The Iraq war ten years after: Bremer's story- I

 It has been ten years on the second US war with Iraq, the 2003 invasion. Much has been written and spoken about the war. What went wrong in Iraq after the invasion? Why did the US disband the army and the police? Why and how did Ayatollah Sistani rise to prominence in the post invasion Iraq even though he was of the quietist Shia orientation during the pre- invasion years? How did the US deal with the Sunnis of Iraq? How did the Kurds react to the invasion and what demands did they have for the New Iraq? What is the logic and reason for debaathification? What was the issue with holding free elections as pushed for by Ayatollah Sistani? 

An excellent source of insight into what went right or wrong after the old regime was defeated is My Year in Iraq by L.  Paul Bremer. Mr. Bremer was the head of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), George W Bush’s man in Iraq, a man who ruled Iraq for 14 months.  The sorry state of Iraq today, particularly the Sunni-Shia relations, the situation with the Kurds, has a lot to do with that critical period of the history of Iraq. Instead of approaching Iraq with the idea that a dictatorship was defeated and the democratically minded should set up a rule based on not only free elections but all the other important and critical elements of democracy, it is clear from reading Bremer’s memoir that the CPA dealt with Iraq as a contrived state with three discrete and competing communities. Baathism, the Arab nationalist ideology that ruled Iraq for decades and is still, at least nominally, ruling Syria, was seen as akin to Nazism.  Excerpts below clarify a number of important points on how America ruled/misruled Iraq. The subheadings are mine.

How does Bremer see the US legacy in Iraq?

Nonetheless, “WE can take a measure of satisfaction that we acted responsibly as a temporary custodians of Iraq’s sovereignty this past year,” I concluded that as a result of the president’s courage and the Coalition’s efforts, “Iraq has before it a path toward a better future. It is a future of hope for all Iraqis, a future where Iraqis can say what they want, study what they will, travel as they please, and pursue the daily joys of work, family, and faith which we in America have been privileged to enjoy for centuries. 393
How did  Bremer see conquered Iraq?
 After World War I, the British had cobbled Iraq together from three provinces of the former Ottoman Empire, an ally of Imperial Germany. The disparate people of Iraq formed a patchwork with sharp ethnic and sectarian differences. In the south, the Shiite Muslim Arab majority had strong religious ties to Iran. The Sunni Arab minority, about 20 percent of the population, was anchored on tribes and clans of central Iraq. And for hundreds of years, first under the Ottoman Turks, then under the Baathists, the Sunnis had ruled Iraq. Kurds and Turkmen, also Sunni Muslims, but not Arabs, dominated the north. And there were yet other minorities, such as Christians and Yazidis.38

How did Bremer see the Baath?
 For almost three decades, the Baath Party had subjugated Iraq. Like the Nazis and Soviet Communists, the Iraqi Baathist Party-dominated by Saddam and other Sunni Arabs-had controlled not only political life, but Iraq's entire society through a combination of police state terror and toadyism, while mismanaging a corrupt command economy. 38
The debaathification policy
“We don’t know Iraq as well as the Iraqis themselves do,” I said. So we had to engage responsible Iraqis from the start in the de-Baathification process. Further, we had to admit our order wasn’t perfect, but contained a degree of flexibility.”42
There was a sea of bitching and moaning [from ORHA- Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance] with lots of them saying how hard it was going to be. I reminded them that the president's guidance is clear: de-Baathification will be carried out even if at a cost to administrative efficiency. An ungood time was had by all. 45 [email to wife]

"I urge the Coalition to go beyond the decree issued today, to conduct even more aggressive de-Baathification," Chalabi said.48

          While I was dealing with the Kurds, Dick Jones and Scott Carpenter grappled with Ahmad Chalabi, who had suddenly proposed Draconian anti-Baathist language for the TAL. Our de-Baathification policy had targeted only the top 1 percent of the party’s members, but under Chalabi’s direction, the Iraqi De-Baathification Council had broadened the policy, for example, depriving thousands of teachers of their jobs. This was contrary to our policy since we recognized that under Saddam teachers were effectively forced to join the party or lose their jobs. Clearly I had been wrong to give a political body like the Governing Council responsibility for overseeing the de-Baathification policy. 297 
     Since abolishing the Baathist Defense Ministry and the Mukhabarat intelligence service the previous May, we had labored to lay the foundation for the responsible institutions to replace them. 320
          Many candidates with the requisite skills that David vetted turned out to be Sunni Baathists with blood on their hands. But eventually he had identified solid men for the jobs. 320
          At a subsequent NSC meeting that afternoon, Abizaid said the situation in Sunni areas was worse than expected. “We need to bring back more old army officers.” 338
          “We’ve got to remember that the Kurds and especially the Shia will be watching anything we do very closely.” 339
          In a subsequent meeting with the Governing Council, when Sanchez mentioned his intention to recall “several” Iraqi generals, many members, including Talabani, were firm that such a move had to be subjected to “strict vetting.” This was still a very sensitive issue. 341
          Should we call back members of the army? Should we revoke our de-Baathification policy, as some in Washington now seemed to want? 341
          This went well beyond the intent of our intent of our initial policy. Iraqi children were paying the price. But to say anything about de-Baathification would be to provoke a strong reaction from the Shia. 341
          I pointed out that I had explicitly said the policy was the right one for Iraq, but it needed to be better implemented. Chalabi said my proposal about the teachers was as if we had allowed the Nazis back into government in Germany. 344
          Later, speaking to Rice, I found that she has also been caught unaware by the appointment. “It looks awful on TV,” she said. “The guy looks just like Saddam!” 345 [former Republican Guard officer Saleh] 345

Why did Bremer disband the army?

