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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

 

Obstacles on the Path to a New Iraq

Despite the US Army’s effort to help Iraqis rebuild their country, its reconstruction mission still encountered significant problems. Any balanced approach to examining the Army’s role in Iraqi nation-building must consider that Soldiers were often operating in a dangerous environment, in a culture with which they were unfamiliar, and with Iraqis who, quite often, did not share the Coalition’s vision for their country. While a myriad of large and small obstacles complicated the Army’s efforts in the full spectrum campaign, this section discusses the most crippling ones impeding Soldiers in their day-to-day reconstruction tasks. A decrepit infrastructure, the worsening security situation, sabotage, corruption, and the 1-year rotation cycles of US Army units all posed serious, real-time challenges to the Soldiers engaged in their mission to rebuild Iraq.

In May 2003 the most obvious difficulty facing the reconstruction effort was the state of the Iraqi infrastructure. Coalition planners had not anticipated Iraq to be so devoid of basic, functioning systems. Major Kris Arnold, who worked closely with the CFLCC intelligence staff section and moved into Baghdad in April 2003, noted this problem: “We really didn’t have a good understanding of how deteriorated the infrastructure was, and that caused us to underestimate how much reconstruction would be required. . . . I think the level of effort that would be required was gravely underestimated.”91 Indeed, when Saddam’s regime fell and the US Army emerged as the chief agent of stabilizing and rebuilding Iraq, Soldiers scrambled to immediately assess and comprehend the situation on the ground. What they discovered was that much of Iraq’s infrastructure was being held together with something akin to “chewing gum and bailing wire.”92 When the CPA replaced ORHA, also in May, approximately 40 percent of Iraqis had no access to drinkable water, 70 percent of Iraq’s sewage-treatment plants were in disrepair, and, of Iraq’s 25,000 schools, 80 percent could only supply one book for every six students.93 This level of unexpected dilapidation, coupled with the lack of preparation most Soldiers had upon embarking on this overwhelming, complex nation-building mission, made it impossible for the Coalition, and the US Army in particular, to conduct quick repairs to any of Iraq’s infrastructure.94

Throughout Baghdad, arguably the Iraqi city with the best functioning essential services yet still one debilitated by “un-maintained and un-synchronized systems,” the Army faced such things as broken sewer lines excreting raw sewage into the streets and often directly into the rivers.95 Lieutenant Colonel Wes Gillman, who served in the 3d ID as battalion commander for 1st Battalion, 30th Infantry, remembered being shocked to witness large piles of garbage collecting outside villages and cities, and goats grazing off the refuse.96 Often, US Soldiers were forced to focus most of their energy on merely keeping existing systems from collapsing, rather than on improving them. Coalition attempts, in the fall of 2003, to boost electricity production to the same levels of operation in existence before the invasion overstressed Iraq’s old machinery. At the Baghdad South power station, troops successfully restarted six outdated generators for the first time in years. This achievement was short-lived, however; station manager Gazi Aziz stated, “We worked like crazy, but it was all too much. . . . It fell apart in five days.”97

Conditions outside of Baghdad were often much worse. Henry Ensher, a 22-year veteran of the State Department, served as a CPA representative in the Iraqi province of Qadisiyah in southern Iraq from the fall of 2003 to June 2004. There he encountered a population more isolated from world progress and development than he had witnessed in more than 10 years of experience in the region:

I had expected that infrastructure would be widespread but in bad repair and would need a lot of work to bring it up to reasonable standards. In fact, infrastructure was not at all widespread. That is to say that even in the capital of [Qadisiyah], there were entire neighborhoods and entire quarters that had no access to the basics. They had no electricity and no water.98

Much of this had to do with the way in which the Saddam regime ruled Iraq. Ensher noted that local Iraqis told him the lack of infrastructure was “an indication of Saddam’s desire to punish the south and to keep the Shia down.”99

The US Army’s ability to reconstruct Iraq was also severely hampered by the unexpected widespread instability following the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. Initially, the chief problem was looting. In the electrical, sewage, and oil sectors, sabotage and looting caused extensive damage to key electrical buildings and transmission lines, ruined the critical resources needed to activate water treatment facilities across the country, and wreaked over $900 million of havoc on Iraq’s oil systems.100 Reports in May of that year described thousands of government cars being stolen from unguarded police stations as well as fires erupting daily in public buildings.

