Thursday, July 19, 2012

Special Inspector General For Iraq Reconstruction’s “Hard Lessons” Chapter 11 “Restoring Iraq’s Capacity to Govern”

Besides the reconstruction of Iraq, the other main priority of Paul Bremer and the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) was to create a new democratic country. Before it could do that it had to get the government up and running. When the old regime fell, the administration disappeared as bureaucrats stopped going to work, and the ministries and offices were looted. What happened next would again highlight the dysfunctional nature of America’s post-war handling of Iraq. First, the U.S. believed that the government would be up and running the day after the fall of the regime, so it was completely surprised when it collapsed. Second, there were three separate groups working on governance, the U.S. military, the United States Agency of International Development (USAID), and the CPA. There was minimal coordination between the three. Last, the Iraqis were not included in any of the decision-making, which would come back and haunt Bremer and his ideas for Iraq’s future. Overall, America’s good intentions proved not enough when trying to create a new Iraqi society.

The first group that set about rebuilding Iraq’s government was the U.S. military. It created local, district, and provincial councils, so that it had Iraqis to work with in their areas of operation. The armed forces had no orders on how to create these new bodies, so they were all made in an ad hoc nature. In Ninewa governorate for example, General David Petraeus who was the commander of the 101st Airborne Division was facing a chaotic situation. Insurgents were organizing, and trying to take control, while local politicians and leading figures were declaring themselves mayor of Mosul and governor of the province. Petraeus first secured Mosul, and then organized a convention that elected a city council, a mayor, and a governor in May 2003. In Najaf, General James Conway of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force set up elections for a new provincial council scheduled for June. The CPA stepped in and canceled them, claiming that Iraq had no election law, but was really acting out of fear that Moqtada al-Sadr’s followers might take power there. One positive that emerged from this situation was that the U.S. was trying to create grassroots democracy, inspired by its city councils and state assemblies. That was a move away from the centralized and repressive system that Saddam Hussein had imposed on the country where the Baath party ran everything. At the same time, the Army and Marines had no plan to follow when trying to accomplish this. Each commander basically followed his own initiative. The CPA also sometimes interfered in their work like what happened in Najaf. Basically there was little coordination, because the U.S. was caught completely by surprise by the situation they found on the ground in Iraq after the fall of the regime. Most importantly, the local and district councils that were created had no real power, were completely dependent upon the U.S. for funding, and mainly just consulted with American units. Many of the officials that came into power in 2003 are also still in office today. That meant this had the trappings of a new democratic Iraq, but fell far short in substance.
Gen. Petraeus was one of the many U.S. commanders who had to devise his own plans for a new Iraqi government at the local level when he was in charge of Ninewa province in 2003 (40th Public Affairs Detachment)
The second organization that entered the fray was USAID. In April, it hired a contractor to work with local governments, and help them with reconstruction projects. The company was first charged with helping city councils, but eventually set up 22 offices across Iraq, and assisted with the development of governance at all levels within the provinces. USAID also set up a grant system to help fund many of the bodies being created. It eventually signed five more contracts to aid in the process. USAID was most concerned with creating local institutions and projects that would employ Iraqis. They tried to work with the U.S. military, but had much grander plans for Iraq. At the same time, they disagreed with much of the CPA’s ideas, and constantly argued with them about the future of the country. This was another sign of the lack of cooperation between the different American groups working within Iraq.

The CPA played a role in the local and provincial governments as well. In the governorates, the CPA created a system of coordinators. They sometimes came into conflict with the military and USAID, because they didn’t have the same expertise or goals. The 2004 budget, which was drawn up by the Coalition didn’t include much for the provincial or local councils that emasculate them. Many Iraqis were not impressed with the new bodies either, because they couldn’t do much, and were seen as creatures of the American occupation. That meant the U.S. was creating new government entities that lacked legitimacy with the people.
Bremer flying over Iraq like the overseer he saw himself as (Time)
What Paul Bremer focused upon the most was creating a new democratic society in Iraq. The initial step in this process was creating a 25 member Iraqi Governing Council. At first there were some objections by Iraqis, but eventually the Kurdistan Democratic Party, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, the Dawa Party, the Iraqi National Congress, the Iraqi National List, and the Iraqi Communist Party, which comprised all the major exile and Kurdish opposition parties from the Saddam era, agreed to join it. The United Nations pushed for domestic Iraqis to serve on the council as well, and was responsible for finding them otherwise the CPA might not have included any. Another issue that arose was that Bremer carved up the Governing Council along ethnosectarian lines. 13 seats went to Shiites, 5 to Kurds, 5 to Sunnis, and one each for Assyrian Christians and Turkmen. In September, the council named a new cabinet, which was also divided the exact same way with 13 Shiite ministers, 5 Sunni and 5 Kurdish, and one Assyrian, and one Turkmen. While this had the trappings of a new Iraqi government and the return of sovereignty, the ministries proved to still be largely under U.S. control. A second issue was that the Governing Council had no real power. The United Nations pushed to change that, but Bremer refused. At the same time, many of the councilmen never showed up for work, the U.S. didn’t trust all of them, and some were considered corrupt. Finally, the ethnosectarian composition of the council and the ministries would set a trend that would continue on into the present Iraqi governments. The U.S. has been widely condemned for creating this system, but it was something that the Iraqi opposition had been doing since the 1990s. After the Gulf War it tried to create a series of umbrella organizations to unite them all, but because there were so many factions that needed to be included they turned to a quota system, very similar to what the U.S. did after 2003.

