During the lead up to the 2003 Iraq War the Blair government was very optimistic. It believed that it could influence the Bush administration’s war plans and that everything would work out even when things didn’t go according to plan during the invasion. As soon as the occupation of Iraq began the British changed their tuned. They believed that the U.S. had no plan for postwar Iraq and that security was quickly deteriorating. They warned the Americans who largely ignored them.
The U.K. feared that the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) wasn’t going to empower Iraqis and would alienate the United Nations. On May 27 John Sawers Blair’s special representative on Iraq reported that CPA head Paul Bremer needed to move quickly to create an interim Iraqi administration. He noted that Bremer opposed Iraqis drafting a new constitution. Sawers said that the Coalition needed to work with the U.N. and transfer power to Iraqis as quickly as possible. A few days later on June 1 Sawers wrote the Foreign Office that the CPA was going to create an Iraqi political council that would have an advisory role, and then a cabinet and eventually convene a constitutional convention. The legal counsel to the Foreign Office wasn’t sure that the U.N. would be happy with Bremer’s plan. It wanted an Iraqi transitional government and to put off writing a constitution until later because it would take time. Bremer came to Iraq wanting to control everything and he distrusted the Iraqi opposition who were eager to assume power. Instead, he laid out a long-term process to write a constitution and form a new government that would all be under U.S. control instead of Iraqi. This ran counter to the wishes of the British and the United Nations but he didn’t care.
Prime Minister Tony Blair went to Iraq in June and found things in chaos. On June 3 the PM returned and had a staff meeting on his observations. He stated that the CPA lacked organization and wanted the U.K. to increase its involvement to help with that. The Under Secretary of Defense Sir Kevin Tebbit also visited Iraq that same month and told Defense Minister Geoff Hoon that the CPA had no integrated strategy nor plan for reconstruction. There were many within the CPA and U.S. military who also were aware of the shortcomings of the CPA but there were unable to influence anybody in Washington to fix things. The British discoveries were important because they could get around the U.S. bureaucracy and go straight to the White House. The question was would anyone listen?
The first British response was to draw up its own plans for what the CPA should do. On June 3 Blair’s private secretary for foreign affairs Matthew Rycroft drew up a list of suggestions which made security the top priority. The U.S. military had to get out into the streets of Baghdad, 3,000 international police should be sent to help establish law and order and train the Iraqis, and ex-soldiers should be hired as security guards. Finally, the CPA needed to be better organized, reconstructions projects needed to be sped up and most importantly normal life needed to be restored for Iraqis. Three days later on June 9 the Defense Ministry’s Strategic Planning Group submitted a paper to the Chiefs of Staff that also said law and order was the greatest concern. Baghdad was the key to success and the seat of most problems. It turned out the U.K. didn’t have much influence within the CPA. The Coalition was coming up with plenty of plans of its own. The British papers were just added to those and had no real impact.
As Fall started security became the main priority. On July 2 the Joint Intelligence Committee issued a report that there were various groups competing for power, some were using violence, and differences could escalate. Two months later on September 3 the Committee wrote that security remained poor and could get worse in the next year leading to spectacular attacks. Former regime members and Islamists were the main threats, especially the later as jihadists now saw Iraq as the main front in their international struggle. At the end of September another Committee report noted that attacks on the Coalition were increasing and evolving and that Iraqis working with the Coalition were being targeted. Militias were now active while Al Qaeda in Iraq was working on a long-term strategy to destabilize Iraq. During this period President Bush and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld did not want to hear about a budding insurgency and weren’t even aware of the militia threat. Even the word insurgency was forbidden to be used in the White House and in public. The Americans were in complete denial about how bad things had gotten and were unsuccessfully trying to put a happy face on everything.
When the British went to the U.S. with their concerns they were ignored. At the start of September diplomat Sir Nigel Sheinwald spoke to National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice twice before Bush and Blair were set to meet. Sheinwald said that the security situation was growing worse. Rice responded that that there were reason for concern but things were getting better, and the press wasn’t reporting on it. Sheinwald came away believing that the Bush administration had a much more positive view of Iraq than the British. That would continue for quite some time especially with President Bush who didn’t realize things were going badly until 2006.
By the winter of 2003 things had not improved. Sheinwald went to Iraq and told Blair that the CPA was weak, the Coalition didn’t know who it was fighting and there would be no Iraqi forces to provide security anytime soon. Blair agreed and said he would provide more support for the Iraqi Governing Council so it could pass a constitutional law as the first step to Iraqi rule. One diplomat told the Chilcot Inquiry there was no planning behind introducing democracy to Iraq and how that would work out. He could tell there would be problems with majority rule but no one in the Coalition seemed to think about it. This came from the fact that the CPA was put together after the invasion was finished and was dominated by Bremer who rarely consulted with others. He was told to create a democracy but never thought about the consequences. The Shiites for instance wanted to take power because they were the majority who had historically been shut out of government, but they did not want to give anything substantive to Sunnis and mistrusted them believing they were Baathists.
Finally, the U.K. had problems with the first Battle of Fallujah. The fighting was being broadcast around the world which was causing problems within Iraq not just with Sunnis. On April 10 for instance, diplomat Sir David Richmond wrote that the U.S. was carrying out targeted attacks upon Fallujah but to the outside world it looked like collective punishment. As a result, on April 23 Blair told Bush and Rice that the attack upon the city should be delayed. On April 28 the Joint Intelligence Committee assessed that the battle would make the security and political situation worse. This was largely proven true. There was widespread condemnation of the fight for Fallujah. A member of the Iraqi Governing Council for instance resigned as a result. The fracturing of the Iraqi political class led Bremer to get Bush to call off the battle before the city was fully cleared. That meant the Americans had to go back in several months later.
The Iraq Inquiry, “The Report of the Iraq Inquiry,” 7/6/16
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