(IRAQ to SEPTEMBER 2003 – continued)

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IRAQ to SEPTEMBER 2003 (7 of 7)

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Liberation versus Iraqi Sovereignty, to September 2003

President Bush wanted to give self-rule to Iraq quickly. Ten days before the US invaded Iraq from Kuwait he approved a Pentagon plan for an Iraqi Interim Authority: a body to consist of selected Iraqis who had been in exile and a greater number of "internal" Iraqis.

The invasion began on 20 March 2003 and was following the plan that General Tommy Franks had worked out with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. On 31 March, Rumsfeld, spoke of the desire of General Franks "to move quickly to put an Iraqi face on our efforts in Iraq." And the head of the CIA, George Tenet, expressed his concern about "outsiders" (Iraqi exiles) being imposed on the people inside Iraq.

By 16 April, US forces were in Baghdad. That war was not even one month old, and American troops had reason to feel satisfaction. They had done what was asked of them. But winning Baghdad militarily was accompanied by chaos and looting from government offices and installations everything movable, including electrical wiring and plumbing. It lowered the respect that some Iraqis might otherwise have had for the victorious Americans. Rumsfeld labeled it insignificant, saying, "stuff happens." General Franks visited his troops and spoke of a new Iraqi government taking over, and he announced that his troopers would be withdrawn from Iraq by September.

Photo of President Bush decorating Pau Bremer

President Bush decorates Paul Bremer with the Presidential Medal of Freedom

The question of returning political power quickly to the Iraqis arose at a press conference in the US on 21 April. Rumsfeld said that any suggestion that the United States was planning a permanent military presence in Iraq was "inaccurate and unfortunate." He added, "... we don't plan to function as an occupier, we don't plan to prescribe to any new government how we ought to be arranged in their country."

The Pentagon had sent to Iraq a former US Army General, Jay Garner, to administer a brief occupation. Garner and eight subordinates arrived on 21 April and found what he thought was a political vacuum in Baghdad. He rushed to get Iraqis involved in setting up a government of their own. At a 28 April 28 meeting in Baghdad, with the 250 Iraqis attending, it was resolved that the Iraqi Interim Authority that Bush had approved would be established within one month. Garner was trying to organize reconstruction efforts. He spoke of holding elections within 90 days and US troops withdrawing to a desert base. On 5 May, Garner announced to journalists that by mid-May "you'll see the beginning of the nucleus of a temporary Iraqi government."

Garner was at odds with an Iraqi exile, Ahmad Chalibi, whom the Pentagon had shipped to Iraq to help establish an Iraqi government. Garner disliked and did not trust him. Chalibi disliked Garner employing members of Saddam Hussein's political party, the Baathists, to senior positions. The local Iraqis did not know who Chalibi was and had no reason to trust or respect him.

By early May, Rumsfeld chose to replace Garner with J. Paul Bremer, a friend of Scooter Libby, chief of staff to Vice President Chaney. Bremer attended a National Security Council meeting on 8 May at which he was told not to rush to appoint an interim government. On 11 May, President Bush made Bremer's appointment official.

In his book War and Decision (page 438), Douglas Feith, the former Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, writes of Rumsfeld:

He told me he wanted to tap the brakes on the political process. After all, a new person [Bremer] had just been hired to take over the CPA [Coalition Provisional Authority]. With Bremer about to take up his duties in Baghdad, Rumsfeld was concerned about reports of Iraqi leaders' indiscipline and worried that they might undermine Bremer's ability to do his job.

Rumsfeld wanted a "light footprint" for the coalition forces to avoid the annoyance that accompanies the presence of foreign troops. Like President Bush, he wanted to be a liberator and not an occupier. But at the same time, Rumsfeld, who had been delegated to run the war, wanted the controls of a conqueror. According to Feith (on page 438), Rumsfeld wanted "to take time to judge the new leaders' competence, integrity and political acceptability."

Bremer arrived in Iraq on 12 May and announced a theme: "The Baathists are not coming back." There were about 2,000,000 Baathists in Iraq – largely Sunni Arabs. To many Iraqis it must have sounded like a pompous diktat from someone they did not know. Unlike Bremer, General Franks had been opposed to a plan to "disestablish" the Baathists. Feith (page 418) describes Franks as having told him: "If we 're going to promote democracy, we shouldn't be banning political parties." But Franks was not having his way.

Bremer stunned Garner by reversing what Garner had been doing. Bremer offered Garner a position under his authority. Garner refused and returned to the United States, where, on 18 June 18, reported to Rumsfeld. Not a diffident man, Garner told Rumsfeld of three mistakes that had been made: the extent of Bremer's de-Baathification; Bremer having gotten rid of the Iraqi army, which left hundreds of thousands unemployed and armed Iraqis running around; and Bremer having summarily dismissed an Iraqi political leadership group. Garner told Rumsfeld there was "still time to rectify this." Rumsfeld put Garner off with the reply, “I don’t think there is anything we can do, because we are where we are.”

On 1 July a CNN poll was published indicating that in the US the percentage of those who believed going to war in Iraq was worthwhile had fallen from 75 percent in April to 56 percent. US troops had been conducting raids north of Baghdad in a sweep known as "Operation Sidewinder." The raids were the latest effort to stop hit-and-run attacks that had killed 23 Americans and 6 British soldiers since the first of May – the day President Bush had declared his mission accomplished speech aboard the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln.

Meanwhile, Islamist fighters were making their way into Iraq attracted by the opportunity to make war against "Western occupiers." Al-Qaeda was setting up a new network there. A different kind of war had begun from the war that had been fought between March 20 and April 16.

General Franks took retirement on July 6. Leaving Iraq with him were the other top commanders that had helped produce the victory of mid-April.

In Iraq in September, British and US officials appointed 25 Iraqis to an interim political council. The council had the power to name ministers and was helping to draw up a new constitution for the country. But the authority that General Franks had expected the Iraqis to have was still lacking. Bremer on 16 September, told a group of Iraqi ministers that it was unpleasant being occupied but that "the Coalition is still the sovereign power here."

Douglas Feith, in his book War and Decision, published in 2008, (page 498), writes:

Had US officials promptly put Iraqis in charge of Iraq (perhaps working with UN officials, as in the Bonn Process for Afghanistan), the United States might have maintained the image of liberator in Iraq. No one can say that iraq would have glided smoothly to democracy if only the United State had seized that moment. But whatever problems were inherent in Iraq's emergence from decades of tyrannical stability, the United States aggravated the situation by setting itself up in the Green Zone – in Saddam's own palaces – as an occupying power.

Rumsfeld and his boss, President Bush, had deemed it necessary to postpone liberation and to side with the urge to control.


War and Decision, by Douglas Feith, 2009

The Duelfer Report, posted by National Public Radio, 2004

PBS Frontline's The Dark Side (referring to Vice President Cheney's comment on intelligence gathering rather than to something necessarily sinister), and Frontline's The Insurgency. 2006

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