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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


De-Baathification and the Disbanding of the Iraqi Army

The policies of the new Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) contributed to Iraqi unease. Indeed, many participants in OIF identified the CPA’s decision in May 2003 to de-Baathify Iraqi society and disband the Iraqi Army as critical factors contributing to the emergence of the insurgency. Abadi’s statement, quoted above, alluded to the key economic consequence resulting from these two decisions that caused significant unemployment and a great deal of uncertainty among those Iraqis—especially Sunni Arabs—who suddenly found their social and economic status threatened. Colonel Derek J. Harvey, a US Army Military Intelligence officer and Middle East expert, also viewed these two acts as critical to the growth of the insurgency in the Sunni areas of Iraq in the summer of 2003. In 2004 Harvey served as the chief of the Coalition’s Red Team, an organization staffed with experts who focused exclusively on the Iraqi insurgency. Harvey contended that after talking with insurgent leaders and studying the first year of Coalition operations, he saw the CPA’s decisions on de-Baathification and the Army as pivotal because Saddam’s military organizations and the Baath Party had been dominated by Sunni Iraqis. Thus, for decades Sunni Arabs had enjoyed political, social, and economic dominance in Iraq. The policies of de-Baathification and the disbanding of the Iraqi Army, according to Harvey, “flipped the social, economic, and political order on its head.”23 The large number of unemployed soldiers, officers, and government officials created a mass of politically and economically disenfranchised individuals who viewed the Coalition with suspicion and felt they had little future in an Iraq shaped by outside forces. Many of these men became the fence sitters who, over the summer of 2003, were vulnerable to those advocating the use of armed force to oppose the Coalition and return Sunni Arabs to power.

While banning high-level Baath Party members from public employment and disbanding the Iraqi Army were the first two official orders of the CPA, these policies were not part of the DOD’s original design for the reconstruction of Iraq.24 ECLIPSE II, CFLCC’s Phase IV (PH IV) plan, assumed that after the removal of Saddam, the Coalition would recall the Iraqi Army to help with both the maintenance of order and the reconstruction of the country while removing only the highest echelon of the Baathist leadership.25 In fact, CFLCC’s deputy commander, Major General William Webster, recalled that the CFLCC commander and staff assumed that one of its most immediate tasks in PH IV would be to coordinate with the leaders of the Iraqi Army so their forces could begin assisting the Coalition in reestablishing security.26 Lieutenant General William Wallace, the V Corps commander, and Jay Garner, the ORHA chief, made similar planning assumptions about the role of Saddam’s army and a very limited removal of Baathist officials after the defeat of Saddam.

These assumptions had led key Coalition military and civilian authorities to begin making decisions about the Iraqi Army and the Baath Party as major combat in Baghdad subsided. On 16 April 2003 General Tommy Franks issued an order that outlawed the Baath Party, but did not direct or imply the removal of all Baath Party members, including Army officers, from continued public employment.27 Around the same time, CFLCC’s staff began negotiations with senior officers in the Iraqi Army to prepare the way for the army’s position in post-Saddam Iraq, especially its immediate role in establishing order.28 Wallace had anticipated that some purging of the Baath Party was likely, but he and his staff hoped to minimize its worst side effects. On its own initiative, the Corps developed a policy for the de-Baathification of Iraqi society focused on retaining critical public officials—judges, police, teachers, municipal workers—in their positions to ensure that essential services continued after the ruling regime fell.

Colonel Marc Warren, the V Corps Staff Judge Advocate, authored the policy basing it on the idea that members of the Baath Party should be judged on their conduct or actions while in the party rather than on their status as a party member.29 Warren believed that because the Saddam regime forced many Iraqis to join the Baath Party as a condition for their employment, Coalition policy should not seek a wholesale dismissal of all party members from public service. Instead, the V Corps policy required the members of the Baath Party to sign a renunciation form in which they would disavow their association with Saddam Hussein and would swear “to cooperate fully with the Coalition Provisional Authority in serving the people of Iraq and building a new Iraqi government.”30 Coalition authorities would vet high-level Baathists and investigate those suspected of committing crimes. However, the V Corps policy created a streamlined process that allowed police officers, teachers, and mid- and lower-level bureaucrats who had been compelled to join the Baath Party to play a role in the new Iraq. Wallace authorized the de-Baathification program, directed his staff to print thousands of copies of the renunciation form, and had the forms distributed in early May 2003.

