Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Special Inspector General For Iraq Reconstruction’s “Hard Lessons” – Chapter 3 The Department of Defense Takes Charges

The third chapter of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction’s (SIGIR) review of the U.S. effort to rebuild Iraq covers the confusion that ensued when the Pentagon was given control of the post-war effort in January 2003. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld claimed that the Pentagon would provide unity of effort in Iraq after the invasion, but in fact, it just made the chaotic planning even more disjointed. Instead of creating one command, there emerged three separate organizations each with its own leader. Rumsfeld also became personally involved in the war planning and staffing, which undermined the effort as well. These were trends that had emerged from the very beginning of post-war planning, and would continue for years afterwards. This was one of the major reasons why the SIGIR believes the U.S. failed to rebuild Iraq.

In October 2002 the Pentagon decided not to create a civilian organization to plan for post-invasion Iraq because it thought it would give the wrong message when the White House was claiming that it was doing everything possible to avoid war. That left most of the planning to the National Security Council (NSC) and the Central Command (CENTCOM), the military staff in charge of the Middle East. As reported before, this effort was uncoordinated with few of the working groups knowing about each other. On the NSC side, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) had created a humanitarian and reconstruction plan, and started signing contracts with companies to carry out the work. The Pentagon was in charge of securing and running the oil sector. The Treasury Department was working on Iraq’s finances. CENTCOM had its own group working on what was called Phase IV, post-war planning. There was no overall agency in charge of this effort however.

In mid-October 2002 the NSC was briefed on what its groups had come up with so far. The planners said that there would be a civil administration of Iraq, although there were no actual plans behind it. The administration didn’t agree with the level of U.S. involvement, which caused major problems. The White House and Pentagon believed that the U.S. would be liberators, but had no concept of how this would actually work.

During this period CENTCOM’s Phase IV group was also getting sidelined for all the invasion work. On August 2002 the Joint Chiefs became worried about this, especially because there were only 2 majors doing most of the planning. In December 2002 they intensified their effort, and got more staff. They gave a briefing to the Joint Chiefs that month saying that there would be chaos after the invasion because there would be no Iraqi government. They believed that eventually either the U.N. or the U.S. would run Iraq, but had no specific ideas on how that would work. After that meeting, the Joint Chiefs realized that Phase IV didn’t have enough workers so it was made into Joint Task Force 4 (JTF 4) with 58 more officers.

The Pentagon became more involved when President Bush said that war was inevitable at a NSC meeting on December 18, 2003. This spurred Rumsfeld to finally create a civilian organization within the Defense Department for post-war planning. Following this Rumsfeld convinced the President to give the Pentagon control of post-invasion Iraq. Secretary of State Colin Powell agreed to this saying that his agency lacked the personnel and capacity to do the job. Rumsfeld argued that there would be unity of command with Defense in control. On January 20, 2003 President Bush signed National Security Presidential Directive 24 (NSPD 24) giving Rumsfeld this authority. The Pentagon went on to create the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Affairs (ORHA) as a result.

NSPD caused chaos within the administration. It effectively put an end to all the NSC’s projects. The officials that had been working there were shocked at the change. The Pentagon in turn ended up shunning a lot of these other groups that had been working on Iraq previously. More importantly, rather than creating unity of command, it led to three separate organizations with their own leaders. One was ORHA, the other was JTF-4, and the third was CENTCOM. As with the earlier planning, none of these groups worked with each other, and actually competed, causing more problems.

JTF 4 did away with half of CENTCOM’s Phase IV work, and tried to assert its authority over the planning process. Phase IV had a two part plan for Iraq. First humanitarian issues would be dealt with, and then reconstruction would begin. JTF-4 shut down the humanitarian work and just focused upon rebuilding. This happened in mid-January 2003, just two months before the invasion. The Joint Chiefs had also envisioned JTF-4 as the command for postwar Iraq. It was supposed to take over as soon as military operations were over, and coordinate with all the other government agencies. The problem was, that was supposed to be the job of the OHRA.

In early January Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith called up retired General Jay Garner to head the OHRA. Rumsfeld knew him from before, and thought a military man who had worked in Iraq after the Gulf War would be ideal for the job. Garner started his work 56 days before the invasion with no staff and no integration with the military. This was a major drawback as OHRA had no secure communications, and thus was cut out from Washington, CENTCOM, and the military command set up in Kuwait to run the invasion. The lack of staff was also another major drawback. National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice told other government agencies to send officials, but it never really happened. One reason was that the other agencies resented the creation of OHRA as they were told about it after the fact. Garner ended up with an ad hoc group made up of retired soldiers, private contractors, military officers, and government officials. This was another trend that would continue for years with the U.S. reconstruction effort in Iraq. Garner also started his job from scratch as he was not told about the earlier efforts.

When Garner started getting the OHRA up and running it was believed that he would just be operationalizing the ideas that had already been created. Garner found out that there were no concrete plans, and didn’t even find out about all the groups that had been working on the effort. He discovered the State Department’s Future of Iraq Project and Undersecretary of Defense Feith’s Office of Special Plans for example by mistake just before the invasion. On his own Garner came up with three jobs for the OHRA: humanitarian aid, governance, and reconstruction. This closely mirrored the work already done by the NSC and Phase IV. The State Department was to run the humanitarian and governance efforts. This largely took over the work that the NSC had done. Likewise, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) continued on with its NSC job of reconstruction. The USAID had already signed contracts with companies to do this task. One such business, the International Resource Group briefed the USAID in February 2003 telling it that it didn’t have anywhere near the money it needed to rebuild Iraq. An ominous foreshadowing of what was to come.

