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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


An Uncertain Summer: June–September 2003

In June 2003 the United States made a dramatic change in the Coalition’s command structure. This transition began informally in late May when General Franks told both Lieutenant General Wallace, the outgoing V Corps commander, and the newly promoted Lieutenant General Sanchez, the inbound commander of V Corps, that CFLCC was pulling out of Iraq to refocus on its theater-wide responsibilities. Franks ordered V Corps to become the nucleus of the senior military command in Iraq designated as CJTF-7. This move was sudden and caught most of the senior commanders in Iraq unaware. Sanchez and V Corps (an Army headquarters focused on ground operations at the tactical level) would now have to become a joint and combined headquarters, responsible for the theater-strategic, operational, and tactical levels of war.

Sanchez assumed command of V Corps on 14 June 2003. On 15 June this informal transition became formal with the activation of CJTF-7. The process was complicated because the V Corps staff was not configured for the types of responsibilities it received. In retrospect, Lieutenant General Wallace stated:

You can’t take a tactical headquarters [V Corps] and change it into an operational [level] headquarters [CJTF-7] at the snap of your fingers. It just doesn’t happen. Your focus changes completely, and you are either going to take your eye off the tactical fight in order to deal with the operational issues, or you are going to ignore the operational issues and stay involved in the tactical fight.9

To lead at all these levels, Sanchez designed a new staff that incorporated officers from the Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force, as well as from the various Coalition forces. He also needed to add more Army officers to his staff if he hoped to guide postinvasion operations at all levels. Many of the military units in Iraq prepared to redeploy to their home stations, which complicated the task of bringing new officers into CJTF-7. CENTCOM and CFLCC quickly took their staffs back to Kuwait, Qatar, and MacDill Air Force Base in Florida. Within the V Corps staff, many officers received orders transferring them to new units and scheduled Army training courses. Sanchez found this transition to be particularly problematic for the staffing and support of his new organization. He stated, “CENTCOM had pretty much shut down its operations [in Iraq]. Most of the key people were back in CENTCOM [headquarters] in Tampa, Florida. For CFLCC, the barn door had been opened and everybody was in a mad dash to get back home. So we . . . knew, even by that point, that we had an issue.”10 Although CJTF-7 gradually added officers from the four American military services as well as from Coalition nations, the process moved slowly and posed significant challenges to command and control in the summer of 2003.

While Sanchez struggled to create a viable combined and joint staff immediately after taking command of CJTF-7, he issued broad guidance to his tactical commanders who were dealing with practical challenges across Iraq. Each commander was then free to develop and implement specific plans, particular to their AOR, within this general framework. By July 2003 Sanchez articulated that guidance in the form of the following mission statement:

Conduct offensive operations to defeat remaining noncompliant forces and neutralize destabilizing influences in the AO in order to create a secure environment in direct support of the Coalition Provisional Authority. Concurrently conduct stability operations to support the establishment of government and economic development in order to set the conditions for a transfer of operations to designated follow-on military or civilian authorities.11

This statement essentially called for full spectrum operations, a doctrinal term that directed military forces to conduct a combination of combat and stability operations simultaneously in support of the CPA and new Iraqi political institutions. In July the plans officers in the CJTF-7 CJ5 section met with the planners from the divisions; collectively, the group developed a draft campaign plan for CJTF-7. This plan further emphasized the need for a full spectrum approach in Iraq by directing subordinate units to channel their operations in five directions. These five lines of operations were security—to include combat operations and training Iraqi security forces, governance, economy, essential services, and information operations. CJTF-7 designed these lines of operations to directly support the CPA’s overall effort to create a stable and secure Iraq.12

The mission statement offered flexibility to the tactical commanders facing a diverse set of conditions and threats in their unique AORs. For some units, the threat appeared to be relatively insignificant. In northeast Iraq, for example, the 101st ABN, led by Major General David Petraeus, was quickly able to achieve relative security in its AOR, allowing it to focus its energy and resources on reestablishing Mosul University, rebuilding broken infrastructure, and fostering local self-government. However, just to the south in the Sunni Triangle, the 4th ID, under Major General Raymond Odierno, came up against a more structured threat comprised mainly of ex-Baathist organizations. Consequently, the division launched a series of large-scale offensive operations in June and July that sought to disrupt and destroy what remained of the Saddam regime.

As the summer progressed, the political situation at the national level appeared to be stabilizing. In July the CPA presented Iraqis with its strategic vision of establishing “a durable peace for a unified, stable, and democratic Iraq.”13 Instead of a quick turnover of power to an unsteady Iraqi Government, the CPA announced a multiyear process of constitutional development and sequential elections leading to a new Iraq. The Coalition’s role in Iraq was now, both de jure and de facto, that of an occupying power.