Garner agreed with the V Corps policy and folded it into his larger plan for postconflict operations, which he based on the assumptions in ECLIPSE II. His plan relied heavily on the involvement of Iraqis in the political and physical reconstruction of the country. In early May Garner began working to bring the old Iraqi Army units back and had even arranged for the US Government to pay the salaries of 300,000 soldiers, 12,000 police, and up to 2 million public servants.31 Lieutenant General (Retired) Jared Bates, ORHA’s Chief of Staff, recalled, “The first idea was paying them just to get them to stand by, with more to follow. Just to keep everything calm in the first days and weeks of the occupation.”32 Both V Corps and ORHA thought the Iraqi citizens, including officers and soldiers of the Iraqi Armed Forces as well as civil servants who had been members of the Baath Party, would play a critical role in constructing a new Iraq.

While ORHA, CFLCC, and V Corps took the initial steps necessary to implement their policies, Bush administration officials began to make new plans for a post-Saddam Iraq that would supplant the assumptions made and work done by Garner and the military headquarters. Ambassador Paul Bremer, head of the CPA, described arriving in Iraq in May 2003 with a mandate from the administration to remove the topmost layer of the Baath Party from public life.33 To Bremer and key members of the administration, this policy was a decisive act, designed to show the Iraqi people the Baathists had been removed from their country forever. Bremer would later write that the goal of the de-Baathification order was to “quash the impression that the Coalition had toppled Saddam only to hand power to the next level of Baathists.”34 If this impression persisted within Iraqi society, some Bush administration officials believed it might quickly provoke the Shia and Kurdish elements of the Iraqi population who had suffered under Saddam, and scuttle the planned transition to a new democratic Iraq.

With the goal of establishing a new political order firmly in mind, Bremer announced CPA Order No. 1, “De-Baathification of Iraqi Society,” on 16 May 2003 (appendix A).35 The new policy, which the CPA had not coordinated with either the CFLCC or V Corps staffs, officially dissolved the Baath Party and excluded those Iraqis with full party membership in the top four levels of the Baath organization—regional commanders, branch members, section members, and group members—from future employment in the public sector.36 The CPA order also directed that other individuals holding positions in the top three levels of government ministries and other official institutions were to be screened, and if found to be full members of the Baath Party at any level, were to be expelled from their positions. Bush administration officials recognized that membership in the Baath Party was required for many nonideological Iraqis who had sought social and economic advancement within the government. To deal with these lower-level members who were not complicit in the crimes of the Baath Party leadership, the CPA policy allowed for a review process that would decide the fate of individuals on a case-by-case basis. Bremer also explained how in early May 2003, as the administration was deciding to order de-Baathification, he and other DOD officials were already moving toward dealing with the Iraqi Army in a similar fashion.37 Bremer made this policy official on 23 May 2003 when the CPA issued Order No. 2, “The Dissolution of Entities” (appendix B), which disbanded the army and other branches of the Iraqi armed services as well as Iraqi governmental ministries and other organizations related to the Baath Party.38