"Not on my watch," I responded. Slocombe added that "recalling" the old army would therefore mean, at best, trying to construct some new units commanded by Sunni officers with the lower ranks, too, dominated by Sunnis loyal to them personally, potentially another set of warlords and militias. Moreover, even if we could find some Sunni officers who we were satisfied were uncompromised to lead such a force, most Iraqi Shia and Kurds would see this as the Coalition trying to restore Saddamism without Saddam.55

For a dozen years after the first Gulf War, the Kurds had enjoyed considerable autonomy, protected from Saddam's forces by American airpower. And in early meetings, Kurdish leaders Jalal Talabani and Massoud Barzani made it clear to me that the Kurds would "never" accept a formula to reconstitute and re-arm units of the former Iraqi army.55

The distrust the Shia population and leaders felt for the old army was, if anything, even deeper. They remembered the slaughter carried out by Saddam's army after the Gulf War, and many Shia felt lingering anger that America had not intervened then to stop the killing. Nonetheless, since Liberation, Shia leaders, including Grand Ayatollah Sistani, had encouraged their followers to cooperate with the Coalition. We couldn't risk losing that cooperation. 55

Walt noted that some might argue that bringing back vetted Sunni officers would co-opt the old officer corps to support the Coalition. But as Walt pointed out, this argument ignored the problem posed by the enormous size and top-heavy structure of Saddam's army. Sitting atop the 400,000 largely Shia draftees had been an officer corps of several hundred thousand, mostly Sunnis. Saddam's army had been about the size of the American army. But America was a country with more than ten times the population of Iraq, and the Iraqi army had 11,000 generals, whereas America's had only 300. P. 55

We carefully coordinated this critical process with the Pentagon. On May 19, I sent a memo to Secretary Rumsfeld detailing our recommendations for the dissolution of the Iraqi Defense Ministry and its "related entities," including Saddam's intelligence, security, and propaganda services as well as the army, other military units, and paramilitary forces. The action, I said, would be "a critical step in our effort to destroy the underpinnings of the Saddam regime, to demonstrate to the Iraqi people that we have done so and that neither Saddam nor his gang is coming back." 57
Once this plan had been approved by Washington, CPA and CENTCOM units focused on a two-phased approach to reintegration of demobilized Iraqi [58] soldiers. We sought out former conscripts, especially in the Shia heartland, for public works programs. Then Slocombe announced that we intended to have a full division NIA of about 12,000 soldiers trained and operational in one year, and three divisions a year later. We would recruit officers and noncommissioned officers from the old army, as well as from Kurdish and Shia anti-Saddam militia resistance groups, to command these new units. 57-8

Months later, as I was preparing to leave Iraq, Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani told me that the decision formally to "disband" the old army was the best decision the Coalition made during our fourteen months in Iraq.58

As our motorcade of armed pickups and white SUVs moved on, Barzani, still gazing over the fields of battle, grasped my hand and said, "Congratulations on formally abolishing Saddam's army. It's a wonderful thing you've done. It proves that the Coalition is serious about creating a new and united Iraq." 59

At an Iraqi NSC meeting May 2, Defense Minister [Ali] Allawi said it [Falluja Brigade] risked a “severe backlash among the Shia.” He noted that the unit would help stabilize the city only because the “enemy is inside the brigade.” 345
          The violent reaction to the Fallujah Brigade was dramatic proof of the danger the Coalition would have courted by trying to recall Saddam’s army, as some had proposed. 346
Bremer and the Governing Council
          “Look,” I said, “you can’t very well hope to run a country of 25 million people without working hard.  The Governing Council works fewer hours in a week than the CPA works every day.” 123

          The one issue on which the GC did work quickly was paying for itself.  A sub-committee chaired by Chalabi had come up with an outrageous budget for the Council.  Chalabi’s proposal was that members be paid $50,000 a year, when ministers received about $4,000.  They were to have a gasoline allowance, which David Oliver wryly noted would allow each member to drive fifty thousand miles a month in a country with poor roads! 124

          This day I told the Council that the budget they proposed for the twenty-five-member GC was more than that of the Education Ministry, which had more than 325,000 employees.  Chalabi protested that after all this was just a “draft” budget. 124

