Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance, which was initially in control of post-war Iraq, was attempting to bring back Iraqi units, when it was replaced by the Coalition. Bremer and Slocombe considered getting rid of the military a political act to wipe the slate clean of the old regime. Instead it would undermine much of what they hoped to accomplish in the country, as many former soldiers would end up joining the insurgency.
As security worsened in Iraq, the U.S. was forced to improvise. First, Donald Rumsfeld changed Bremer’s plan to create a new military from two years to one since Iraqi forces were desperately needed to deal with insurgents. General Eaton ended up asking Jordan for help with training, and it agreed in August 2003. CENTCOM and Gen. Sanchez came up with the idea of an Iraqi Civil Defense Corps, which would be a paramilitary force to help the U.S. and Iraqi police. In July, training started for six battalions of the new Corps. Again, the Americans were not coordinating their work as the Corps was not linked with the other Iraqi forces, and was under direct U.S. control rather than the Iraqi ministries. Some like General Eaton worried about this arrangement, but the military was acting in an ad hoc manner to deal with the chaos that was spreading across the country. By April 2004 there were 45 Defense Corps battalions with 36,000 personnel. Faced with the insurgency growing, the U.S. was forced into a series of desperate moves. The initial plans for a small military focused upon external defense were scrapped, and would not become an issue again for several years. The Americans then focused upon pumping out as many soldiers as quickly as possible, which caused further problems, because many of these units were thrown into action before they were ready. Finally, the Defense Corps ended up being scrapped as well, and integrated into the Army showing the short sightedness of many of the ideas being propagated at the time.
When Bremer announced that the CPA would be disbanded in June 2004 and sovereignty returned to Iraqis, the U.S. had to rethink many of their plans for the country’s security forces. In November 2003, the CPA’s Office of Policy Planning told Bremer that Iraq not only needed new police and soldiers, but rule of law, a reformed judiciary, and intelligence agencies. It also warned that the immediate goal of providing security was undermining the long-term aim of creating a Western style security apparatus that would support democracy. It emphasized that the Coalition had to be thinking long-term now that it had a finite time to run Iraq. That was ignored. The CPA also had to speed up their rebuilding of the Defense and Interior Ministries. Defense officials were given three weeks of training in the United States on Western style militaries, but General Eaton felt that was not sufficient to overcome their worldview, which had been shaped by Saddam. The CPA did not trust the Iraqi Governing Council, which it had created either to name a Defense Minister, so one was appointed by the U.S. Interior proved more difficult. The Americans had relied upon former Iraqi officers to fill 1/3 of the Defense Ministry positions. The CPA did not trust any of the old Interior employees, and therefore had to start from scratch. Despite all the grand plans Bremer had for creating a new Iraqi society, he never consulted with Iraqis about what they wanted or considered their traditions. A few weeks of training was not going to change that. When the Iraqis regained control of the government in 2004, political parties took over the ministries and security forces, and placed their followers in charge whether they were competent or not. The Shiite parties for example placed thousands of militiamen into the Interior Ministry and police, using them against their rivals, and increasingly for sectarian attacks upon Sunnis. That would be a leading cause of the civil war later on.
The White House was completely disconnected from events on the ground at the time. The administration became focused upon the number of Iraqi forces that were on duty as a sign of progress in the country. On week the Pentagon claimed there were 20,000 in the security forces. Then that suddenly jumped to 80,000, then 100,000, and then 120,000. Secretary of State Colin Powell, Bremer, and General Sanchez all believed that the administration was exaggerating the numbers. That didn’t trickle back to the U.S., as President Bush and his officials would continue to talk about the growth of the security forces for the next several years. It did eventually become a debate within the U.S. over how qualified these new forces were, but that had little affect back in Iraq as the focus remained on pumping out as many new soldiers and officers as quickly as possible.