Worse problems emerged in the summer of 2003 when a full-fledged Iraqi insurgency began to emerge. The single most debilitating assault on the Coalition’s reconstruction effort was the suicide attack on the UN compound in Baghdad in August. After leaving Iraq before OIF began in March 2003, most aid agencies, including the United Nations (UN), World Health Organization (WHO), World Food Programme (WFP), and Oxfam International, returned to the country in early May 2003 to help with the reconstruction effort. While the violence escalated in the early summer of 2003, the UN and the other aid organizations remained committed to their work in Iraq. Yet, the truck bomb that exploded in the United Nations compound in Baghdad and killed the UN special representative in Iraq, Sergio Vieira de Mello, and 22 others deeply damaged the consensus about whether or not to continue the reconstruction effort in Iraq.

Though de Mello and the other UN employees murdered on that day were not the first UN members to be killed in Iraq, the vicious and purposeful assault on the United Nations signaled that the insurgency was becoming more organized and entirely willing to attack any institution or individual associated with the Coalition, even unarmed civilian aid workers. Soon after the bombing, aid organizations started pulling workers out of Iraq and significantly cutting back on staff. Even the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the humanitarian organization well known for never leaving the most dangerous conflict zones, departed Iraq. In response to the bombing, other countries in the international community decided to reconsider sending troops to aid reconstruction in Iraq because of the questionable security conditions.

This security concern on the part of aid organizations and Coalition countries intensified after a second bombing occurred outside the UN headquarters in Baghdad on 22 September 2003. This second attack prompted the UN and other relief organizations to withdraw more staff and continue to cut back in their work in Iraq. Other aid agencies followed suit including Doctors without Borders. With more and more relief organizations and experts leaving Iraq, the burden of reconstruction fell increasingly on the US military.

The deteriorating security situation affected aid agencies’ ability to provide services and affected the activities of private security contractors working on reconstruction projects. In November 2003 the US Army Corps of Engineers and Kellogg, Brown, and Root (KBR) suspended oil industry work in northern Iraq after a KBR engineer was killed. Washington Group International, a large engineering firm, halted work just north of Baghdad after two subcontracted workers were killed.101 By mid-December 2003, 18 contractors had been killed in Iraq, and contractor deaths from attacks temporarily halted at least 2 subsequent reconstruction projects.102 These increased attacks on private security contractors forced companies opting to continue work amid these worsening conditions to redirect resources away from the critical reconstruction projects to the new demands of heightened security at worksites. As of 31 December 2004, a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report on rebuilding Iraq found that, of the 15 reconstruction contracts that were reviewed, 8 of them spent as much as 15 percent of contract costs on either obtaining security providers or purchasing needed equipment for security purposes or both. Many reconstruction projects had been canceled outright due to the poor security.103

Iraq’s worsening security environment affected every aspect of the reconstruction effort. Earlier chapters of this study have already documented that the average number of attacks on US and Coalition forces during the summer of 2003 was around 500 per month. However, by May 2004 the number of attacks had reached approximately 2,000 per month.104 Mirroring the increase in attacks were the increased incidences of sabotage to and vandalism of many parts of Iraq’s infrastructure, as well as to reconstruction projects themselves in various stages of completion.105 Additionally, insurgents launched aggressive attacks on Iraqi personnel and civilians; by 1 January 2004 over 700 soldiers from the Iraqi security forces had been killed as well as hundreds of Iraqi civilians.106 By the spring of 2004 the Sunni insurgency and the Shia uprising had led to a marked increase in overall violence and the kidnapping and killing of non-Iraqis as well.107 By the end of April 2004, two of the largest contractors in Iraq, Siemens and General Electric, had suspended their operations because of the lack of security.

Sabotage also damaged reconstruction efforts. Another symptom of the deteriorating security situation in Iraq, sabotage most often occurred when poor Iraqis sought means of supplementing meager incomes. Often, Iraqis sabotaged a facility or worksite with the intent of finding materials that could be sold on the black market. Copper became a highly prized product sought after by Iraqis for sale, and high-voltage transmission lines were an excellent source for extracting it. The sabotage against these critical transmission lines exacted massive amounts of damage to the country’s electrical grid, while also stopping the progress of reconstruction endeavors across Iraq to repair the lines. Missing copper wire posed severe difficulties for US Army reconstruction efforts involved in refurbishing oil facilities as well; yet, a greater challenge resulted from increased insurgent strikes against pipelines in attempts to siphon oil for personal use or resale on the black market.108 At the end of 2004, Iraq’s oil production had not yet risen above pre-OIF levels and had actually decreased when compared with the end of 2003. Department of Defense and Department of State assessments attributed this decline in production primarily to insurgent assaults.109

