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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 10
A Country United, Stable, and Free: US Army Governance Operations in Iraq


Growing Iraqi Grassroots: The US Army and Governance at the Local Level

Without a CMO plan, both the CA units and the tactical units they supported deployed to their AORs in late April and May 2003 without any understanding of how to deal with the Baathist governing institutions and what steps to take to reestablish the rule of law and proper administration. Like Major Gavrilis in Ar Rutbah, most commanders tried to make the right decisions based on what resources they had available and what courses of action seemed the most reasonable. Rarely did this mean that US Army units immediately established working democracies at the local level. Normally, the challenge was to simply reestablish Iraqi authority so that basic services and stability could be restored. In most cases, unit leaders removed Baathist bureaucrats, selected mayors and other officials to create a new administration, and organized and mentored advisory councils. In some AORs, Soldiers also facilitated local and provincial elections as a means of giving legitimacy to the new governing institutions.

The governance operations of the 2d Squadron, 3d Armored Cavalry Regiment (ACR) in May 2003 demonstrate some of the obstacles faced by Army units in the early stage of the new campaign. V Corps tasked the squadron to conduct operations in eastern Al Anbar province, and the unit focused much of its effort on Fallujah, a city of 250,000 people most of whom were Sunni Arabs. During Saddam’s tenure in power, Fallujah had become known as a bastion of Baathist loyalists and had close ties to the regime in Baghdad. The cavalry squadron took authority of the city in early May from the 2d Brigade, 82d ABN whose Soldiers just days before the transition had used lethal fire in response to what they believed was enemy gunfire directed at them during a large demonstration in which a number of Iraqis were killed and wounded.

Spread thin across the AOR and hoping to avoid positioning a large concentration of American forces in Fallujah, the commander of 2d Squadron hoped to place the Iraqis back in control of the city. He asked the attached CA team to assist the Iraqis in reinstating civil administration “to pre-war state or better.”24 Ultimately, the squadron leadership sought to create a civil administration that provided those services independent of Coalition military forces.25 To accomplish this, the squadron leadership and the CA team planned to remove Baathist officials in Fallujah, seat a new mayor in the city, foster support for the new civil administration among the sheiks and clerics, and eventually hold elections.26 When they transitioned control of Fallujah to the 2d Brigade of the 3d ID in late May—only 30 days after taking responsibility for the city—the squadron had only managed to hire a mayor, identify a small number of other individuals for service in the new administration, and place these men on the Coalition payroll. Local government in the eastern part of Al Anbar province would grow throughout 2003, but the constant realignment of military units in the province further hindered efforts to establish good working relationships between military leaders and local or regional Iraqi leaders.

Eventually, the 3d ACR and the 82d ABN were successful in establishing local and provincial bodies of government in Al Anbar.

Perhaps the largest obstacle to making good decisions about governance was a fundamental lack of knowledge of the Baathist system of government, especially at the provincial and local levels. While the Baathist Party exerted power through its own officials down to the municipal and county (nahiah) levels, Iraqi governance also included unofficial political authorities. In many parts of Iraq, tribal leaders held power and at times would exert their authority over the officials appointed by US units.27 In Iraqi villages, the local headman, often referred to as the mukhtar or shareef, maintained detailed records about everyone in their village and were often revered for their services to the community. While not Baathist officials, many had been corrupted under the Baathist regime, appointed to be Saddam’s “eyes and ears” at the local level.28 Despite their unofficial status, these men held authority and became critical to the governance effort. One mukhtar told a CA Soldier that Coalition forces would not be successful in Iraq without the support of village officials like him. Yet, the question about their loyalties and commitment to the Coalition project in Iraq remained unanswered.

