Who Lost Iraq?
Success has many fathers. The mess in Baghdad has a lot more
The next issue was power. After the United States took over Iraq, power generation averaged 3,900 megawatts. Bremer had indicated to Rice that by October 2003, power generation would be up to 6,000 megawatts a day. The goal was never met. Miller's objective was to force electricity generation higher. When the Army Corps of Engineers ran out of money to upgrade nearly 150 electrical generation facilities, the NSC staff and the U.S. Office of Management and Budget found some money and got the plants upgraded. When workers refused to show up to install the generators, NSC staffers demanded that Bremer's CPA find a way to house them on-site.
Then there was infrastructure-Miller arranged to have the OMB transfer $250 million in reconstruction funds to support efforts by an Army lieutenant general named Peter Chiarelli in Baghdad, who was paying 18,000 residents in Sadr City to help rebuild their neighborhood. "It shouldn't have been the NSC staff," says Miller. "It should have been DOD and the [U.S.] Embassy."
In the summer and fall of 2003, the other big challenge for the NSC-and Blackwill, in particular-was how to help the Iraqis move to a working democracy and help them pull off an election. Rice and Blackwill were old colleagues-he was her boss and mentor while both served on George H. W. Bush's national security staff, specializing in Russian and eastern European issues. Blackwill was viewed as brilliant but prickly. He also had the reputation of having difficulty dealing with women. But Rice trusted Blackwill and knew he had the right stuff for the job. He was also an old friend of Bremer's.
Accounts differ over precisely what happened next, but suffice it to say there was intense disagreement among those assigned to the NSC staff over the best way to try to pull Iraq back from the precipice. Rice told Blackwill she wanted him to pursue a strategy to bring disaffected Sunnis back into the fold, in the hopes of quelling at least some of the violence. Around that same time in Baghdad, a young and upcoming aide to Bremer named Meghan O'Sullivan was forging deep ties with leaders of the Shiite political party known as the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, or SCIRI. In June 2004, after Bremer handed over sovereignty to the Iraqis and transitioned the CPA over to the new U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, Blackwill offered O'Sullivan a job back at the NSC. But Blackwill's tenure there was short-lived. He was replaced by O'Sullivan. In Baghdad, the young national security aide had worked to establish closer ties to the Shiite political leadership, including Adel Abdul-Mahdi, a moderate who ranked as the senior SCIRI member in the Iraqi government.
The association resulted in some tense moments. During one meeting with Rice, according to numerous NSC sources, O'Sullivan advocated strongly for the Bush administration to support Shiite candidates in the national assembly elections, set for January 2005. Visibly disturbed, Rice delivered a long lecture on constitutional democracy, explaining why it would be inappropriate for Washington to intervene on behalf of any individual Iraqi political party. In the end, says one staff member, when O'Sullivan realized that Rice wasn't going to budge, she reversed course. But the incident, several NSC staff members say, shows how contentious things were even within the small, relatively cohesive White House staff. In the view of some, O'Sullivan was primarily interested in encouraging the Shiites to form a moderate coalition with the Sunnis. Others complained that she repeatedly advanced the view of SCIRI members. Still others argued that Washington should make every effort to avoid getting embroiled in the internecine Iraqi political scene. The contentiousness among the NSC staff roughly reflected some of the same differences within the upper levels of the administration. Cheney's office, for instance, was for near-absolute noninvolvement. Rice, on the other hand, thought it made sense to quietly push for a moderate coalition. In the end, such gaps proved largely unbridgeable.