Chapter 5 of the U.S. Army’s history of the Iraq War has a fitting title, “We’re Here, Now What?” That was the exact situation the Americans found themselves after a lightning quick war against Iraq. Neither the military nor the Defense Department that had responsibility for postwar Iraq cared about the day after Saddam fell. The Bush administration also believed in a set of false assumptions that Iraq would be peaceful and stable. There were absolutely no plans for what the U.S. was about to face.
American commanders were not ready for the postwar situation. They believed they would be turning over affairs to a civilian authority that would be working with a still functioning Iraqi government. There was also the belief that Iraqis would welcome the Americans. The ground forces command had an outline for humanitarian aid, but that was not the situation the U.S. faced. Instead looting immediately broke out in major cities destroying large parts of key infrastructure. The Americans had no rules of engagement for the disorder leaving each unit to deal with it on their own. Religious leaders and the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution In Iraq’s Badr Corps were seizing control of cities and the latter was carrying out assassinations of former regime members. The military had no answers for these situations. Central Command head General Tommy Franks and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld only cared about the war and overthrowing Saddam. What was to come afterward was someone else’s responsibility. The Bush administration never came up with a strategy as a result and now it was dealing with the consequences. Ironically, for at least the first month immediately after the invasion Washington was largely indifferent.
Into this vacuum stepped the Office for Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance (ORHA). As its name suggests this was to be a humanitarian aid group but became the civilian authority to run Iraq. The ORHA head Jay Garner wanted to build a government from the bottom up. Then a few days after the invasion was over he was told to create a national interim government in Baghdad. That led Garner to meet with a number of Iraqi leaders try to get their support for a new administration. There was also tremendous demand upon the organization by Iraqis for services and security but it lacked the money and resources to meet them. Since there was no plan from Washington the ORHA had to deal with these issues on an ad hoc basis and was the start of Iraqis losing faith in the Americans.
The American military was faced with two new problems. In mid-April U.S. commanders met to discuss the disposition of their forces. The first thing they realized was they didn’t have enough troops to secure the entire country. Second there were a series of flashpoints across Iraq. In Kirkuk city the U.S. was worried that the two main Kurdish parties would seize power and carry out retaliatory attacks upon Arabs and Turkmen. Both happened. There were the same fears about Kurdish intentions in Mosul. The Americans worked to get the Kurdish forces to withdraw from both cities. Mishan al-Jabouri also declared himself mayor of Mosul which angered locals and led to a protest. The Marines intervened, were shot at and fired back into the crowd killing 10-15 people. Demonstrations against the Americans also broke out in Fallujah and Ramadi in Anbar province. The U.S. again ended up killing people in the former city. Finally, Iranian agents had infiltrated into Iraq and were working with the Badr Corps to subvert the U.S. occupation. Washington had forgotten that not only Iraqis but their neighbor Iran would have their own agendas after the fall of Saddam. Instead of praising the Americans for freeing them, different parties wanted to take power. Others were unhappy that the U.S. was in their country. Iran saw Washington’s presence as a threat. The Americans didn’t have the troops or resources to deal with these challenges because Rumsfeld had pushed for the smallest invasion force possible and General Franks had largely given into his demands. Now they were paying for it.
As the Army History states this was the beginning of the divide between the Americans and the Iraqi population. The U.S. couldn’t provide security because it didn’t have enough troops. It wasn’t prepared for the collapse of the Iraqi government and services nor for Iraqis to try to seize power and protest its occupation. The Americans were caught flat footed that things did not go as they foresaw and there was no instructions from the military command or Washington on what to do about it. Things would only get worse.
Rayburn, Colonel Joel, Sobchak, Colonel Frank Editors, with Godfroy, Lieutenant Colonel Jeanne, Morton, Colonel Matthew, Powell, Colonel James, Zais, Lieutenant Colonel Matthew, The U.S. Army In The Iraq War: Volume I, Invasion, Insurgency, Civil War, 2003-2006, Strategic Studies Institute and U.S. Army War College Press, 2019