The emphasis upon numbers led to another fateful decision. General John Abizaid the commander of CENTCOM thought that the military should take over training of all the security forces, because the CPA never had enough personnel. Civilian police advisers were opposed to the plan since the U.S. forces outside of the military police knew nothing about police work. Instead, the police would end up being militarized instead of becoming a civilian force. In November, Rumsfeld sent a team to Iraq led by General Karl Eikenbery to review the development of the security forces. He reported in February 2004 that the CPA did not have the staff or planning for the job, and that its program was far behind schedule. Finally, it suggested that the U.S. military take over the training of the army and police. Rumsfeld agreed with these ideas, which led to the creation of the Office of Security Cooperation. General Eaton took over command of the new office in March. Just as the police advisers warned, military training of the police undermined their purpose. Instead of focusing upon law and order and fighting crime, the police ended up confronting the insurgency, a job they were never supposed to take on, and were still unfit to carry out due to lack of equipment.
The plans to create as many Iraqi forces as quickly as possible were also linked to U.S. strategy, which was to withdraw from Iraq. In March 2004, General Sanchez said that as more Iraqis forces came on board, the U.S. would eventually retreat to bases outside the cities, and then begin to pull out. He announced that the number of American troops would go from 130,000 to 115,000 that year, and the number of forward operating bases would be reduced from 60 to eight by May. All those plans were scrapped when the insurgency and Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army rose up in the spring. Fighting broke across the country, and the Iraqi forces were not prepared. The police fell apart in Fallujah, Najaf, Karbala, and Kut. In one week in April, 3,000 police quit. In less then two weeks in that same month, 12,000 deserted from the Iraq Civil Defense Corps. Soldiers also fled, and some even helped the militants. This series of events torpedoed the U.S. security and withdrawal plans. All the talk of thousands of Iraqis being on duty went out the window, as they lacked the training, equipment, and wherewithal to deal with the insurgents, and militias were taking over units increasing the conflict. The result was that the U.S. doubled down on building up the security forces as quickly as possible only increasing the problems they already had.
In July 2003, the Coalition Provisional Authority said that it was going to create a safe and secure Iraq. Without that it stated the rest of its goals could not be accomplished. The CPA never achieved that. The Iraqi police were not being adequately trained or equipped, and then thrown into the field with the expectation that they could stand up to the insurgency and militias, jobs which no police force is capable of doing. Many of the same issues were facing the Iraqi military. The Spring 2004 uprising showed that the security forces were not ready, and were pushed out too quickly. The U.S. simply lacked a workable strategy for Iraq. The Special Inspector General would eventually say that the rebuilding of the Iraqi forces was one of the few success stories in the country. That would take years however, because of the poor planning shown by the administration before and immediately after the invasion. The U.S. did not want to deal with post-war Iraq, and when it was thrust into that job it was constantly reacting to situations in an ad hoc manner, which cost it dearly. The Iraqis suffered even more as their country descended into chaos and then a civil war in part due to the string of bad decisions made from 2003-2004 by the Americans.
Elliott, Michael, “Occupation Hazards,” Time, 6/9/03
Gordon, Michael, “’Catastrophic Success’ Debate Lingering on Decision to Dissolve the Iraqi Military,” New York Times, 10/21/04
- “For Training Iraq’s Police, the Main Problem Was Time,” New York Times, 10/21/04
Maas, Peter, “The Way of the Commandos,” New York Times Magazine, 5/1/05
Kerik knew nothing of Iraq and only ended up staying 3 ½ months before returning to Iraq
PBS Frontline, “Interview Robert Perito,” Truth, War and Consequences, 10/9/03
- “Interview Walter Slocombe,” Rumsfeld’s War, 10/26/04
Ricks, Thomas, Fiasco, New York: Penguin Press, 2006
Spain, Ret. Col. Ted, “How The U.S. Struggled To Establish Law And Order In Post-Invasion Iraq, An Interview With Retired Colonel Ted Spain,” Musings On Iraq, 12/22/11
Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, “Hard Lessons,” 1/22/09
Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, “Hard Lessons,” 1/22/09