Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Coalition Provisional Authority’s Inauspicious End

In June 2004, the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) had an inauspicious end. CPA head Paul Bremer told his staff two hours beforehand that the U.S. was going to hand back sovereignty to Iraq. There was a short handover ceremony held in secret, then Bremer went to the Baghdad International Airport for a meeting, and then he flew out of the country. That ended his fourteen-month administration of Iraq. In the preceding period, the CPA had been hard at work planning the transition, by creating a provisional constitution, setting a timetable for national elections for a new Iraqi government, and trying to finish its reconstruction projects. At the end, Bremer compared his work to what the U.S. accomplished in post-World War II Germany with the Marshall Plan. In doing so, Bremer actually highlighted many of the shortcomings of his time running Iraq.
CPA head Paul Bremer departing Iraq June 2004 (AP)
At the beginning of 2004, the CPA began planning for the return of sovereignty to Iraq. Bremer’s main priority was setting the framework for a new democratic Iraq. The first step was working out how the Iraqis were going to come up with a new constitution. Bremer originally called for the Iraqi Governing Council to pick delegates for a constitutional convention. Ayatollah Ali Sistani immediately rejected that idea calling for an elected body to draft the document. In early 2004, the CPA and Governing Council asked the United Nations for help on the matter. It appointed Lakhdar Brahimi as its special envoy. He convinced Sistani that elections could not be held until sovereignty was handed over, which he said would happen on June 30. That ended Sistani’s objections, which was the main impediment to the Provisional Authority’s plans. Without his consent, the U.S. would be facing the opposition of his millions of followers. With Brahimi’s help, the Americans had now overcome this major roadblock.

The next step the CPA took was drafting a provisional constitution, which would be the law of the land until the Iraqis came up with their own. This document was called the Transitional Administrative Law (TAL). It was pushed through in secret negotiations between CPA officials and the Iraqi Governing Council, and passed on March 8, 2004. Since Iraqis were never told about these talks, many protested and complained about the TAL when it was made public. It followed Bremer’s ideas for a new Iraq by including individual rights, delegating the powers of the interim government, and created a timeline for three elections in just 18 months. The first would be for provisional councils and a new parliament to draft a constitution by August 15, 2005. There would then be a referendum on the constitution by October 15. Finally, by December 15 there would be balloting for a permanent parliament. With the creation of the TAL, the CPA was hoping to instill some basic democratic ideas on the new Iraq. More importantly, it set the steps for voting, and Iraqis to come up with their own constitution and government. Many people considered the elections as the hallmark of a burgeoning democracy. The fact that Iraq was going to hold three in the midst of an on-going insurgency with only a few political parties, some of which were returning from years in exile seemed to be overlooked.
U.N. Special Envoy Brahimi helped smooth over the differences between Bremer and Ayatollah Sistani on how to draft Iraq's new constitution (Getty Images)
Lakhdar Brahimi then set about coming up with an interim government. By the end of May 2004, the Iraqi Governing Council chose Iyad Allawi as the interim prime minister. On June 1, the new body was announced. It included a president, two vice presidents, 26 ministers, and five ministers of state. That was the final stage in America’s plans to hand back power to Iraqis. Allawi was to govern until a full time parliament was elected, and a ruling coalition was formed.

The last thing on Bremer’s plate was to initiate as many reconstruction projects as possible before the CPA ceased operating. In April, Bremer ordered the Authority to spend as much money as possible before the hand over of sovereignty. On May 15, the CPA approved $2 billion for the Iraqi security forces, electrical network, oil, and the Iraqi Property Claims Commission, which was to deal with the reversing of Saddam’s Arabization policy. In the last six months of the Provisional Authority, $5 billion was given to Iraq’s ministries or appropriated for rebuilding projects. That was one-third of the total money spent by the CPA. Later, the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction found that all this spending was badly managed. That was in part due to the fact that Bremer resisted auditing and setting rules for the spending, because he thought it would hold up the reconstruction effort. The CPA also lacked the capacity and trained staff to handle such a large endeavor.

June 28, 2004, was the last day of the CPA. Bremer issued a report comparing his work with what the United States did with the Marshall Plan in post-World War II Germany. He wrote that the Coalition Provisional Authority was able to do in fourteen months what the Marshall Plan took years to accomplish. For instance, he said that it took nearly three years to design the Marshall Plan, and ten for a new German military to be created and sovereignty returned, things that the CPA did in months. Bremer’s paper actually highlighted some of the major shortcomings of the U.S. effort in Iraq. Germany after the Marshall Plan was nothing like Iraq after the CPA. The latter was facing a growing insurgency and the beginning of a civil war. The country was becoming more divided along ethnosectarian lines as a result. The Americans also took the time to come up with a comprehensive plan for putting together Germany after World War II, while the CPA was put together in an ad hoc manner, never came up with an integrated program, didn’t get the support from Washington that it needed, lacked the necessary resources, and often made decisions that undermined its own stated goals.

Paul Bremer originally came to Iraq thinking he would have years to put the country back together, but ended up only being there for fourteen months. The last months of the CPA were a flurry of activity including setting up the details of how Iraqis were to come up with a new constitution and government, creating an interim constitution that would be in effect in the meantime, and trying to spend the rest of its reconstruction funds. Rather than having the time Bremer wished, he ended up being rushed in his plans to create a new Iraq. At first, the CPA head wanted to create a democratic society with a free press, a new justice system, civil groups, etc. Much of that had to be dropped, because there simply wasn’t the time, commitment, or money to implement much of it. Instead, Bremer had to be satisfied with the Transitional Administrative Law, three elections, and reforms to the judiciary. Iraq was left with the trappings of democracy such as voting and a legislature, but the creation of norms and institutions still remains incomplete and may never emerge due to the exigencies of the Iraqi elite.


Chandrasekaran, Rajiv, “The Final Word on Iraq’s Future,” Washington Post, 6/18/03
- “Iraq’s top Shiite assails U.S. plan to cede power,” San Francisco Chronicle, 11/27/03

Collier, Robert, “Shiite support for U.S. occupation of Iraq appears tenuous,” San Francisco Chronicle, 7/16/03

Gettleman, Jeffrey, “Hours Later, Bremer Leaves Iraq; New Premier Outlines Agenda,” New York Times, 6/28/04

Krane, Jim, “On Bremer’s last day, he springs a surprise,” Associated Press, 6/29/04

Packer, George, “Caught In The Crossfire,” New Yorker, 5/17/04

Powell, Bill and Ghosh, Aparism, “Paul Bremer’s Rough Ride,” Time, 6/28/04

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

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