Who Lost Iraq?
Success has many fathers. The mess in Baghdad has a lot more
At meetings in December 2002 and January 2003, NSC sources say, Bush asked Gen. Tommy Franks-the commander of the Central Command, which drafted the Iraq war plan-how the United States would establish security after the war there. The military would leave "lord mayors" in every city, Franks told Bush-although it was never clear precisely what Franks meant. The lord mayors, in any case, never materialized. Franks did not respond to an interview request.
"Lame duck." On April 18, 2003, tens of thousands of Iraqis protested the U.S. occupation of Baghdad and marched in favor of an Islamic state. The looting and burning were so serious that Franks refused to allow Garner into Baghdad until April 21. By then, the city had been stripped bare. On April 24, Garner's first full day in Baghdad, the retired general was sitting alone at a desk in a dusty room in one of Saddam's looted palaces when the phone rang. It was Rumsfeld. He told Garner brusquely that Paul Bremer had just been named U.S. envoy to Iraq. "What that means," Garner recalls thinking, "was that my first full day in Baghdad, with my entire team, I was the lame duck beginning that day."
For the next two months, Garner's team of 350 people had to begin reactivating Iraq's government ministries, print and issue new currency, fix power grids, restore water supplies, draw up a new legal code, repair bridges and roads, and get the schools back in business. The State Department had drawn up elaborate plans, but Rumsfeld and Feith ignored them. Garner's challenge, unsurprisingly, proved to be overwhelming. "We didn't have specific plans tested for years and red-teamed the way the military plans are," Feith concedes. "We hadn't integrated the plans with the combatant commands. We hadn't done deployment exercises." Feith argues that the U.S. government's postwar efforts have always been ad hoc. But what happens after the fighting's over? "Sometimes that goes well," Feith says, "and sometimes that doesn't go well."
On April 28, Fallujah, a key Sunni city and one of the most peaceful areas of Iraq, went up in flames after U.S. troops fired on an unarmed crowd marching in violation of curfew to protest the U.S. presence; 16 Iraqis died. On May 7, a week after President Bush's now famous "mission accomplished" visit to the USS Abraham Lincoln, senior military officers gave Rumsfeld an "upbeat" assessment of the situation in Iraq and began making plans for drawing down U.S. troop levels there by September 2003, according to a report from the Center for Naval Warfare Studies. By June, that same report concluded, central Iraq was "in the midst of a low-level, decentralized insurgency."
On May 12, Paul Bremer took over as the interim Iraq administrator, and Jay Garner's ORHA team was dissolved into Bremer's new Coalition Provisional Authority. Bremer's decision, in mid-May, to outlaw the top tiers of Saddam's Baath party and dismiss some 30,000 Baathists from various ministries has been widely criticized as among the worst decisions of the postwar phase. But de-Baathification, Bremer says, was the correct policy. "The mistake I made," he explained in an interview, "was putting the implementation of that [policy] into the hands of the political body, the governing council, rather than a judicial body, which would have been more objective. Once it got to the politicians, they implemented the policy in a far broader scope than we intended, and that was a mistake."