          “But look [addressing Meghan O’Sullivan, governance advisor] at the P-9, for God’s sake. When I asked to meet them yesterday to discuss the path ahead, half of them didn’t even show up. Pachachi hasn’t been in Iraq since August, Chalabi’s been gone a month, again. Barzani and Talabani haven’t been to Baghdad in weeks. How are we going to persuade anyone to take this crowd seriously” 202

The Elections

Response to Chalabi wanting elections:
Right, I thought. Without a constitution, with the Baathist legal code still in place, no census, no electoral laws, and no laws on political party activities. 89

I let him run his course and then recalled our first meeting in May. “I told the G-7 then that you didn’t represent Iraq.  You were exiles. I challenged you to broaden yourselves to include Iraqis who had lived here under Saddam, to add women, Christians, Turkmen, and tribal leaders.  You agreed to do it, but you haven’t.” 89

“I will certainly consider this,” he said.  On the way out, Chalabi bitterly noted to British Ambassador Sawers that from what he’d heard, we had far too many “Islamist” candidates for the Governing council.  He was a leading [90] secularist, better known for his love of things Western than Islamic.  At this point, Chalabi apparently saw his political future in a secular Iraqi government.

Iran and the US

"Let's start with security," I said. "The situation in Baghdad is improving. But we've still got problems. The violence is coming from three sources: looters, die-hard Baathists-who include Fedayeen Saddam-and Mukhabarat paramilitaries. The Iranians may be playing around a bit, too." 71

"What do the Iraqis think of that?" the president asked. 71

"Based on my talks with Shiite tribal leaders in the south and others, they don't want those guys from Iran mucking around in Iraq." 71
"Will they be able to run a free country?" he asked. "Some of the Sunni leaders in the region doubt it. They say, 'All Shia are liars.' What's your impression?"
"Well, I don't agree. I've already met a number of honest, moderate Shia and I'm confident we can deal with them."71

Now one more explosive matter involving Chalabi added to the tensions. On May 3, Newsweek had reported that Chalabi told an Iranian operative that America had broken Iranian Intelligence codes and was reading their secret messages. (Chalabi denied that he had done so, claiming the charges were a CIA smear.) 363

“They’re motivated by Iran,” Barzani said scornfully, showing again his distrust of the Shia clergy.

The constitution and the political system

Secretary Powell had kept a thoughtful silence for most of the discussion. We'd known and respected each other for years-since he was U.S. Army V Corps commander in Cold War Europe and I was American ambassador to the Netherlands. Now he said, "Some assumptions, Jerry: Assuming the best case over the next few months and we get representative government in Iraq, that'll have a Shia majority. Will we also have Sharia law, as in Nigeria or Pakistan?" He referred to Islamic law based on the Koran. 73

“Mr. Secretary,” I said, “it’s my understanding that Sharia can exist side by side with Western secular law as it does here in Qatar as long as Sharia is limited to family issues.” 73
I recognized that he [Roman] was right. But as usual in Iraq, our problem was still more complicated. The Kurds and Sunnis didn’t want the U.S. to give up authority unless they had confidence that they would not be at the mercy of the Shia Islamists. So they insisted on having written guarantees in place concerning federalism and minority rights before the U.S. government relinquished political control. To achieve this, they wanted a constitution. 211

“Well, we’ve got three main problems: how to resolve the Shias’ concerns about elections, how to reach out to the Sunni Arabs, and how to keep the Kurds on board.” 267 [telling Tony Blair]

First among them was the role of religion.  The Shia Islamist parties, SCIRI and Dawa, had proposed that the TAL assert that the Islam is “the” basis of all law.  The issue was a political hot button to all sides.  In December, SCIRI’s Hakim had taken advantage of his tenure as GC president to force through Resolution 137, which called for the imposition of Sharia across Iraq.  This was anathema to the Kurds and Arab Sunnis, but also to secular Shiites, especially women.  At the time, I had publicly refused to sign their resolution into law. 292

          On February 27, the Islamists returned to the Council with the role of Islam still unsettled.  In a surprise move, Pachachi opened the meeting by calling on one of the GC’s female members, Dr. Raja Khuzai, a secular Shia doctor.  She had brought a crowd of women and press into the council chamber, and proposed repealing Resolution 137.  Caught off guard, the Council voted to repeal the resolution, which provoked loud ululations from the crowd and an angry walkout by the Islamist Shia members. 293

          I added that the TAL [Transitional Administrative Law] respected the rights of every citizen—a not-too-subtle reminder that Sharia law might infringe the rights of non-Muslims, as well as secular Muslims, and of emancipated women.294

There were serious challenges. The security problems with Muqtada al-Sadr and Fallujah were unresolved. We’d simply postponed inevitable showdowns in order to preserve the fragile political process. The Islamist Shia had never accepted Brahimi, the secular Sunni Arab nationalist, and they were still uneasy about the UN, Saddam’s longtime unofficial “ally” in their eyes. Some Shia worried that the CPA might not respect their majority status in Iraq and deny them a plurality in the interim government. Yet the Sunnis clearly needed broader representation in the new government. And the Kurds, well, they were sure to be demanding. 348



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