The United States was not only unprepared for the occupation of Iraq but actively made it worse. That’s the subject of the 6th Chapter of the U.S. Army’s history of the Iraq War. First, the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) not only alienated Sunnis but fueled the insurgency and militias. The military on the other hand was focused upon withdrawing and had no security plan for the country. All together this was a recipe for disaster.
Paul Bremer was selected by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to run postwar Iraq. He had no experience with the Middle East and was not ready for the task he was about to face. The first thing he did was dismiss the few civilians who had worked on Iraq which was Jay Garner the head of the Office for Reconstruction and Humanitarian Affairs which was the first group responsible for Iraq, and Zalmay Khalilzad who was trying to put together an interim Iraqi government. Second, when he arrived in Baghdad Bremer told the commander for Iraq General Ricardo Sanchez he was under him, but he wasn’t, which started a contentious relationship between the two. Third, Bremer was told by the Pentagon to ban the leading members of the Baath Party and that the Iraqi military was seen as an enemy by the public. That led to Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) Order 1 removing the top four levels of the Party and Order 2 which disbanded the Iraqi armed forces and security institutions. This went against the pre-war plan approved by President Bush and the ORHA’s to only have light deBaathification and keep the army to help with rebuilding. Bush later said Bremer never asked the White House to approve his two orders but that he went along with them because Bremer knew the facts on the ground. The U.S. Army History roundly condemned Bremer’s management and decisions. He wanted to be in total control when the CPA lacked the staff and capacity to run the country. He angered and got rid of people that could have helped him with his job. CPA Order 1 and Order 2 were two of the worst things the Americans did in Iraq. The Kurdish parties and many of the exile groups were weary of both Baathists and the Iraqi military but that was outweighed by the rising violence and eventual civil war that broke out as insurgents and militias vastly expanded by recruiting ex-soldiers, paramilitaries and former regime members.
The main priority of the U.S. Central Command was to get out of Iraq. General Tommy Franks wanted the 3rd Infantry Division and the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force to leave immediately and for the other divisions to be out within four to six months. The Marines were replaced by a multi-national force that were even less prepared for Iraq than the Americans. Most believed they would only be doing peacekeeping duties. Many couldn’t take part in combat and had limited communication with each other. This was a continuation of General Franks and Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld’s plan for a quick war in Iraq. Getting rid of Saddam was all they cared about. Postwar Iraq was to be the CPA’s responsibility. The U.S. already didn’t have enough troops to secure Iraq. This made the situation worse and even less prepared for the budding insurgent and militia threats.
The emphasis upon leaving Iraq meant that the U.S. military still didn’t have a security plan. Each division was left to its own devices. It also didn’t understand what it was facing. Its focus was upon former regime members and foreign fighters. It didn’t comprehend the role of tribes for instance. It was receiving reports about militias along with Iran launching a long term campaign against the U.S. occupation but neither were considered the main threats. Not knowing the enemy was another major failure. That was compounded but having no strategy either. It would take years for the Americans to adapt.
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