If the structure of the Baathist state was difficult to detect, the processes by which it operated were no less opaque to the recently arrived Soldiers. In fact, by the 1990s cronyism and corruption had created a complex and byzantine system of powerful organizations and individuals who governed capriciously. Corruption based on bribes and power had worked its way into the state structure and worsened after 1991 because of the former regime’s decision to freeze salaries at low levels to deal with UN sanctions. In this environment, the most powerful positions and best salaries went to those in the Baathist Party who were loyal to the regime and not to the most efficient administrators. This problem confronted Major Larry Shea, a CA officer involved in creating local councils, in 2003. Shea based his organizing efforts in the rural areas surrounding Baghdad and, in an attempt to simplify his work, tried to base the new system on previous regional and local governing divisions. However, the Saddam regime had not maintained a rational, well-organized system. For Shea and others, even the attempt to discern the geographic and political boundaries of kadaas (districts) and nahiahs (counties) of which they were comprised, proved difficult.29 Major Dennis Van Wey, another CA officer working in the Baghdad area, also noted this problem: “We just had issues early on determining what the boundaries were for . . . the city of Baghdad and the kadaas and the DACs. Evidently, Saddam had changed boundaries several times based on who was in favor politically.”30

In this environment where personal connection defined government far better than rational structures and processes, US forces did not always appoint the proper person to authority. Lacking any real understanding of the political culture, CA Soldiers and other units tried to wade through the huge amount of information and opinions to choose the right people to hold power and make decisions. Some of their candidates were not warmly embraced by the local population. For example, in mid-2003 the Coalition authorities chose Abdullah al-Jaburi, a Sunni, as the governor of Diyala province, an area with a Shia majority. Perhaps for this reason, many Iraqis in the province did not view him as a true representative, and in October 2003 and again in May 2004 insurgents attempted to assassinate him.31

Despite this lack of understanding, most US units waded into the sphere of governance with great energy and commitment. Without a great amount of guidance, CA teams and unit commanders often chose to use advisory councils as the chief vehicles of political change. These councils began sprouting up at the local, district, and provincial levels soon after the Saddam regime fell and were seen by Soldiers as the means of imparting the key concepts and practices of representative government to Iraqis. Perhaps the greatest concentration of these councils was found in the capital city. Lieutenant Colonel Joe Rice, an officer in the 308th CA Brigade, played a key role in the early formation of the city’s local government. Rice served as a liaison between V Corps and ORHA and was invited to become part of the Baghdad Council’s Working Group. This group initially consisted of representatives from the State Department and the USAID.32 Rice brought practical experience to the mission of the working group. As a former may or of Glendale, Colorado, and with 10 years experience in local government, Rice became pivotal to realizing the council’s concept of establishing a system of neighborhood advisory councils (NACs), district advisory councils (DACs), and city councils in Baghdad. The CA officer, working within the group, created a system that used caucuses to select members to 88 NACs. Those bodies then chose representatives to serve in the nine DACs. The DACs then formed the base for the Baghdad City Council.

Because there were so few CA or other officers who had background in governance, Rice had to use military units to implement his council plan. He taught junior officers and noncommissioned officers (NCOs) the fundamentals of democracy on the local level, explaining how to hold caucuses and creating a guidebook for the councils explaining how the local government would operate.33 He explained that his handbook included “things like agenda formats, a little bit about the role of the local elected official, what’s in their lane and what’s not in their lane, rules of procedure for a meeting” and other topics.34 Eventually, Rice noted, the system worked quite well. However, the first steps in the plan to implement the concept were difficult because of the lack of planning before Operation IRAQI FREEDOM (OIF) began. As other CA officers recalled, no American officials in Baghdad, military or civilian, knew how many neighborhoods there were in the capital city or understood the boundary lines between the local political divisions. And no plan assigned resources to the mission Rice and the many Soldiers in Baghdad were just beginning to conduct. Rice recalled, “We had this grand vision but, again, who was going to implement and how it was going to be implemented, the details weren’t even thought of.”35

The NACs and DACs gave Iraqis their first taste of empowerment at the local level. In June 2003, in the midst of the initial sprouting of advisory councils in Iraq, First Lieutenant Jason Beck, an Army spokesman, described the purpose of the NACs and DACs as providing “a forum where Iraqis could raise their concerns. The councils are a mechanism where residents could actively participate in rebuilding their neighborhoods as well as their hope.”36 Some of the councils in Baghdad and elsewhere began to involve themselves in local reconstruction issues. Still, Rice asserted that ORHA and the CPA never established a well-defined relationship between the councils and the Iraqi ministries that coordinated most of the major decisions about economic and social plans and policy. While critical to the US Army’s initial campaign to establish new governance, Beck’s statement indirectly noted one important weakness of the concept behind the NACs and DACs: they served more as forums or sounding boards than actual governing institutions that could make decisions and take action.