The decisions to de-Baathify Iraqi society and eliminate the old regime’s army caught Coalition authorities by surprise. As documented in the previous chapter, the US Government had not coordinated these policies with either ORHA or CENTCOM. Jay Garner, the ORHA chief, recalled that he first read the de-Baathification policy in Iraq and because it “went too deep” into the strata of society, he immediately tried to get Bremer to reconsider.39 Lieutenant General McKiernan, the CFLCC commander, was equally caught off guard by the CPA policies. Major General William Webster, deputy commander of CFLCC, remembered that CFLCC was heavily involved in negotiations with senior Iraqi Army generals when he and McKiernan heard the news about the CPA’s intent to dissolve the old army and prevent senior Baath Party members from serving in the institutions of the new Iraq. In fact, that news arrived when the CFLCC commander invited Ambassador Walter Slocombe, the CPA’s senior advisor for defense and security affairs and Bremr’s point man for the new Iraqi security forces, to a meeting with several Iraqi generals who had volunteered to serve in the new forces. After briefing Slocombe on CFLCC’s initial plans for the new Iraqi Ministry of Defense, Webster recalled the CPA representative stating, “No, you are not doing that,” and then explained to both men the outlines of the CPA’s de-Baathification program.40 When McKiernan and Webster protested, arguing that Iraq’s new forces required a trained and experienced cadre of senior leaders, Slocombe countered that the Coalition would have to grow new leadership from the junior officers that remained after the de-Baathification took effect.41 Webster noted that at that moment, “We were surpised, shocked.”42 He added, “Lieutenant General McKiernan and I had established relationships with [the Iraqi generals] and had started to give them guidance and they were excited.”43 Webster asserted that he and the CFLCC commander immediately started to think about the unintended consequences of Breer’s new policies, finally concluding, “The officers who supported Saddam loyally for a long time were going to resist us. This fight would turn into something long and hard. That was a terrible night. Lieutenant General McKiernan and I walked around in the dark and talked about this a long time, about what that meant down the road.”44

There was real reason for this level of concern. Saddam’s army, numbering approximately 400,000 officers and soldiers, had been a key institution in Iraq. Order No. 2 rendered these men jobless and made their immediate economic prospects look bleak. Additionally, the way the dissolution was conducted offended many Iraqis who saw it as disrespectful of their most respected institution. However, the administration based its decision to disband the armed forces on a reasonable premise. Saddam’s army had been a brutal institution in which a disproportionate number of Sunni officers exploited and mistreated the mostly Shia conscripts. Added to this was Saddam’s historical employment of his army in the repression of Shia and Kurdish populations. In Bremer’s mind, these facts overrode concerns about temporary unemployment. In his memoirs, Bremer recalled telling his staff, “It’s absolutely essential to convince Iraqis that we’re not going to permit the return of Saddam’s instruments of repression—the Baath Party, the Mukhabarat’s security services, or Saddam’s army. We didn’t send our troops halfway around the world to overthrow Saddam to find another dictator taking his place.”45 Bremer and others in the CPA held the conviction that retaining the old army would hinder their plans to move Iraq toward a future in which all ethnic and sectarian groups shared equally in the economic and political life of the country.

Compounding the problems surrounding the role and structure of Saddam’s army were the practical difficulties involved in any potential recall of that army in May 2003. During and immediately after the initial invasion, Saddam’s army had simply disappeared. Many administration and CPA officials believed no real institution even existed to be recalled to duty. Additionally, many military facilities had been damaged in the war or rendered useless in the looting that followed. Still, Bremer and other administration officials must have been conscious of the fact that Iraqi soldiers expected to be recalled and would suffer economically once CPA enacted Order No. 2. This realization led to Bremer including clauses in Order No. 2 that announced the issuance of a one-time termination payment to soldiers and other government officials who had been employed by any dissolved institution. Further, the order stated the CPA would ensure veterans, war widows, and other Iraqis who had been receiving pensions from the Baathist state would continue to receive their payments after May 2003. Later measures would expand on these promises of financial support by introducing a system of stipend payments for most of the former Iraqi Army career officers and enlisted soldiers. Clearly, these efforts sought to ameliorate the economic hardships imposed on much of the Iraqi population by the CPA’s first two orders. Nevertheless, the order maintained a rigid anti-Baathist stance in its exclusion of all senior party members and officers with the rank of colonel or higher from the termination and pension payment scheme, and 4 weeks would elapse before the CPA announced plans to pay stipends beyond the termination payment.