By mid-2003 insurgent attempts to thwart the Coalition’s overall campaign in Iraq had come to include direct attacks on reconstruction projects, contractors, workers, and supplies. These attacks against the Iraqi infrastructure rose steadily in 2003 and early 2004, with sharp spikes occurring between April 2004 and January 2005. In August 2004 insurgents launched nearly 3,000 attacks on various parts of Iraq’s infrastructure.110 Enemy groups assaulted trucks carrying supplies to job sites and at times killed or kidnapped truck drivers. They attacked contractors working on projects either at the worksites or during travel to and from the sites. In early 2005 these types of attacks temporarily prevented contractors from completing the 1st CAV-sponsored south Baghdad landfill project mentioned earlier in this chapter.111 US Soldiers often grew extremely frustrated by the directed attacks against newly finished reconstruction projects. Major General John Batiste, Commander of the 1st ID, explained that often his Soldiers would have just completed the ribbon cutting ceremony celebrating the completion of a project “and the next day it would be blown up. . . . We got to the point where we didn’t even announce when we were going to be done because if we made a big deal out of it then that just drew the wrong kind of attention.”112

In some places, the insurgents mounted a concerted campaign to deter all Coalition rebuilding plans. In 2004, for example, insurgent forces launched a coordinated effort to end all rebuilding in the town of Abu Ghraib, located about 10 miles west of Baghdad. The 2d Battalion, 14th Infantry (2-14 IN), a unit that operated in western Baghdad as part of the 2d Brigade, 10th Mountain Division, had begun work with contractors on a number of local projects designed to improve quality of life and economic prospects for the citizens of Abu Ghraib. In August 2004 leaders in 2-14 IN invested $72,000 in renovating a local business center; but only 3 days after the facility was opened, an insurgent group blew it up. Major John Allred, executive officer of 2-14 IN told an American journalist at the time, “Anything we’re involved with, [the insurgents] want to see it fail. Anyone involved with us they want to kill.”113 Major Russ Harper, a CA officer attached to the battalion, added that since the unit arrived, $10 million in reconstruction projects had been completed in the Abu Ghraib area. However, insurgents had described five of the biggest projects through sabotage or by threatening and killing contractors. Harper stated, “Unfortunately, the terrorists have been pretty successful here.”114

Corruption served as another type of obstacle hindering the Coalition’s effort to reconstruct the country. In Iraq, corruption was widespread and complex. One particular type was endemic to authoritarian countries like Iraq under Saddam Hussein where the government becomes the integral part of the economic system.115 These problems were worse in Baathist Iraq which had a cash system that led to an economy based on patronage networks rather than market imperatives. To get anything done in pre-war Iraq, one had to bribe the right people, usually those within Saddam’s circle. During the decade of UN sanctions when everything was scarce, ordinary people were forced to resort to illegal economic activities, especially bribery of officials, just to survive. Not surprisingly, this legacy carried over to post-Saddam Iraq. Colonel Mike Murray, commander of the 3d BCT, 1st CAV, witnessed the role of corruption in Iraq, stating, “What we call corruption had become a way of life for the Iraqi society.”116 For many Iraqi officials and those trying to do business with them, the environment in post-Saddam Iraq did not change much. According to a report by the International Crisis Group (ICG) on the reconstruction environment in Iraq, Ministry officials in the Iraqi Governing Council and Interim Iraqi Government operated on a “business-as-usual basis, asking for presents and privileges. . . . It’s the same culture as under Saddam. . . . Nothing has really changed.”117

Two other types of corruption emerged in Iraq in this period. The first involved the sudden rise of political parties. Given the Coalition’s emphasis on establishing new governance, 2003 became a critical time in terms of creating political parties and finding financial support for them. Without established procedures to finance political parties and political activities, corruption spread widely. One Iraqi quoted in the ICG report on reconstruction stated, “The political parties took everything they could get hold of.”118 The second was typical of a country transitioning from a command economy to one based on market forces. This transition period typically offers major opportunities for corruption because of the major influx of economic aid that usually accompanies it. That type of financial influx occurred in Iraq after the fall of the Saddam government. Some arrived in the form of Iraq’s own oil revenues or recovered stockpiles of hidden money, others in the form of financial aid from the United States or other international donors.

