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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

When Coalition military forces entered Iraq in March 2003 they did not come prepared to rebuild, in a literal sense, the country they hoped to liberate. The US Army had trained its Soldiers to defeat Saddam’s army and ensure the dictator’s regime fell so they could assist with the installation of a new representative government in Iraq. To be sure, the Soldiers in the Coalition forces understood they would be asked to perform missions after combat operations were completed to help stabilize Iraq; but few commanders made the assumption that stabilization meant involvement in major reconstruction projects designed to deliver basic services to the Iraqi population.

At the upper echelons of the US force, commanders knew that the US Department of Defense (DOD) had created the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance (ORHA) to address major civil crises after the toppling of the Saddam regime as well as to initiate efforts to establish new governance and reconstruction projects. The Combined Forces Land Component Command’s (CFLCC’s) plans for Operations COBRA II and ECLIPSE II reinforced the notion that ORHA would oversee the initial reconstruction efforts and that CFLCC forces would hand responsibility for the large-scale stabilization campaign to the follow-on joint task force, designated first as Combined Joint Task Force–Iraq (CJTF-Iraq) and then as Combined Joint Task Force–7 (CJTF-7). This guidance was passed down to lower echelons where it shaped tactical commanders’ attitudes about the need to focus planning and training on the initial combat operations that would depose the Saddam regime. One critical example of these assumptions as they pertained to reconstruction was the guidance given to Colonel Gregg F. Martin, the commander of the 130th Engineer Brigade, the engineer unit that directly supported V Corps operations. Martin contended that before the invasion began, he was told that ORHA would supervise the entire reconstruction effort and Jay Garner and his staff would rely primarily on American contractors and Iraqi labor to do the work. The plan, according to Martin, was for military engineer units to provide support for civil reconstruction “only under emergency circumstances.”1

When US Central Command (CENTCOM) designated V Corps headquarters as the headquarters for CJTF-7 and directed Coalition land forces to remain in Iraq to serve as the forces for the new Combined Joint Task Force (CJTF), all assumptions about the US Army’s role in post-Saddam Iraq, including those concerning responsibilities for the reconstruction of the country, were swept away. In fact, in late April and May 2003, as Soldiers transitioned to the new campaign and began serving as the chief agent of stabilization, the Army in Iraq rather quickly began conducting a wide variety of reconstruction operations. For most units in Iraq, this mission—normally referred to as reconstruction but at times using the broader term “nation-building”—encompassed activities that built or improved aspects of Iraq’s economic and physical infrastructure. Not surprisingly, the transition to these efforts was difficult. The US Army units that traditionally conducted reconstruction missions—civil affairs (CA) and engineer construction battalions—were few in number and did not have the capacity to conduct reconstruction on the scale required in Iraq.

To fill the yawning gap between capacity and need, Soldiers from a wide variety of units became heavily involved in projects that ranged from clearing trash from neighborhood streets to rehabilitating large fertilizer plants. By the end of 2003 almost all units had assumed aspects of the reconstruction mission. American Soldiers worked with Iraqis and the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) to make the best of the limited resources available in the early stages of the new campaign. The most important tool in this effort became the Commander’s Emergency Response Program (CERP), an improvised method of funding projects at the unit level. By the end of 2004 American units had completed or facilitated projects such as the building and refurbishing of schools, the repair of water treatment plants, the establishment of waste removal systems, the repair and improvement of the electrical grid, and the creation of economic opportunities through small business grants and other means.

For the US Army, reconstruction was not a mission that was entirely unprecedented. In the latter half of the 20th century, American Soldiers had been involved in rebuilding infrastructure in Germany, Japan, and Vietnam. More importantly, in the decade before Operation IRAQI FREEDOM (OIF), the Army had conducted reconstruction efforts in Bosnia and Kosovo. However, the US Government had limited the role of its Armed Forces in the Balkans, mandating that Army engineers and other forces provide only minor reconstruction assistance and that CA units work through nongovernment organizations (NGOs) to meet the larger reconstruction objectives of those campaigns. Behind this decision was great concern that a more robust reconstruction initiative would lead US forces into larger efforts in the Balkans from which they might find it difficult to extricate themselves.2

The reconstruction mission in Iraq was far more ambitious than those in Bosnia and Kosovo. Indeed, one DOD official who visited Iraq in May 2003 to assess the size and nature of the reconstruction project wrote that the United States faced “a much more difficult problem than a traditional postconflict reconstruction challenge” and added, “the CPA is confronting the equivalent of both a defeated Germany in 1945 and a failed Soviet Union in 1989.”3 Such a massive undertaking would consume a great deal of resources and effort from American commanders and their Soldiers. Nevertheless, as the security environment worsened in 2003 and gaining the support of the Iraqi population became more critical, most US units recognized that the reconstruction of the country was not just a well-intentioned effort to improve the lives of Iraqis. US Soldiers found that for Iraqi citizens, having essential services (electricity and clean water) were second only to being safe and secure. If Coalition forces could provide basic services, they would make significant progress toward securing what many commanders viewed as the campaign’s center of gravity (COG)—the support of the population for the Coalition. Major General Peter W. Chiarelli, commander of the 1st Cavalry Division (1st CAV) which arrived in Baghdad in March 2004, adopted this view, contending “that public works projects [like electricity and water] may be more effective than guns in deciding the future of Iraq” and defeating the insurgency.4 Thus, reconstruction became a critical factor in winning over “fence sitters,” those Iraqis who gave active support to neither the Coalition nor the insurgency but were instead waiting to see which side would prevail. Reconstruction then became a key element in the campaign plans of CJTF-7 and Multi-National Force–Iraq (MNF-I) as well as in the plans of their subordinate units. This chapter examines how American Soldiers adapted the reconstruction mission, overcoming major cultural, political, and financial barriers in the process.

Chapter 9. The US Army and the Reconstruction of Iraq

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