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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 I

Setting the Stage


Chapter 1
Overview of Operation IRAQI FREEDOM: May 2003 to January 2005

 

A Decisive Month—May 2003

In retrospect, some may be surprised to discover that the decisions made and actions taken in May 2003 proved pivotal to the 18 months that followed. However, during this month the Coalition made critical choices about the nature of political power in Iraq—how this power related to the various groups within the Iraqi population and how this authority would treat the institutions of the former regime. May 2003 was equally important for US military forces. That month Coalition leaders at the Department of Defense (DOD), US Central Command (CENTCOM), and Combined Forces Land Component Command (CFLCC) determined the size, disposition, and command and control of the force in Iraq.

Relative to the invasion that preceded it and the insurgency that followed it, May 2003 was rather quiet as Iraqis attempted to comprehend the sudden toppling of the Saddam regime and the arrival of Western armies in their homeland. Looking back, some Americans and Iraqis described the period between May and August as a window of opportunity that could have been exploited to produce the conditions for the quick creation of a new Iraq. Instead, several events and key decisions quickly shut that window. Perhaps the most important factor in that process was the escalation of looting, crime, and general disorder that began in late April.

The institutions held together by Saddam’s reign had collapsed along with his regime, furthering Iraq’s descent into chaos. Long suppressed political, religious, and ethnic conflicts bubbled violently to the surface. The incredibly decrepit state of the Iraqi infrastructure became apparent once the veil of Saddam’s tyrannical rule was lifted, and was made worse by unprecedented looting and destruction. Some Iraqis began to sense an absence of authority in their country, and, many, while happy to see Saddam Hussein removed from power, watched events unfold with increasing anxiety; other Iraqis saw an opportunity to pursue their violent goals. American units beginning to fan out across the country initially had no orders to halt the looting or serve as a general police force. These units had not trained for those types of missions, though some Coalition forces did take general actions to prevent the situation from descending into complete anarchy. At the same time, violent Islamist groups began targeting US and Coalition forces in Iraq as part of their larger terrorist campaign against Western interests.

For the Coalition, May 2003 was also a period of transition characterized by disorganization and an attempt to begin the reconstruction effort. Most important was the Bush administration’s decision to create the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), which became the sovereign political power in Iraq. The CPA, headed by Presidential Envoy L. Paul Bremer III, a career diplomat who arrived in Iraq in early May, replaced the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance (ORHA) headed by Lieutenant General (Retired) Jay Garner. ORHA had arrived in Iraq in late April with a mandate to deal with the expected humanitarian crises, to restore Iraq’s essential services, to oversee the reform of the Iraqi military, and generally to set the country on a very rapid path toward democratic self-government. But Garner had only been in Iraq for approximately 3 weeks when Bremer arrived to replace him and his organization. The CPA eventually grew into a large bureaucratic organization charged with the strategic mission of guiding Iraq to a new future; yet, in early May, the men and women of the CPA were just getting settled and beginning to make connections with the Coalition’s military commanders and potential leaders of the new Iraq.

Ambassador Bremer arrived with the Bush administration’s charge to dramatically reshape Iraq, a mandate which led to two major decisions that May. On 16 May Bremer issued CPA Order No. 1 (appendix A), “De-Baathification of Iraqi Society,” which removed from public life those Iraqis who had held the top four ranks in the Baath Party and subjected to review members with lesser ranks who held significant positions in the civil bureaucracy.1 CPA Order No. 2 (appendix B), “Dissolution of Entities,” quickly followed on 23 May and disbanded all of Saddam’s military and intelligence institutions, rendering hundreds of thousands of Iraqi soldiers jobless.2 These orders, designed to signal the end of Saddam’s tyranny and the beginning of a new era, removed thousands of Sunni Arab Iraqis from political power, creating the perception that Sunni Arabs would have limited power in a new Iraq, fostering a huge unemployment problem, and leaving Iraqi institutions without bureaucratic or technical leadership. Many Coalition military figures believed at the time that these important CPA decisions created a pool of disaffected and unemployed Sunni Arabs from which a growing insurgency could later recruit.

That month also saw the CPA begin preparing for the establishment of an interim Iraqi governing body. Many Iraqi politicians, especially expatriates who were influential in the decision to intervene in Iraq, had expected the Coalition to form a provisional Iraqi governing entity soon after the military victory over Saddam. However, in the middle of the month, Bremer reversed Garner’s plans for an early turnover of political power and announced the indefinite postponement of the formation of an Interim Iraqi Government. Instead of a temporary Iraqi sovereign body, the CPA would continue to serve as the chief political authority and the Coalition armed forces as the military arm of that authority. This decision, in the eyes of many Iraqis, transformed the intent of United Nations (UN) Resolution 1483, which recognized the United States and Great Britain as “occupying powers” and urged the two powers to promote the welfare of Iraqis and to administer the country until Iraqis were capable of self-governance.3 The resolution appeared to formalize the sense that the Coalition powers were acting like occupiers rather than liberators, and this perception fueled the disaffection of some in Iraq.


Chapter 1. Overview of Operation IRAQI FREEDOM: May 2003 to January 2005





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