The title of Chapter 8 of the U.S. Army history of the Iraq War is “Muddling Through” which is exactly what America was doing during the summer and fall of 2003. Washington D.C. was pushing for a strategy to stabilize Iraq which wasn’t forthcoming. That left the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) and the U.S. military to continue to go in different directions. The CPA was thinking of a 2-3 year transition to Iraqi sovereignty but was disappointed with the Iraqis it empowered. The army on the other hand wanted to withdraw as quickly as possible and turn over security to new Iraqi forces it was struggling to create. This added up to continued failures of the occupation of the country.
In July 2003 the chairman of the Joints Chiefs of Staff General Richard Myers told Central Command head General Tommy Franks to work with the civilian Coalition Provisional Authority to come up with an integrated campaign plan for Iraq. This was supposed to be ready by July 23. The problem was Franks retired and the order was left incomplete. Paul Bremer the head of the CPA issued his own Strategic Plan and Vision for Iraq on July 22. It was more of a list of things he wanted accomplished rather than an actual strategy. Most of it was focused upon restoring services with little on security, economics or governance. The Americans entered Iraq with no postwar plan because the Pentagon and General Franks only cared about deposing Saddam. This was the first attempt to come up with an overall plan and it failed. Just as important the White House was offering nothing in terms of leadership still basking in the glow of overthrowing Saddam.
That left the CPA and military to go in their own directions. On September 8 Bremer published a seven-point transition plan to Iraqi sovereignty in the Washington Post. It was a surprise to all as he never consulted with Iraqis nor the Bush administration about it. Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani immediately objected to the proposal demanding elections first before any steps be taken to create a new Iraqi government and constitution. The army wanted to rebuild the Iraqi security forces so the U.S. could withdraw as soon as possible. The new Iraq commander General Ricardo Sanchez believed stability should be established in Iraq first before turning over authority to the Iraqis. He knew he didn’t have enough troops to do the job but Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld turned down his request because he wanted the U.S. out. That was a view shared by the U.S. Army command which got into a debate about whether the armed forces should be expanded or not and whether Iraq deployments would break the institution which only distracted attention from the situation in Iraq. Bremer wanted complete control over the country and didn’t feel the need to talk to anyone else about his plans. That caused resentment not only with General Sanchez but officials in Washington and with Iraqis. Sanchez had his orders from Rumsfeld and Washington to get out of Iraq but felt security needed to come first but was denied the resources to do that. Most importantly without a unified campaign plan Bremer and Sanchez would follow their own ideas often independent of each other which was a recipe for disaster.
The U.S. was failing on another front to rebuild the Iraqi army and police. The Americans originally wanted to create three divisions of around 40,000 light infantry and 75,000 police by the end of 2004. The problem was there was no unity of command in forming these new units. Bremer for instance thought he should be in charge of the police and General Sanchez was banned from hiring new officers but that was already happening. The Americans often turned to tribes, militias, families and politicians for recruits which meant they were loyal to those groups rather than the state. The police also received different training and equipment and immediately suffered from nepotism and corruption. In September 2003 for instance, Sanchez’s command reported only 30,000 of the 77,000 police were on duty and the rest were ghost officers who only existed on paper so their commanders could steal their salaries. By November Central Command was afraid the police might be a total failure. There were similar problems with the Iraqi army. These issues were never resolved and many would continue to plague the Iraqi forces to the present day.
Finally, the Americans were unhappy with the new Iraqi Governing Council (IGC) the CPA put together. On September 30 the IGC ordered that the top four levels of the Baath Party should be fired with no exceptions. In November full deBaathification power was given to the council who created a deBaathificaction Commission run by Iraqi National Congress head Ahmed Chalabi and his nephew Salim Chalabi. They fired 28,000 teachers and hundreds of government workers. Chalabi also used the Baath records to blackmail Iraqis for money and eliminate his rivals. Both Bremer and Sanchez criticized Chalabi’s actions but couldn’t change his policies. Bremer had issued deBaathification on orders from the Pentagon but he and U.S. commanders believed some top Baathists were necessary to put the Iraqi bureaucracy and institutions back together. The Americans’ initial actions had already alienated many Sunnis making them feel they were being excluded from the new Iraq and put thousands out of work. Chalabi was making the situation worse and many former regime elements went on to join the insurgency. It also reminded the U.S. that the Iraqis had their own goals and would not be controlled.
From the end of the summer to the fall of 2003 the U.S. was still adrift in Iraq. It had no single strategy on how to return sovereignty or secure the nation. The CPA and army often worked at cross purposes and argued over who had authority. That led to many haphazard plans which would eventually fail. The Iraqis were also asserting their voices and they had their own agendas which did not always conform to the Americans’. This would continue for years and showed how badly things were going just a few months after President Bush had declared mission accomplished.
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