Additionally, the CPA began laying the foundation for Iraq’s new security forces that included a new professional army and a skilled police force. To lead this critical effort, the CPA established the Coalition Military Assistance Training Team (CMATT) and the Coalition Police Assistance Training Team (CPATT). Both CMATT and CPATT existed only on paper in May 2003, and in July both were struggling to stand up and begin working with Iraqis. On 13 July 2003 the CPA took its first step toward including Iraqis in the political transition by appointing the Iraqi Governing Council (IGC), a semi-autonomous entity designed to help the CPA transfer full political sovereignty to Iraq.

Measured governmental progress in the summer of 2003 appeared to be matched by modest advances in creating a secure environment across Iraq. While military units reported continued resistance from enemies characterized as “former regime elements” or “noncompliant forces,” most attacks were limited to small roadside bombs or sporadic mortar fire. American commanders remained optimistic and generally judged the threat as anemic and uncoordinated. The 101st ABN’s operation with Special Forces Task Force 20 in Mosul that killed Saddam’s sons Uday and Qusay in late July also seemed indicative of broader success.

But July also brought uncertainty. The Iraqi Survey Group (ISG) continued the extensive search for Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction (WMD). By the middle of the summer, however, the group had not uncovered the expected stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons.14 More unsettling was the concern growing within CJTF-7 and the US military about the sporadic attacks on Coalition forces. On 16 July General John Abizaid, who had recently taken command of CENTCOM from General Franks, stated in a press conference that he believed Coalition forces faced “a classical guerrilla-type campaign,” mounted by ex-Baathist organizations such as the Iraqi Intelligence Service and the various paramilitary formations that had been under Saddam’s control.16

Until that date, none of the Coalition’s senior commanders had offered this kind of overt recognition that an insurgency appeared to be forming in Iraq. However, Abizaid’s statement reflected the growing reality that faced many American Soldiers in some areas of the country. In June 2003 approximately 250 attacks occurred against Coalition forces. In July that number doubled to roughly 500.16 Two devastating attacks the next month clearly signaled a major change in the security environment. Terrorists using a vehicle bomb attacked the Jordanian Embassy on 7 August 2003 killing 11 people. On 19 August 2003 a massive truck bomb was driven into the UN compound in the eastern part of Baghdad and detonated. The suicide bomber took the lives of 22 people, including Chief UN Envoy Sergio Vieira de Mello. For all intents and purposes, the bombing forced the UN to leave Iraq. These attacks signaled the rise of a coordinated terrorist threat in Iraq, one capable of strategic strikes targeting the larger political effort that could fracture the Coalition. Ambassador Bremer told his staff after the bombing, “We’re in trouble here. The terrorists have arrived in a deadly serious way and we’ve got to be just as serious.”17

Despite these setbacks, as the fall of 2003 began the Coalition appeared to be making limited progress across its political, military, and economic lines of operations. The CPA and the Coalition had begun rebuilding Iraq’s decrepit infrastructure, establishing limited local governments, and training the first Iraqi Security Forces (ISF). CJTF-7 had also made progress in its military operations, directing its units to shift from large-scale offensive operations that were common in some AORs to a broader effort that mixed smaller, more focused attacks on the insurgent threat with operations designed to win support from the populace.18 These operations led to the capture of Ali Hassan al-Majid, also known as Chemical Ali, and other important members of Saddam’s regime who were believed to be part of the emerging insurgent network. Critical to the task of building popular support was the introduction of the Commander’s Emergency Response Program (CERP). This program allowed CJTF-7 to begin funneling millions of Iraqi dinars and US dollars to units to fund local reconstruction projects. By the fall Army brigades and battalions were heavily involved in using these funds to improve the lives of the Iraqis in their AORs.

Despite these successes, the violence continued to mount. Insurgent attacks against Coalition forces increased again in September 2003. In addiition, Coalition troops were no longer the only targets. Sectarian, religious, and ethnic violence became intertwined with the anti-Coalition insurgency and with terrorism. In late August a car bomb outside the Imam Ali Shrine in the city of An Najaf exploded, killing 95 Iraqis including key Shia leader Muhammad Bakr al-Hakim. Almost a month later, assassins attacked and killed Dr. Aquila al-Hashimi, an Iraqi diplomat and the only ex-Baathist serving on the IGC. The situation in Iraq was still far from stable and the myriad causes of that instability were only beginning to be understood.

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

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