By establishing and fostering councils, the US Army in Iraq tried to have an immediate effect on the political lives of the Iraqis in their AORs. Clearly, this approach was heavily improvised and Rice stated that guidance for governance operations in this period could often be summarized as “Okay Captain, you’re in charge of this neighborhood. Go make a council. Go make some Democracy.”37 In Sadr City, the poor and populous Shia neighborhood in the eastern portion of Baghdad, the 2d Armored Cavalry Regiment (2d ACR) did just that. Major George Sarabia of the 2d ACR explained how his unit, almost immediately after the fall of the Saddam regime, tasked low-level leaders to serve as mentors and organizers for the Iraqis:

We divided the city into sectors for politics and those sectors mirrored the sectors that belonged to our ground-cavalry troops. So, in other words, that platoon leader who was working with Sadr 1 Neighborhood Advisory Council, for example, did his patrols every day in that area of operations. And so we really wanted to link those two, link the political with the military and the security piece.38

S arabia recognized that the councils had to serve as a laboratory for the Iraqis, demonstrating how to organize and work within a new system that was foreign to their experience under Saddam:

As far as imparting Democracy 101, I think the platoon leaders did a pretty good job of that. You do that mostly by modeling the behavior that you’re trying to do. If you have a big argument, you might let the argument go on for awhile and then say, ‘Okay, but how are we going to resolve this. We have limited resources. How do you, as Neighborhood Advisory Council members, wish to resolve this?’39

To the Soldiers of the 2d ACR, these councils showed great promise by serving as an outlet of local political energy and agendas. However, Sarabia noted that the citizens involved in Sadr City quickly wanted more authority:

You had people, once they saw how this could work, saying, ‘Okay, great, we appreciate this advisory role and the chance to be at the grassroots level and see what’s out there, but now give us real authority so we can make those decisions,’ which the CPA was not prepared to do yet. So with my limited experience in Sadr City, the people were very well adapted and could understand these types of things and were wanting to get more power quickly—and how they would have used that is something we’ll never know, because they did have that advisory role.40

Improvising Democracy: The 3d Battalion, 67th Armor in the City of Khalis

In 2003, the 3d Battalion, 67th Armor (3-67 AR), part of the 4th Infantry Division, found itself responsible for creating a new system of governance in the city of Khalis, 35 miles northeast of Baghdad. Like other units in the same situation, 3-67 AR faced intense pressure from local Iraqis who wanted to create new local governance after the toppling of the Saddam regime. The leaders in 3-67 AR had little or no guidance from higher Coalition authorities on what processes to use in developing new government or even what those new structures should look like. Moreover, nothing in their training had prepared the Soldiers in the unit for creating electoral processes or any of the other numerous tasks connected to the complex project of establishing local government.

Still, the officers of the battalion jumped into the mission and created a hybrid system that featured both the election and selection of local officials. 3-67 AR decided to conduct elections at the kadaa (district) level first to be followed by elections at the lower nahiah (county) level. To make the new system work in a culture where nonelected tribal and religious leaders have traditionally held power, battalion leaders first assembled all the local leaders and from this gathering identified 40 people who agreed to serve on the kadaa council if elected. These names became the list of candidates from which the entire assembly of leaders subsequently chose. The 20 candidates receiving the most votes formed the council and they selected 1 individual from among themselves to serve as the mayor. While it certainly did not represent an American- style form of democratic local government, this model worked satisfactorily in the cultural and political conditions in north-central Iraq in 2003. The Soldiers of 3-67 AR took the template they had created for the kadaa level and used it to establish new systems of governance at the nahiah level.

Captain Steven Miller,
“3-16 FA, 4th ID, Conducting Elections in Iraq,”
Field Artillery, January-February 2004, 22-24.

A member of the Diyala Provincial Council cast his vote on 15 July 2003. The council selected a lieutenant governor and governor for the province.

