By the summer of 2006 the civil war was raging in Baghdad. The Shiites held the upper hand as they were backed by the Maliki government and the security forces. U.S. commander General George Casey knew what was going on but was still committed to an American withdrawal claiming that the Iraqis would have to solve their problems themselves. The situation was so bad that President Bush who was not involved in day to day activities in Iraq even decided that a change was needed. That would take six months however because of the president’s inattention. Iraq would burn as a consequence because no one was trying to make it better.
General George Casey was the wrong man at the wrong time for Iraq. He believed that there was only a temporary spike in violence going on and didn’t realize that the conflict had entered a new phase. In June 2006 for instance Casey went to Washington D.C. and claimed that his withdrawal plan was still on track. He was pushing for two brigades to not be deployed in August claiming that with the growth of the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) the additional troops would not be needed. The general told Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld that five provinces would be turned over to Iraqi control in July, seven in August and 13 by the end of 2006. In fact, only three would do so that year. Even when Casey acknowledged that the war was no longer about expelling the Americans but a sectarian conflict for power all Casey could think about was getting the U.S. out.
From the start the general thought that the Iraqis needed to take control because the Americans only made the situation worse. He was backed by Central Command head General John Abizaid and Rumsfeld. One of the biggest take aways from the Army history of the Iraq War was just how out of touch Casey was. People were consistently telling him that things were going wrong and he still thought his plans could work. There was no one above him in the chain of command who ever questioned him because they either agreed with him or were uninformed about what was really happening. Iraq was burning by 2006 and he refused to change.
The U.S. and Iraqi government were forced to deal with the collapse of security in Baghdad. In June, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki announced Operation Together Forward to secure the capital in cooperation with the Americans. It was supposed to be a clear, hold build campaign with the Iraqis in the lead. The problem was not enough Iraqi police and troops were ever deployed and they proved not only incapable of holding or rebuilding an area but the police made the situation worse by attacking Sunnis. In August General Casey started Operation Together II because the first effort failed, but this one did no better. The general pushed Maliki to go after death squads in Sadr City but he rejected the idea. Maliki claimed Baathists were the greatest threat to the country and said that he could manage the civil war. Casey was still optimistic telling Rumsfeld that Baghdad would quickly be brought under control. Instead the city had higher levels of violence after the two operations than before. Together Forward I and II showed that the Iraqi forces especially the police could not take the lead in operations. They were not interested in improving security but cleansing Sunni neighborhoods which was supported by PM Maliki who believed they were Baathist strongholds.
The campaigns in Baghdad made a joke of the Year of the Police which the U.S. declared in 2006. Badr took over the Interior Ministry in 2005 and purged Sunnis and Shiite rivals. Even when Interior Ministry Bayan Jabr was replaced by an independent Jawad Bolani little changed. The U.S. said that deputy director of intelligence General Nashir Nasir al-Wandi of Badr was still the most powerful man in the ministry and Bolani rarely went to the Ministry building because it was unsafe. The U.S. recorded dozens of abuses by Interior as a result from the Wolf Brigade kidnapping and killing Sunnis at night to 100 workers at the Education Ministry being kidnapped by a unit of the National Police. It wouldn’t be until 2007 that the U.S. attempted to clean up the police but it largely failed and it never tackled the problems with Interior. It was the main ministry the Shiite religious parties wanted to take control of because it gave them power over one of the major security forces in the country. They were going to use it to ensure their positions and eliminate their enemies.
Political parties seizing and abusing Iraq’s ministries was going on throughout the Maliki government just as it had over the previous ones. The Sadrists for instance took key posts at the Transportation Ministry and gained control of Baghdad International Airport, Iraqi Airlines and the seaports. They also ran the Health Ministry and used it to ferry militiamen and attack and kill Sunnis in hospitals. They and others were stealing money as well. All the Iraqi administrations weren’t about serving the public as much as ensuring the wealth and influence of the ruling elite.
Iran was another issue which General Casey was still not dealing with. He knew that Tehran was interfering in Iraq but didn’t know what to do about it. The country was pushing its allies to seize government offices and smuggling in weapons to militias. The general went to Maliki demanding that he take on Iran but he refused. In May Casey asked his staff to see whether the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps could be declared a hostile force. They said that could lead to more trouble than solutions. The general even came up with a plan to capture or kills the Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Force commander General Qasim Soleimani but he dropped it. Iran’s goal was to undermine the U.S. occupation and insure its allies seized control of the government. It was succeeding at both and the Americans couldn’t come up with a response. Afterall General Casey wanted out of Iraq not to get more involved.
Finally, by June 2006 even President Bush started to realize that Iraq was not going well. After General Casey briefed him in D.C. on transferring more responsibilities to Iraqis the president told his advisers he didn’t think the transition was working. Bush and his National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley both agreed things were going wrong. Hadley suggested that Casey needed to be replaced and a new strategy be developed. He asked for authorization to review options and Bush agreed. That was begun on July 21, but it wouldn’t be finished until six months later. Why the delay? Because the president didn’t make it a priority. He was given updates on Iraq but was not involved in the day to day affairs of the war. That’s the reason why he would talk about victory and declared the Americans were not leaving when withdrawal was the actual policy. He was the reason why Casey was able to continue on bumbling through his command while things were escalating. Bush had made a mistake to invade Iraq in the first place and then continued to screw things up afterward by not being a war president.