After May 2003 corruption directly related to the aid flowing into the country flourished. Businessmen routinely complained about the need to resort to bribery when dealing with the Iraqi Government.119 The problems became so large that the CPA Inspector General assisted the Iraqi Governing Council in the creation of an Iraqi Inspector General that focused on corruption.120 By September 2004 the Interim Iraqi Government took another step, forming the Iraqi Anti-Corruption Council (IACC).121 In reports submitted in 2004, the CPA Inspector General and the US Special Inspector General for Iraqi Reconstruction (SIGIR) documented numerous cases of corruption of various types in Iraq and noted that US agencies such as the Defense Criminal Investigative Services (DCIS) were conducting investigations into these cases.122

The final obstacle—lack of continuity in personal relationships—affected not just reconstruction operations, but the entire Coalition military effort in Iraq. It quickly became clear that 1-year troop rotation cycles adversely affected the Army’s abilities to make sustainable progress. Many Army leaders commented on the general momentum they had created by establishing the close personal relationships valued by Iraqis. When units rotated home or moved to new AORs, this momentum often ceased. For many Soldiers, fostering close and enduring personal relationships to meet professional goals was a new experience. Leaders in the US Army relied more on knowledge of duty positions than on establishing personal relationships with individuals. Colonel David Perkins, commander of the 2d BCT, 3d ID, noted that in Iraqi culture, personal ties were the foundation of social, political, and economic life. Perkins believed this to be one of the friction points between Iraqi society and the world of the American military: “If I go to a battalion and I want to talk to the sergeant major, I really don’t care who it is. I want to talk to the sergeant major because I know what his job is and I know if I talk to him he will get the first sergeants in line.”123 That was not how the Iraqis operated. According to Perkins, “They know Joe; they want to talk to Joe. They really don’t care what his job is; he is the guy with whom they have worked.”124

In 2003 and 2004 US Army units served in Iraq on 1-year rotations and often changed AORs during those 12 months. But the Iraqi officials and Iraqi contractors involved in reconstruction projects largely remained in place. When a new Soldier transitioned into an AOR, he or she would begin building a relationship with the Iraqis from scratch. Perkins explained that this also occurred when working with American civilians. In terms of his relationship with the Coalition political authorities, Perkins stated, “We go by position. They don’t. I would learn to work with Ms. X, and then she would rotate out. Someone else came in and you had to develop this personal relationship again. It was all based on personal relationships.”125

Colonel Dan Allyn, commander of the 3d BCT, 3d ID, also found that personal relationships created transition problems with the Iraqi population. Allyn recalled, “Asking the Iraqi people to take people they had been working with for a couple of months and, just at the snap of a finger, transfer loyalties is really stretching the bounds for a people who, for a lot of good reasons, are suspect.”126 Colonel Joseph Anderson, commander of the 2d BCT, 101st ABN, concurred with Allyn. During his tour in northern Iraq, Anderson learned quickly how critical knowing the key Iraqi players was to achieve results: “If you [didn’t] understand who you engage for what purpose on the political front, on the public works and ministry front, and on the security front, you [were] going to have problems.”127

Because Soldiers understood the importance of both establishing and keeping personal relationships with their Iraqi counterparts, many of them ensured their transfer of authority with the next rotating unit included cordially meeting with key individuals. According to Colonel Michael Linnington, commander of the 3d Brigade, 101st ABN, he and his staff took great pains to ensure the units coming in to replace his Soldiers started off on the right foot with the local Iraqis:

We introduced our replacements to the important tribal and religious leaders in our sector, showed them projects we were engaged [with], and warned of potential issues that might be raised after our departure. We spent an inordinate amount of time on transferring personal relationships, as this was the most critical to our success, and the area that was of the greatest concern to those we had befriended.128

Linnington added that as his Soldiers prepared to leave Iraq in early 2004, many of the Iraqis in his area began to dread their departure. Ultimately, despite their Iraqi counterparts emphatic entreaties to stay, the 3d Brigade departed, passing the responsibility for reconstruction projects and relationships to a new group of American Soldiers.129


Chapter 9. The US Army and the Reconstruction of Iraq





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