The cost of reconstruction became a major point of contention within OHRA, and with Garner’s superiors. At one briefing Rumsfeld asked Garner how much reconstruction would cost, and he said billions. Rumsfeld said he must be crazy. In fact, the U.S. went on to spend $50 billion on rebuilding Iraq. There were also heated debates amongst the OHRA staff about what reconstruction actually meant. Some believed it was just fixing war damage, while others thought about how it could lead to a new Iraqi government. This occurred during the earlier planning when the USAID was the only agency that believed rebuilding was an integral part of creating a democracy in Iraq. Rumsfeld and the White House however wanted that form of government without the U.S. doing the work.

What Iraq’s government would look like after Saddam was also a major point of contention. The State Department’s governance group had little to go on because there was so little information about how Iraq worked internally. The Pentagon leadership also thought that the U.S. would pass off Iraqi to Iraqis quickly, and therefore didn’t think that State had to really plan for the matter. Garner went ahead and looked into the issue anyway. A review warned that there would be a power vacuum after the invasion and criminality would result if authority wasn’t established immediately. Many in the U.S. believed that the Iraqi government would continue to operate after the war, and Garner planned to have a senior U.S. advisor help each of the country’s ministries to keep operating. The problem was OHRA didn’t even know how many ministries Iraq had.

Rumsfeld then began interfering as well, just adding to the difficulties. The Defense Secretary demanded that the Pentagon control all three of Garner’s reconstruction efforts rather than have State and USAID involved. This was all part of Rumsfeld’s belief that he was creating unity of command. That was far from reality.

CENTCOM was the third group that thought it was going to be in control of Iraq after the war. Its leadership didn’t like either the JTF-4 or OHRA. Rumsfeld believed that Garner would just be part of CENTCOM, but the military didn’t want him. CENTCOM commander General Franks tried to assert his control over OHRA, but Garner said he was independent because he was created by a presidential directive.

Franks was too caught up in the military planning for the invasion anyway. The original U.S. war plans for Iraq called for 500,000 troops. Rumsfeld was unhappy with this number as it didn’t fit his vision of a transformed military. Eventually Rumsfeld cut down the force to 160,000. At a briefing, President Bush asked whether this would be enough to secure the country and Franks said that it was. He asserted that in every village in Iraq there would be a mayor, a lieutenant, and captains to maintain civil order. In fact, there was no such plan. Others down the chain of command in the U.S. military were also uneasy about the reduced invasion force. Coalition ground commander General David McKiernan for one didn’t think there would be enough troops to secure the country after the invasion.

These ideas and agencies were put to the test one month before the invasion in a drill. All of the different groups that were working on post-war Iraq were present, although the State Department, CENCOM, and JTF-4 were told not to fully participate. The drill brought up major problems that would actually materialize after the invasion, but it was not able to prevent them. First the main difficulty that emerged was securing the country. The 160,000 strong invasion force was simply not large enough to do the job. The drill predicted that there would be civil chaos after the war that would undermine the establishment of a stable Iraq. The second problem was that there was no set reconstruction budget. Instead the U.S. was going to war with no idea about how much it would have to spend on rebuilding or whether it would be adequate. This too could lead to unrest amongst Iraq’s poor, who could rise up as a result. Third the lack of coordination between the various groups within the U.S. government was another hinderance.

President Bush and other top officials were later briefed on the drill and other plans. Garner warned the President that there was still lots of work to be done. Garner said that the Iraqi civil service, police and army all needed to be maintained to ensure domestic order. He suggested that the army be used for reconstruction. Bush okayed this plan. The same day, the President was briefed on a deBaathification plan. The idea was that only the top Baathists would be removed to ensure that the government would keep running. Bush agreed to that idea as well. Two days later Undersecretary Feith presented his plan for the creation of an Iraqi Interim Authority that would help with governance. Bush had previously vetoed the idea of creating a provisional Iraqi government before the invasion. The Interim Authority would now be doing just that using Iraqi exiles and the Kurds that the U.S. had been meeting with. Bush affirmed that idea too. The Authority would initially work with the U.S. military after the invasion before eventually taking over leadership of the country. There were no set plans on how this was to work, and it was decided to do it on the fly based upon facts on the ground in Iraq. None of these plans were actually adhered to.

Finally, days before the invasion was to begin Rumsfeld again interfered with planning. The Secretary told Garner that he had to get rid of two State Department officials from his staff. One was the head of the Future of Iraq Project. Garner was forced to get rid of him, but kept the other member of State. Then two days before the war began, Rumsfeld called Garner telling him that he was going to appoint all of the advisors that were to help run Iraq’s ministries. Garner at first objected, but then gave in.

Years later Garner lamented that the U.S. started too late to have an effective post-war planning effort. His OHRA was put together only two months before the invasion, and never had the staff to do all that was asked of it. Garner was also competing with General Franks at CENTCOM and JTF 4. This was a trend that started early on in planning when the NSC, Pentagon and CENTCOM’s Phase IV were all working independently. On top of all that Secretary Rumsfeld continually imposed himself on planning even though he had no experience in making war or reconstruction. His insistence on reducing the invasion force from 500,000 to 160,000 made it impossible for the U.S. to ensure security in Iraq. He also interfered with Garner’s staff picks, and most importantly did not believe in rebuilding Iraq. Even before the March 2003 invasion the U.S. was setting itself up for failure when it came to dealing with post-Saddam Iraq.


Special Inspector General For Iraq Reconstruction’s “Hard Lessons”

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