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Reconstructing Iraq: Insights, Challenges, and Missions for Military Forces in a Post-Conflict Scenario

Reconstructing Iraq: Insights, Challenges, and Missions for Military Forces in a Post-Conflict Scenario - Cover

Authored by Dr. Conrad C. Crane, Dr. W. Andrew Terrill.

February 2003

84 Pages

Brief Synopsis

In October 2002, the U.S. Army War College's Strategic Studies Institute, in coordination with the Office of the Army Deputy Chief of Staff/G-3, initiated a study to analyze how American and coalition forces can best address the requirements that will necessarily follow operational victory in a war with Iraq. The objectives of the project were to determine and analyze probable missions for military forces in a post-Saddam Iraq; examine associated challenges; and formulate strategic recommendations for transferring responsibilities to coalition partners or civilian organizations, mitigating local animosity, and facilitating overall mission accomplishment in the war against terrorism.

The study has much to offer planners and executors of operations to occupy and reconstruct Iraq, but also has many insights that will apply to achieving strategic objectives in any conflict after hostilities are concluded. The current war against terrorism has highlighted the danger posed by failed and struggling states. If this nation and its coalition partners decide to undertake the mission to remove Saddam Hussein, they will also have to be prepared to dedicate considerable time, manpower, and money to the effort to reconstruct Iraq after the fighting is over. Otherwise, the success of military operations will be ephemeral, and the problems they were designed to eliminate could return or be replaced by new and more virulent difficulties.


During the latter half of the 20th century, U.S. military leaders and planners focused heavily on winning wars, and not so much on the peacekeeping or nation-building that comes afterwards. But national objectives can often be accomplished only after the fighting has ceased. With the winds of war swirling around Iraq, it is time to begin planning for the post-conflict reconstruction of that state. This monograph presents some historical insights from past occupations and peace operations, provides some additional analysis of the unique requirements involved in remaking Iraq, and, most importantly, develops a detailed list of potential tasks to help contemporary military commanders plan for post-conflict operations there.

Most analysts and commentators focus on World War II for insights about occupying states and replacing regimes. Clearly, the American experience with occupations after major wars provides valuable insights about the importance of long and detailed planning for such missions, and about just how difficult demilitarization and democratization can be, even under the best of conditions. The world has changed a great deal since 1945, however. The experiences of the 1990s are generally more relevant to shape post-conflict operations in Iraq. They reveal past inadequacies in Army planning and preparation, and the difficulties in finding competent and resourced civilian agencies to assume responsibilities from the military. Recent experiences also show that even when the Army plans and performs well in a post-crisis environment, as it did in Haiti, strategic success is not guaranteed. That state quickly reverted back to chaos when military forces left.

Iraq presents far from ideal conditions for achieving strategic goals. Saddam Hussein is the culmination of a violent political culture that is rooted in a tortured history. Ethnic, tribal, and religious schisms could produce civil war or fracture the state after Saddam is deposed. The Iraqi Army may be useful as a symbol of national unity, but it will take extensive reeducation and reorganization to operate in a more democratic state. Years of sanctions have debilitated the economy and created a society dependent on the UN Oil for Food Program. Rebuilding Iraq will require a considerable commitment of American resources, but the longer U.S. presence is maintained, the more likely violent resistance will develop.

The monograph concludes by developing and describing a phased array of tasks that must be accomplished to create and sustain a viable state. The 135 tasks are organized into 21 categories, and rated as “essential,” “critical,” or “important” for the commander of coalition military forces. They are then projected across four phases of transition—Security, Stabilize, Build Institutions, and Handover/ Redeploy—to reflect which governmental, nongovernmental, and international organizations will be involved in execution during each phase. To reduce the amount of resentment about the occupation in Iraq and the surrounding region, it is essential that military forces handover responsibilities to civilian agencies as soon as practicable. They, in turn, should relinquish control fairly quickly to the Iraqis, though not until well-defined coalition measures of effectiveness have been achieved for each task.

The U.S. Army has been organized and trained primarily to fight and win the nation’s major wars. Nonetheless, the Service must prepare for victory in peace as well.

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