The policies of de-Baathification and the disbanding of the army were largely successful on the level of national politics. The major Shia and Kurdish groups became strong allies of the CPA in its campaign to reshape Iraq’s political structure. The consequences of both policies, however, on the emerging security environment were less salutary. As one Iraqi emphasized, the Baath Party “had become part of the fabric of Iraqi society, a complex, interrelated pyramid of economic, political, religious, and tribal links. . . . But to dismantle the Party, the Army, and the other structure of the state was only to replace them with chaos.”46 Key officials in the ministries, schools, and other government institutions had been members of the party. But, after Order No. 1, these functionaries could not serve in their former positions without a review by the Coalition, and full members in the senior four ranks of the party, according to the policy, could never return. In the spring and summer of 2003, US Army units often found it impossible to find officials and technicians to take their place. One example of this problem was the challenge faced by the engineer brigade of the 1st Armored Division (1st AD) that, after struggling to reestablish basic sewer and electrical services in Baghdad in May 2003, finally decided to commit a considerable amount of its own resources to find the ex-Baathist bureaucrats and technicians and place them back in their jobs.47 The 4th Infantry Division (4th ID), which was operating north of Baghdad in the Sunni heartland, similarly struggled to retain thousands of teachers and police who had been low-level members of the Baath Party. Eventually the division was successful, but not before the CPA cut the pay of these teachers, consequently damaging American relations with the Sunni community in the area.48 Lieutenant General Wallace, who was serving as the V Corps commander in the early summer of 2003, highlighted the basic problem de-Baathification posed to American Soldiers on the ground: “The de-Baathification meant that the bureaucracy that made Iraq work was no longer allowed to help make Iraq work. Regardless of whether you thought they are good people or bad people, they were running the country until we told them they couldn’t.”49 Wallace added that the CPA policy hurt even those far away from the apex of Baathist political power:

This particular regime, over the course of 30 years, had permeated every fiber of Iraqi society. It wasn’t just Saddam in his castle. It was the teachers in the schools. It was the cops on the street. It was the bus drivers. It was the guys that ran the electrical infrastructure. All of those folks were Baathists or were somehow affiliated with the Baath Party. So when you proclaim that the Baath Party is now disbanded and illegal, all of those people immediately perceive that they are out of work, and not only are they out of work, but they are not available to the new government, the CPA, or the emerging Iraqi Government to help it run.50

Of course, for many Sunni Arabs, the policy meant the end of their ability to feed their families in a literal sense. One young Iraqi clerk, a Baath Party member, bluntly stated his view on the CPA policy: “We were on top of the system. We had dreams. Now we are the losers. We lost our positions, our status, the [economic] security of our families, stability. Curse the Americans. Curse them.”51

Ambassador Bremer had ostensibly created the CPA’s de-Baathification policy with enough flexibility to allow the electrical workers, teachers, and clerks who had been Baath Party members to renounce their affiliation and become productive members of society again. Even so, Order No. 1 did not initially establish the details of its review process and the CPA itself had only a very limited capacity to screen and approve those Baathists who petitioned for exception to the policy. As a result, it was almost always up to the US military commanders in the field to make this review process work, and to some degree, the process moved forward at a sluggish pace in the summer of 2003.

Major General David H. Petraeus, who commanded the 101st Airborne Division (101st ABN) in 2003, struggled with the effects of the de-Baathification policy on Iraqi society in the northern city of Mosul and its environs. Petraeus noted that the city was home to Mosul University, an important intellectual center, and that the faculty of the university included a sizable amount of Baath Party members. However, these individuals, according to Petraeus, “were not necessarily Saddamists. They didn’t necessarily have blood on their hands.”52 To reestablish the university and reemploy its faculty, Petraeus and his staff had to obtain permission from the CPA to begin a screening process. With the personal approval of Bremer, the 101st ABN assisted with a review of former Baathists and helped the Iraqis build a list of approved faculty to operate the university.53

Across Iraq, American units created processes to vet tens of thousands of ex-Baathists. But this work was slow and tedious, and did little to regain support from the Sunni population that was growing increasingly disenchanted in the summer of 2003. The situation only worsened in the fall when Bremer turned over the conduct of the de-Baathification program to Mr. Ahmed Chalabi, a Shia member of the Iraqi Governing Council (IGC) who, according to Bremer, expanded the policy beyond its original intent.54 Chalabi’s zeal for the widespread de-Baathification of Iraqi society made it very difficult for any former members of the Baath Party to regain their jobs. In many areas, Chalabi’s interpretation of the policy undid everything American commanders had accomplished in redressing Sunni grievances about the original order. According to Petraeus, by the fall of 2003 the effect of the overall de-Baathification program “was that tens of thousands of former party members were unemployed, without any salary, without any retirement, without any benefits, and therefore, to a large degree, without any incentive to support the new Iraq.”55