Iraqis in some parts of the capital city did not gain their political voice immediately after the fall of Saddam. In one case, the creation of a local representative government required the involvement of energetic American officers who saw that the population in their AOR had been overlooked, not just by the Baathist government but also by the Coalition in its initial efforts to establish a local government. In early 2004, Bravo Company, 16th Engineer Battalion, a unit that supported the 1st AD in Baghdad, began to assist the North Kadhimiya community on the northern outskirts of the capital, which the Saddam regime had isolated. The Baathist state had for decades denied the 30,000 plus residents of the area basic government services such as electricity and drinking water.41 The engineer company began to assist the community by organizing a NAC. Soon after, the unit identified key community leaders and initiated regular weekly meetings, eventually leading the local NAC to gain a seat on the area’s DAC. The unit then conducted a variety of humanitarian and reconstruction operations that repaired roads, sewers, and schools as a way of granting legitimacy to the NAC. One benefit from this governance effort was the improvement in the security environment. Captain Mike Baim, the commander of Bravo Company, believed the effort was very worthwhile stating, “Looking back on our last year in Iraq, we have truly made a positive impact on the lives of the Iraqi people living in North Kadhimiya.”42

The Coalition’s political initiatives, however, did not always include an immediate shift to representative government. In fact, in some parts of Iraq in the summer of 2003 Army leaders chose to rein in the efforts to hold caucuses that would choose mayors, governors, and local bodies of self-government.43 In Diyala and Salah ad Din provinces in June 2003, for example, Major General Raymond Odierno chose to appoint key leaders rather than allow local elections to select those officials. Driving this decision was a larger concern within the military and the CPA leadership that anti-Coalition organizations, including insurgent groups and radical Shia militias, would hijack the electoral process and install their own candidates. These concerns led to the selection of Abdullah al-Jaburi as governor of the province, a politician who was not deemed as legitimate by many in the province. In Samarra, a city in Salah ad Din province, 4th ID leaders had selected Shakir Mahmud Mohammad, a retired Iraqi general, to continue serving as mayor rather than allow planned elections to be held.44 Despite Iraqi concerns about the delays in the process, Coalition leaders saw these appointments as temporary measures taken to further the stabilization of Iraq and prepare the country for the national elections and the writing of a new constitution.

Even in parts of Iraq where representative government did not flourish immediately, Soldiers sought to create legitimacy for the new Iraqi political establishment. The funneling of reconstruction projects to local governments was a common means of doing this. In Samarra, the commander of the 3d Brigade Combat Team of the 4th ID, Colonel Frederick Rudesheim, made a concerted effort to use the Samarra City Council and other local bodies as the sponsors of projects that created jobs and directly improved the lives of Iraqis. Rudesheim recalled that the Samarra Council initially wanted to pass credit to the American forces in the area: “The Samarra City Council offered, ‘We will tell them that you have given us this money.’ And I said, ‘No. We don’t want credit. We want the council of city X to say they gave this money.’” For Rudesheim, this perception was closely intertwined with the governance mission, “It was important that the city council—not us—was seen as the distributors of the money and received the credit for the projects that were completed.”45

One of the more ambitious unit efforts to create a functioning and representative form of government was the 101st ABN’s campaign in the city of Mosul located in Nineveh province. In May and June 2003 the division leadership quickly decided to create an interim government while the CPA established its guidance and goals. Major General Petraeus, the division commander, then initiated a process that, while improvised, led gradually to procedures that were essentially democratic. Petraeus based his actions on a strong belief that having Iraqi partners who knew the region and the ways in which the country worked was essential to gaining Iraqi support for the Coalition’s vision for the new Iraq. He described the process he used to create new governing institutions in the following way: “We met very intensively all day, every day, for about not quite 2 weeks, with an ever expanding group of people. Of course, this group would bad-mouth that group and so on, as we met with various elements, but we started to get a good feel for what the elements in the society were, in a sense, in need of representation.”46 The division leadership soon discovered that standing up a representative government in a region divided along ethnic lines was a extremely complex. Petraeus stated,

We ran a caucus, if you will, of about 270 people that were from all these different groupings, and then were broken down by categories, and they would vote either for the Kurdish members of the Province Council, the Christian member, the Yazidis, the Shbak, the Turkoman, the tribes outside the city, the tribes inside the city, and on and on. You had all these different categories, and there was an agreement already among the group that the Province Governor would be a Sunni Arab. There was no question that it would be a Sunni Arab (the majority of the province) that the Vice Governor would be a Sunni Kurd (since that was clearly the second largest grouping), and that there would be two Assistant Governors; one would be a Christian and one would be a Turkoman. Then we sorted out the rules on how all this was going to happen.47

