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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 III

Toward the Objective: Building a New Iraq

Chapter 9
The US Army and the Reconstruction of Iraq


“Everyone Must Do Nation-Building”: Broadening Reconstruction Operations

Given the scope of the reconstruction mission and the devolution of that mission to the tactical level, there were simply not enough CA units or engineers to perform all the CMO adopted by Coalition forces. In an environment in which reconstruction became one critical part of the larger full spectrum campaign, all Soldiers had to become CA officers and many became engineers. Most were not trained to manage even the smallest reconstruction project. Yet they often embraced their new role as nation-builders. While serving as the commander of the 101st Airborne Division (101st ABN) based in Mosul, Major General David H. Petraeus came to grips with the nature of postconflict operations and focused on the key role of reconstruction in that type of mission. Recalling his experience in dealing with the full spectrum campaign in northern Iraq in 2003–2004, Petraeus argued that “civil affairs are not enough when undertaking huge reconstruction and nation-building efforts . . . everyone must do nation-building . . . [When] undertaking industrial-strength reconstruction on the scale of that in Iraq, civil affairs forces alone will not suffice; every unit must be involved [emphasis in original].”25

Early in the new campaign, not all Soldiers were convinced that tactical units like the 101st ABN were the right instruments for reconstruction and nation-building. Petraeus explained that in 2003 there were “two or three infantry battalion commanders [in the 101st] who were either not that comfortable with the nation-building aspect of things, or really weren’t that enthusiastic about it”26 Petraeus continued:

When that happened, we sat down with the [assistant division commanders] and the brigade commanders and said, ‘you know, you need to go put your arm around that guy and make sure he realizes the importance of this, and also, frankly, realizes this is not an option and to get on with it, and that I will come out in a few days to confirm the excellence of his plan for nation-building in his particular area.’ So they got it. Everybody did it. Even aviation battalion commanders were given civil-military areas of responsibility.27

For the US Army in Iraq in 2003, every Soldier had to be a nation-builder. There was simply no other agency that had the resources, organization, manpower, or willpower to even consider attempting the overall task of reconstruction.

At times, the adoption of CMO by a wide variety of units such as aviation battalions did lead to problems in coordination. Major Chris Bentch, a CA officer who served in 2003 as the Civil Affairs Staff officer (S5) for the 3d Brigade Combat Team (BCT), 4th ID, noted in his journal that by late June 2003, CMO in the Sunni Triangle lacked coherency. Bentch described the situation as “a CA nightmare as everyone is doing CA and no one knows what everyone else is doing.”28 Bentch and staff officers like him in the brigades and battalions took on the task of channeling this energy and the resources available into directions they believed would benefit the Iraqi people and further the Coalition project in Iraq. However, the Coalition’s lack of an overarching plan for reconstruction meant that all of these early efforts remained essentially local initiatives not implicitly tied to larger strategic goals.

The single most important resource in the reconstruction campaign was money. Because of the failure to plan for CMO, US units arrived in their initial AORs in April and May 2003 without any means of funding even the smallest reconstruction projects. Indeed, in early June, 2 months after the fall of the Saddam regime, some brigades still had no means of obtaining money to support their CMO plan. In the first week of that month, Bentch expressed his discontent with the funding situation in his journal:

The Brigade Commander is as frustrated as I am that there is no money to do anything with. We have assessed things to death, but at some point all we have accomplished is to figure out what is wrong. We still haven’t done anything to fix it. It is unconscionable that no one knows how to access the money yet. We have been operating since early May with no way of impacting our areas.29

Cognizant of the need for funding at the tactical level, CJTF-7 took a significant step forward in June 2003 in its development of the Commander’s Emergency Response Program (CERP), a new source of funds that would directly affect tactical-level reconstruction efforts. According to Colonel Michael Toner, CJTF-7’s Chief of Resource Management (CJ8), the driving idea behind the CERP was “to enable commanders to respond to urgent humanitarian relief and reconstruction requirements within their areas of responsibility, by carrying out programs that will immediately assist the Iraqi people.”30 The origins of CERP lay in a fortuitous accident. Soon after Saddam’s regime fell, Soldiers in the 3d Infantry Division (3d ID) found $700 million (US) hidden in a hole in the wall of one of the Iraqi dictator’s palaces.31 Toner and a group of innovative staff officers then reasoned that because CJTF-7 had no immediate funds available for reconstruction, part of the money discovered in the palace should be used to support projects at the local level. After verifying that the cash was not counterfeit, Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, the CJTF-7 commander, asked Bremer for permission to use the funds for local reconstruction. Bremer agreed, and CERP began with approximately $178 million.

The program was designed to function just like the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) for small purchases. This allowed CJTF-7 to push money down to the commanders, but balanced the need for quick action with the requirement for strict accounting and distribution measures. The new improvised system allowed a unit, for example, to assess a local need such as a school requiring repairs and to immediately obtain an estimate from a local contractor for those repairs. Once CJTF-7 staff officers received the estimate and approved it, the unit withdrew the needed cash. To prevent the omnipresent problems of kickbacks, theft, and fraud, the CJTF-7 CJ8 developed a set of control measures and verification procedures.32

Initially, the program managers at CJTF-7 allowed brigade commanders a total of $25,000 and the ability to spend up to $2,500 on any single project.33 By late summer 2003 CJTF-7 raised the threshold to $10,000 per project, then up to $50,000, and eventually higher.34 Since CERP was one of the few programs in which tangible physical results became swiftly visible, the initiative expanded at a rapid rate. Toner noted that the virtues and visibility of the program made it increasingly powerful:

