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ON POINT II: Transition to the New Campaign

The United States Army in Operation IRAQI FREEDOM May 2003-January 2005





Part III

Toward the Objective: Building a New Iraq


Chapter 10
A Country United, Stable, and Free: US Army Governance Operations in Iraq

On 9 April 2003 a US Army Special Forces (SF) company belonging to the 5th Special Forces Group entered Ar Rutbah, a city near the Iraqi border with Syria and Jordan. As part of Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force–West (CJSOTF-West), these Soldiers had been searching for Saddam’s Scud missiles in the western desert of Iraq. However, once they occupied Ar Rutbah, the SF teams adopted a very different mission: the establishment of a new system of governance for the city.1 Without any guidance, preparation, or special resources, the Soldiers created a new political structure for Ar Rutbah that was responsive to the citizens of the community. In the process of overturning the old governing regime, the SF Soldiers recruited a new police force, invented their own de-Baathification process that included a pledge of allegiance to the new Iraq, made arrangements for mayoral elections, facilitated the creation of a city council, and ensured that tribal and religious leaders in the city were integrated into the new structure. When the SF teams left just 2 weeks later, the city was headed in a new political direction.

The experience of this SF company is emblematic of a particularly difficult challenge faced by many Soldiers in Iraq in 2003 and 2004. As US Army units moved into their areas of responsibility (AORs) in late spring 2003, they found cities, towns, and villages with little or no governing structure prepared to assume authority after the fall of the Saddam regime. Some of the Soldiers in Iraq that spring had deployed on contingency and peacekeeping missions to Haiti, Somalia, and the Balkans, and did have some experience in working with local governmental bodies and mediating with various political factions. Even so, like the SF Soldiers in Ar Rutbah, none of these Soldiers had any specific guidance on what the Coalition’s governance objectives were and how they might help the Iraqis remake their institutions of government. Additionally, few, if any, were prepared to deal with the unique and complex cultural characteristics that shaped the Iraqi political environment. Major James Gavrilis, the commander of the SF company that worked in Ar Rutbah, recalled the improvisational nature of this task, stating, “Because we didn’t receive any guidance for governance or reconstruction, and certainly not for spreading democracy, I had to make up everything as I went, based on the situation on the ground and what I remembered from my Special Forces training and a handful of political science classes.”2

Despite its lack of preparation for the governance mission, by the middle of 2003 the US Army was heavily involved in facilitating political change at many levels in Iraq. Because developing local and regional institutions of government directly supported President George W. Bush’s stated goal of fostering an Iraq that was “united, stable, and free,” senior military leaders viewed governance operations as a critical part of the new full spectrum campaign.3 After May 2003 the Combined Joint Task Force–7 (CJTF-7) and the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) focused a great deal of their energy on the creation of a representative government at the national level. Still, both the political and military headquarters of the Coalition believed the new national government would become more robust if it was undergirded by new political institutions at the regional and local levels. This belief and guidance from the CPA drove Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez in the summer of 2003 to adopt governance as one of the five lines of operation that directed CJTF-7’s campaign in Iraq.4 With this decision, Sanchez mandated that his forces at the tactical level become agents of political change. Fostering the growth of a new political system was so critical to the Coalition that even after Iraq’s transition to full sovereignty in June 2004, General George W. Casey Jr., commander of Multi-National Force–Iraq (MNI-F), retained governance as one of the four lines of operation in the campaign plan he and his staff created.

In the 18 months that followed the toppling of the Saddam regime, Iraqis experienced dizzying political change. While the United States and its Coalition partners initially exerted political power through the CPA, in July 2003 Mr. L. Paul Bremer formed a 25-member Iraqi Governing Council (IGC) to begin setting the foundation for transition of sovereignty to the Iraqis. The CPA worked though the IGC and other Iraqi individuals and institutions in the fall of 2003 and winter of 2004 to gain approval of the interim constitution and the Transitional Administrative Law (TAL), which authorized the election of a Transitional National Assembly (TNA). Finally, in June 2004, the CPA restored political sovereignty to the Iraqis who established a new Interim Iraqi Government (IIG) led by Prime Minister Ayad Allawi. On 30 January 2005 more than 8 million Iraqi citizens exercised their new political rights by defying insurgent threats and going to the polls to elect representatives to the 275-member TNA.

At lower levels, the change in how Iraqi communities governed themselves was equally dramatic. This chapter examines the role of US Army units in facilitating this shift by first looking at the larger political environment in which Soldiers found themselves working and then discussing the broad variety of operations and programs devised to establish good governance in Iraq. The challenge went beyond the creation of local bodies of self-government such as school boards, neighborhood advisory councils (NACs), and district advisory councils (DACs). Soldiers also had to transform themselves into negotiators and mentors, working with multiple religious, ethnic, and tribal groups to help defuse local tensions and impart the fundamental principles of a cooperative, representative government. US Army units involved in the governance mission were not the sole agents of political change. Indeed, Soldiers worked with the CPA, the US Department of State, and other agencies in this mission. To a significant extent, however, in many of Iraq’s smaller cities and towns the US Army was the only institution that represented the Coalition. Soldiers thus served on the leading edge of this political front, attempting to bring the ideals and practices of their own democratic system to a country that had for decades known little besides dictatorial rule.


Chapter 10. A Country United, Stable, and Free: US Army Governance Operations in Iraq





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