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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 3
The Rise of the Iraqi Insurgency and the US Army's Response


Prewar Assumptions about Postconflict Threats

As the United States moved closer to confrontation with Iraq in 2002 and early 2003, the US Government began conducting a series of studies intended to help understand what might occur after a military defeat of the Saddam regime. None of the organizations involved in this effort came to the conclusion that a serious insurgent resistance would emerge after a successful Coalition campaign against the Baathist regime. The US Department of State (DOS), for example, launched a study in late 2001 designed to predict the landscape of a post-Saddam Iraq and anticipate the institutions and policies that would be required by the new Iraqi state. For this effort, known as The Future of Iraq Project, the DOS employed 17 working groups consisting of Iraqi expatriates and American experts focused on different aspects of a post-Baathist Iraq. One of these bodies, the Transitional Justice Working Group, looked closely at the legal and judicial challenges a post-Baathist state would likely face. This group did suggest that the period immediately following a regime change might offer an opportunity for criminals to loot and plunder while other groups in Iraqi society might seek revenge for past wrongs.2 However, these experts did not predict the rise of any organized insurgency or armed resistance.

A similar study in late 2002 by the National Defense University reached a comparable conclusion. The authors of this study, a group of over 70 academics and policy experts from US agencies and private institutions, determined that the probability for unrest in post-Baathist Iraq was great, and the United States and its allies should be concerned about the possibilities of a civil war.3 The work identified Baathist security and intelligence organizations as well as militias of various types that had been armed by Saddam as the most likely threats to postconflict order.4 Nevertheless, the study did not anticipate a broad insurgency and suggested the United States concentrate its resources on creating security after the regime collapse so it could avoid the worst of these possible threats.

Similar concerns about a post-Saddam Iraq grew out of a conference of officers and civilians from the Department of Defense (DOD) community held at the US Army War College in December 2002. This forum focused discussion on the military aspects of securing post-Saddam Iraq. Two participants in the conference, Dr. Conrad Crane and Dr. Andrew Terrill, then summarized the critical points discussed in a study titled Reconstructing Iraq: Insights, Challenges, and Missions for Military Forces in a Post-Conflict Scenario. The analysis emphasized that Iraqi society was complex and fractured along both ethnic and sectarian lines.5 US forces that might become involved in postconflict operations had to be aware of multiple flashpoints, which could lead to instability in Iraq. The study argued that a mass uprising was unlikely, but might occur if, in Iraqi popular perception, the occupying force began to behave like an imperialist power. A far more likely threat was the use of terrorist attacks by various groups to damage the reconstruction effort and provoke violent reactions from Coalition units. Military crackdowns by US and other Coalition forces might then lead to growing resentment and a corresponding growth in the number of Iraqis willing to conduct terrorist actions.6 Although the authors of the report did not predict the materialization of insurgent forces and never employed the term “insurgency,” they did suggest that Coalition forces operating in Iraq after the regime change faced instability and the possibility of increasing levels of organized violence.

An equal amount of concern about instability and armed opposition in a post-Saddam Iraq existed among those charged with the direct planning for postconflict operations. Within US Central Command (CENTCOM), the Plans section of the Combined Forces Land Component Command (CFLCC) struggled to understand what Iraq would look like after the fall of the Baathist regime. In the months leading up to the war, CFLCC planners reviewed a large amount of research on Iraq, including a portion of DOS’s The Future of Iraq Project and Crane and Terrill’s assessments in Reconstructing Iraq. According to Colonel Kevin Benson, the chief of the CFLCC planning effort, these two studies greatly aided his planners’ understanding of Iraq and the tasks required in the postconflict phase of the campaign. Out of this research came the recognition that instability and violence were probable after Saddam’s fall. In this environment, the planners considered the rise of an organized insurgency as a possibility, but according to Benson, they did not “rate it very likely.”7 If any resistance did emerge, Benson and his colleagues believed it would come from scattered groups of former high-level Baath Party loyalists who saw no future for themselves in a post-Saddam Iraq. Instead of planning for an insurgency, CFLCC focused on preparing for humanitarian crises, securing weapons of mass destruction (WMD) sites, and the general lawlessness that might break out after the regime fell.8 Despite this effort by CFLCC to forecast the possible outcomes of a post-Saddam Iraq, most Coalition units did not train or otherwise prepare for postconflict operations. Thus, when faced with the actual problems of looting and lawlessness, the Coalition did not react in a coherent, well-rehearsed manner. This lack of preparation ultimately contributed to the emergence of the Iraqi insurgency.

Chapter 3. The Rise of the Iraqi Insurgency and the US Army’s Response

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