This selected group of 275 delegates chose the interim executive positions of governor, vice-governor, and assistant governors as well as a provincial council with representation from across the region.48 The system was not perfect and did not represent every constituency adequately. As Petraeus noted, this was the trial and error part of a difficult process:

“Over time . . . we convinced them to add representatives from two different districts that turned out not to be adequately represented, one of which included a huge tribe that basically just lost the election. They just hadn’t campaigned effectively and then they got into a snit and walked out. They were learning democracy.”49

Once the division had established a provisional Iraqi government, its Soldiers began several large-scale programs to rehabilitate key agencies in the Mosul area by assigning staff sections and subordinate tactical units to specific institutions. Petraeus, for example, tasked the 159th Aviation Brigade to help the Iraqis reestablish Mosul University. The commanding general himself served as the political advisor to the provincial governor and the link to the two principal Kurdish leaders in the other two provinces for which the division was responsible. The 101st ABN’s governance program was ambitious and largely successful. However, it had taken place in a relatively permissive security environment and had required many of the unit’s resources. Still, Mosul and Nineveh province stand as an early success story in the Coalition’s effort to bring representative government to post-Saddam Iraq, and the structure put in place by the 101st ABN proved quite durable, lasting essentially unchanged until the transition to Iraqi sovereignty in June 2004.

The efforts to build and strengthen representative government continued in 2004 bridging the OIF II transition that brought new forces to Iraq. The 1st CAV, which took over responsibility for operations in Baghdad from the 1st AD, continued to work with local councils in the capital. Major General Peter Chiarelli, the commander of the 1st CAV, not only included governance as one of his division’s five lines of operations, but also saw the creation of legitimate and effective governing institutions that extended basic services and security to the population as a powerful tool in the fight against the insurgent’s attempts to create a shadow government.50 To help create a vibrant local government, Chiarelli created a governance support team inside his division led by the senior engineer officer and staffed with Soldiers who had experience with contracting and other governance-related jobs. In the commander’s words, this team served as the “connecting tissue” that brought his subordinate leaders, US civilian officials, NGOs, and Iraqi institutions more closely together.51 Like Petraeus, Chiarelli made personal links between his leaders and Iraqi officials in his AOR. The commanding general served as the advisor for the governor of Baghdad province, the city’s mayor, and deputy mayors. The brigade commanders in the 1st CAV worked closely with district-level leaders, and the battalion commanders advised neighborhood councils, tribal leaders, and clerics.52

In similar fashion, the Soldiers of the 1st Infantry Division (1st ID) that took responsibility for much of the Sunni Triangle in early 2004 built on the foundation of the local government created by the 4th ID. In Diyala province, the 1st Battalion, 6th Field Artillery (1-6 FA) began conducting full spectrum operations in March 2004, focusing much of its attention on the provincial capital of Baqubah. The battalion commander, Lieutenant Colonel Steve Bullimore, inherited a governance system from the 4th ID that featured district councils and a city council that wielded authority in partnership with a mayor.53 By the time the Soldiers of 1-6 FA moved into the area, the Iraqis had created a political system that operated efficiently with US forces. Still, the battalion’s leaders served as mentors to assist the Iraqis in creating processes that vetted contracts and disbursed funds. Additionally, even though the official governance system had gained a measure of traction in the province, Bullimore found himself spending a great deal of time negotiating with tribal leaders in the area and working diligently to ensure that insurgent intimidation in the area did not prevent the growth of good governance. Ultimately, the battalion commander had become hopeful about the potential for a representative government in Diyala province and the efforts of his Soldiers along that line of operation. He recalled that the Iraqis “were looking for our example and they were very excited. The movers and shakers are very excited about this democracy thing but it is all very new to them.”54 Bullimore tempered that optimism by recalling what the mayor of Baqubah had told him, “You must be patient. You have over 200 years of experience with this and your past is not all perfect. We have no experience. This is going to take time. There will be corruption, there will be issues, but we are all going to work through this.”55

Chapter 10. A Country United, Stable, and Free: US Army Governance Operations in Iraq

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