As soon as the U.S. invasion ended in April 2003 a struggle for power broke out amongst Iraq’s political parties and armed groups. The U.S. military failed to see the bigger picture of what was going on in the country after the fall of Saddam Hussein. This is the topic of the seventh chapter in the U.S. Army’s history of the Iraq War.
Most of the chapter is about the emergence of the insurgency. June 8, 2003 was the first U.S. military report that mentioned an insurgency saying it was led by Baathists. It also noted that Coalition Provisional Authority Orders 1 and 2 that disbanded the military and started deBaathification led Sunnis to believe they were being shut out of the new Iraq and turn towards violence. The month before there was a report from Anbar that Salafism, an extreme form of Islam was uniting resistance to the U.S. and leading to attacks. By June American forces were reporting that militants were carrying out a well funded information campaign against the occupation for failing to provide security, services and jobs. A variety of groups emerged out of this nexus from the Baathist Army of Mohammed to former regime elements and tribes in the Islamic Army of Iraq to the Islamist Ansar al-Sunna and finally the Jordanian Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and his Tawhid wal-Jihad. Despite the variety of agendas from returning the old regime to power to creating an Islamic revolution they were all united and had loose cooperation because of their opposition to the American presence. Their differences would eventually lead to splits and infighting but that was years away.
The Shiites and Kurds were also turning to violence to further their agendas. The two main Kurdish parties the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and the Kurdistan Democratic Party carried out a targeted assassination campaign against Baathists all the way down to Baghdad after the invasion. On the Shiite side the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq’s Badr Corps was setting up a networks throughout Iraq using hospitals, businesses and NGOs and ferrying in men, weapons and money from Iran. It was assassinating Baathists and army and air force officers that took part in the Iran-Iraq War on orders from Tehran. Finally, Moqtada al-Sadr vied for power against the religious establishment. His followers murdered Ayatollah Abdul Majid al-Khoei in April 2003 and threatened Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani in Najaf. Out of all these actors only Sadr was considered a threat by the Coalition because he condemned the occupation. The U.S. knew about the others but did little to nothing about them. Even when Badr began widescale sectarian killings and the civil war broke out the Americans never considered it an opponent because it didn’t understand the situation in the country.
Overall the U.S. army was unprepared for the post-war security situation. It believed it was facing a Baathist-Sunni insurgency with some foreign and Islamist elements, but its foes were far more complex. Even when facing the Sunni groups it was inhibited by Washington politics. The White House and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld initially refused to use the term insurgency because it would undermine its claim that the mission had been accomplished. It would take months for the military command in Iraq to adapt to the situation. In the meantime violence was taking off in the country from all sides.
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