The CPA policy ordering the disbanding of the army and other official institutions had a more direct connection to the genesis of the insurgency. Once Bremer enacted the policy, Iraq was inundated by hundreds of thousands of unemployed men who had some military training and knowledge of the numerous weapons caches hidden across the country. In many parts of Iraq, former servicemen voiced their disapproval of Order No. 2 in the immediate aftermath of its announcement. On 26 May 2003, for example, 5,000 officers and soldiers demonstrated in Baghdad against the policy and the presence of Coalition forces. The group’s spokesman demanded the recall of the old army, the payment of military salaries, and the formation of a new government.56 One month later in Mosul, officers and soldiers became violent during a protest over the failure to provide the financial assistance promised by the CPA in the “Dissolution of Entities.”57

On 23 June, 4 weeks after the proclamation of Order No. 2, the CPA attempted to address this issue by announcing the introduction of financial support for former members of the Iraqi Armed Forces. The new plan affirmed the CPA’s strategy to issue a one-time termination payment to those conscripts serving in Saddam’s army at the time of the regime’s collapse. More important, however, was Bremer’s decision to pay a monthly stipend to “former Iraqi career soldiers” and “long service enlisted personnel.”58 The policy applied to those who had served in the regular Iraqi Army and Republican Guard, but explicitly excluded those soldiers who were senior Baath Party members, officers in Iraq’s internal security forces, or those accused of human rights abuses. The CPA determined that the stipends should match their pay as active officers in the old Iraqi forces.

On 6 July the CPA announced further details, including the amount of the stipends and the dates and sites for the disbursement of the payments.59 In that month, some Army units became involved in distributing the stipend funds. The 3d Armored Cavalry Regiment (ACR), for example, reported that it paid former Iraqi officers and soldiers approximately $100,000 in July.60 The 101st ABN reported that in the same month its officers disbursed $2.2 million to 35,131 qualified Iraqi Army veterans.61 In August, the division issued a 3-month payment totaling $6.6 million to roughly the same number of recipients, and November brought a similar disbursal. By March 2004, one CPA document stated that the Coalition had paid a total of $45 million in stipends to former members of the Iraqi Army.62

The CPA also hoped to mitigate the effects of Order No. 2 by quickly establishing new security forces that would provide many former soldiers employment.63 Still, Bremer’s organization arrived in Iraq with only a rudimentary plan for the new Iraqi military and police forces and few resources to create those institutions.64 As chapter 11 of this study will show, these shortcomings meant that the construction of new security forces moved very slowly in 2003 and employed only a relatively small number of Iraqis.

The CPA had alleviated the short-term economic concerns of those Sunnis who had been career officers and enlisted soldiers in Saddam’s army, but other Sunni Arabs grew increasingly concerned about their long-term prospects in a post-Saddam Iraq. In this environment some Iraqi men, especially those who had been serving as conscripts in the military and security forces, became vulnerable to the appeal of the budding insurgency. Lieutenant General Wallace described the situation in the summer of 2003 as follows:

The dissolution of the Iraqi Army meant that we put five hundred thousand [sic] military age people out of work instantaneously. . . . That created an instantaneous unemployment problem that might have been avoided. Now you had all these kids and young men who had families who were standing on the street corner wondering where their next meal was coming from. That was a big deal. And, as far as they knew, this was permanent, so their obligation to their family was to figure out how they were going to support their family.65

Wallace then noted the connection between the unemployment and the potential for the rise of insurgent groups in both the Sunni and the Shia communities:

[The obligation to support their family] made [the unemployed soldiers] appropriate fodder for just about any criminal organization, insurgent organization, dissenting organization, Shia militia, or you name it. You are going to gravitate to whoever can meet your needs and that was where they gravitated to during this very interesting month or two.66

The judgment of Colonel (Retired) Paul Hughes, who served with ORHA and was working with the old Iraqi military in April and May 2003, is more succinct. Hughes called the decision to abolish the Iraqi Army a “strategic blunder.”67

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

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