A lot of the projects just take a long time to build. [CERP] was something where we could go in and buy a generator for this town and give them some electricity right then. It might not fix the whole big problem that they have across the country, but it got results right there. We could go in and fix a water pump that did the irrigation for the town. We could fix their school. . . . So as the program grew and as everybody saw good results, and as many of the other programs that CPA was doing were slow in seeing results, we got more and more funding put into this.35

Reconstructing Iraq's Medical Knowledge

In May 2003, when 4th Infantry Division surgeon Dr. (Lieutenant Colonel) Kirk Eggleston entered the Tikrit Medical College Library in the city of Tikrit, he became immediately aware of the great need to modernize the Iraqi medical system. Eggleston recalled, “When I first toured the library, it was neat and tidy, but had very little recent medical literature.” Most of the materials were 10 to 20 years out of date. Medical innovations move very fast and even a few months away from the mainstream of medical knowledge can leave a physician behind. Ten years of missing knowledge can severely impede a doctor’s ability to treat patients. Word of the plight of the medical library made it back to Dr. David Gifford, a part-time physician at Darnall Army Community Hospital at Fort Hood. He decided that helping the Tikrit medical library would be his part in the reconstruction of Iraq. Gifford put the word out and Dr. Susan Yox responded with a posting on, an online international nursing edu- cation bulletin board. The response was “amazing,” according to Dr. Gifford. Donations began flooding in from all over the country. Thousands of textbooks and journals, worth close to half a million dollars, were shipped to Iraq and just 1 year later, the Tikrit Medical College Library was filled with current medical texts and journals along with 18 new computers that could connect with the Internet. Gifford stated, “These donations will dramatically improve the quality of the delivery of health care in Iraq.”

Mollie Miller, “Fort Hood Doctor Helps
Bring 21st Century to Iraqi Health System”
Defend America, 1 July 2004

US Soldiers look through recently arrived book donations with the dean of the Tikrit Medical College. In total, the college has received nearly 15,000 medical textbooks and 5,000 medical journals.

The beneficial results were so apparent that the US Congress supported and then extended the program. In September 2003, when the seized money started running out, the Army received notification from Congress authorizing “the DOD for operation and maintenance, not to exceed $180,000,000 . . . to fund the CERP . . . and fund a similar program be established to assist the people of Afghanistan.”36 By January 2004 division and brigade commanders had expended approximately $126 million in CERP funds.37 Then, when the appropriated dollars dried up, the Army received funds from the Development Fund for Iraq (DFI). The United Nations (UN) had created the DFI to administer proceeds from the export sales of Iraq’s oil, funds remaining from the UN Oil-for-Food Program, and any other assets seized from the regime. The US Government placed the DFI under the control of the CPA, which transferred an additional $453 million into CERP.38

American units used CERP funds for humanitarian relief and reconstruction projects that provided immediate assistance to Iraqi communities. Projects included civic clean-up, education, electricity, food production and distribution, health care, irrigation, rule of law and governance, telecommunications, water, and sanitation. According to one report on the program, most of these efforts were “quick, small-scale projects—minor repairs of sewage systems, rubbish collection, refurbishing youth centers and mosques—that relied principally on local labor and were designed to ‘win the hearts and minds’ of ordinary Iraqis.”39 The CERP money had an immediate impact on the reconstruction operations of many units. The 3d Brigade, 4th ID, for example, had been hamstrung by the lack of funds, and in its first 6 weeks in Iraq, had not been able to initiate any reconstruction work. By the middle of July, however, its units had begun 60 projects using $1.2 million.40 As of 2 October 2004 Coalition military units had spent over $578 million in CERP funds on approximately 34,500 different projects across Iraq.41

From the perspective of the US military, CERP funding was one of the biggest success stories in Iraq because the projects made possible by the funding program often appeared to have a direct impact on their ability to achieve campaign objectives. One 2006 study that examined the effects of the CERP asserted that many commanders noticed a direct correlation “between CERP funded projects and improved stability and security in their sector.”42 Lieutenant Colonel Brian McKiernan, the commander of 4th Battalion, 27th Field Artillery, 1st AD, used the number of attacks against Coalition forces and the number of actionable tips or information received from the civilian population as a metric for determining if progress was being made on reconstruction in a community.43 If attacks were down and tips were up, McKiernan then assessed ongoing reconstruction projects as successful.

This direct correlation between reconstruction projects and support from the local Iraqi population became very apparent in September 2003. It was in this month that a delay in approving additional funding in the US Congress allowed the CERP to lapse. Iraqi unrest followed on the heels of this decision. One unit reported, “The battalion had spent considerable time building trust and faith with the local interim government . . . much of this ‘good faith’ was destroyed when the CERP funds were no longer available to the battalion commander.”44 Many Soldiers came to agree that although CERP funds increased during the duration of OIF, commanders were still underfunded in their reconstruction endeavors. In just 4 months in 2003 the CERP distributed $23 million, but that was less than $1 for each Iraqi.45 According to Major George H. Sarabia, who served with the 2d Squadron, 2d Armored Cavalry Regiment (2d ACR), “If we had more money, then we would have been able to do more projects geared toward not just goodwill . . . but geared toward local leaders that were supporting us.”46 Colonel Frederick Rudesheim, commander of the 3d BCT, 4th ID believed “money was ‘the’ most powerful method we had to reach the people; it was leveraged more than combat power.47 Major General Petraeus summarized all of these statements in a shorter adage, “In an endeavor like that in Iraq, money is ammunition.”48

Chapter 9. The US Army and the Reconstruction of Iraq

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