Bremer’s creation of a Governing Council was just the first step in a multi-stage process he had devised, but would later have to abandon, because of pressure from Iraqis and Washington. Previously, Jay Garner of the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance, which was the first American body in charge of post-war Iraq, wanted a quick transition to Iraqi control. Bremer came in with a long-term project that not only included caucuses to create a body that would draft a new constitution, a referendum on that document, and voting for a new national government, but also set out to establish a free press, and create a new judicial system. Bremer argued that this entire process would take several years, because it required creating a democratic culture, not just holding elections. In June, the CPA ran into its first impediment when Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani issued a fatwa against Bremer’s ideas of how to write a constitution. Instead, the cleric called for early elections for an interim parliament to come up with a new constitution. Bremer tried to meet with Sistani in July in Najaf to work out their differences, but was refused. Next, Bremer wrote an opinion piece for the Washington Post in September outlining his plans. This caused consternation back in the U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld had initially approved the CPA’s ideas, but then changed his mind, and pushed for turning over power to the Iraqis sooner rather than later. Then National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice set up the Iraq Stabilization Group that advocated a quicker transition to Iraqi sovereignty as well. Rice was frustrated with Bremer, because he answered to no one, and no one in Washington really knew what he was doing. Rice placed Robert Blackwill in charge of the Stabilization Group. He went to Iraq in September, and found that Bremer’s plan was not tenable, because it was not acceptable to Iraqis such as Ayatollah Sistani. In October, the United Nations passed a resolution saying that Iraqis should have control of their country as soon as possible. The next month, Bremer was called back to Washington for a policy meeting on the future of Iraq. There, Bremer was told to come up with a new timeline for returning sovereignty to the Iraqis. With all that pressure, Bremer relented and revised his strategy. He went on to announce that the CPA would cease to exist in June 2004 when an interim Iraqi government would take power, while a new constitution was constructed. United Nations envoy Lakhdar Brahimi helped convince Ayatollah Sistani of this new plan. At first, Bremer and the CPA had great leeway to do what it wanted in Iraq, because the country was descending into chaos, and Washington was caught unprepared. The problem was that the CPA didn’t have the staff to follow through with its ideas, and didn’t listen to anyone, especially Iraqis on what the future of the nation should be. It made many decisions on the fly, and its long term plans either for reconstruction or governance all ended up falling apart.

The United States came into Iraq saying that it wanted to create a democracy, but it didn’t have the planning or time to accomplish that. Bremer thought that he could stay in Iraq for years running and building things until a new political culture was created, and then he would return sovereignty. That ran into the interests of Washington and Iraqis who wanted the U.S. out as soon as possible. Not only that, but the Americans were failing to create the institutions to make a new society, because almost all the bodies they created or put back together like the local councils to the ministries were all dependent upon the U.S., and largely under their control with limited autonomy. Bremer tried to create a system of stewardship that would walk the Iraqis through his multi-step program. The fact that he didn’t seem to take into consideration what the Iraqis wanted or take advice from other American agencies like USAID, which he was in constant conflict with, eventually sunk his ideas.


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Elliott, Michael, “If At First You Don’t Succeed…,” Time, 11/24/03

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PBS Frontline, “Interview Maj. Gen. David Petraeus,” Beyond Baghdad, 2/12/04

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Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, “Hard Lessons,” 1/22/09

Tyler, Patrick, “Big step toward a new Iraq,” San Francisco Chronicle, 7/8/03
- “Iraq pieces together its first postwar governing council,” San Francisco Chronicle, 7/13/03

Vest, Jason, “The failures of occupation,” San Francisco Bay Guardian, 4/21/04

Walt, Vivienne, “Bombing at Baghdad police compound,” San Francisco Chronicle, 9/3/03
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Wright, Robin and Williams, Daniel, “U.S. set to cede power to Iraqis quickly,” San Francisco Chronicle, 11/13/03

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