Authors: Donald Rumsfeld
Defense officials repeatedly urged State and its representatives at the CPA to improve police training and devote more resources to the task.
But just as he had with regard to the training of the army, Bremer argued against having the U.S. military take over Iraqi police training. “I do not agree with placing the Iraqi police program under the military command,” Bremer wrote me in February 2004, after I informed him that DoD would be assuming responsibility for police training. He said the transfer would “convey to the Iraqis the opposite of the principle of civilian standards, rules and accountability for the police.”
This would have been a compelling argument if Iraq were Nebraska. But it wasn't. It was a war zone that was suffering from a vicious insurgency. We needed a capable police force to bring law and order and gather intelligence to stop the insurgency from metastasizing further, and we needed it fast. Too much time had been wasted already. The whole process had cost us a yearâand done incalculable harm to our country's mission in Iraq in the interim.
he early months of the Iraq occupationâthroughout the summer of 2003âsaw the stirrings of an Iraqi insurgency. In August, the illustrious United Nations envoy to Iraq, Sergio Vieira de Mello, was killed when a flatbed truck filled with explosives barreled into the UN headquarters in Baghdad. Twenty-two other UN officials were also killed. The attack sent a chilling message to nations and organizations that were then considering joining the stabilization and reconstruction efforts. From that point on, our efforts to persuade countries to contribute became considerably more difficult.
Military commanders told me that before the attack they had warned UN officials several times that cement revetments and gates were needed to protect the UN compound. In declining to heed those warnings, they explained to our commanders, “That would make us too much like you.” After the bombing, the United Nations closed its mission and withdrew from Iraq.
When the signs of a resistance movement emerged that summerâgrenade attacks, small-arms fire, the occasional suicide bomber, or car bombâwe tried to identify who and what was fueling the movement. At first, the insurgency consisted of former regime figures and common criminals. On the eve of the invasion, Saddam had released one hundred thousand prisoners who contributed to the lawlessness.
Eventually the insurgency extended to groups like al-Qaida, which tapped into popular Sunni hostility against the Shia as well as the resentment that many Sunnis felt at the loss of their political privileges. Though the Sunni resistance initially seemed to lack organization and strength, its forces were soon being augmented by foreign fighters, jihadists who began pouring across Iraq's borders from Syria and Saudi Arabia.
The resistance was centered in Iraq's western Sunni provinces. Because the 3rd Infantry Division had been denied access to Iraq's north through Turkey, most of the Sunni territory was not covered by U.S. troops in the early days of the war. Major combat operations were over by the time U.S. troops reached those strongholds. This meant that cities like Fallujah, Tikrit, and Ramadi never experienced major battles with U.S. troops and became safe havens for insurgents.
In the list of intelligence shortcomings, the failure to highlight the dangers of an insurgency was among the more serious. Intelligence reports occasionally discussed the possibility of postwar disorder and instability, but I don't recall seeing a briefing that anticipated the likelihood of a sustained guerrilla campaign against the coalition.
Our intelligence community lacked an appreciation for the Baathist regime's ability to finance, command, and control an insurgency after Saddam's overthrow. They repeatedly asserted that ideological conflicts between the secular Baathists and the jihadist religious extremists of al-Qaida precluded strategic cooperation between themâyet such cooperation became the heart and soul of the insurgency.
Out of the dozens of intelligence and military briefings on what might be expected from a war in Iraq, the first time I had heard of the possibility of “protracted guerrilla war” came from someone removed from the intelligence community. In April 2003, as our troops raced northward through Iraq, a retired Marine colonel named Gary Anderson wrote an op-ed on the possibility of a guerrilla war. Anderson had served in Somalia and Lebanon and was steeped in the lessons of asymmetric warfare. “Many observers of the war with Iraq are focused on the looming battle for Baghdad in anticipation that it will be the culminating event of the conflictÂ ...Â ,” he wrote in the
several days before the fall of Baghdad. “But in the view of the Iraqi leadership, it may be only the end of a first stage in a greater Iraqi plan.” He warned about the rise of “a protracted guerrilla war against the âoccupation,' which the American-British coalition bills as liberation.”
He even raised the specter that the new phase of the war could be managed by Saddam himself. After reading Anderson's article, I decided it should be of interest to Bremer and Abizaid. Because I found it different from what we were being told, I also sent it to Myers, Wolfowitz, and Feith and asked them to give it some thought.
Senior DoD officials discussed what we should label this resistance movement in July 2003. I did not want to label the enemy inaccurately or give it legitimacy that it didn't deserve. As the new CENTCOM commander, Abizaid did an initial assessment of the problem. In one of his first press briefings as CENTCOM commander, he called it “a classical guerrilla-type campaign against us.”
Guerrillas can have positive connotations in many parts of the world. Many saw guerrillas as the brave vanguard of an outmatched force committed to bringing down a government through asymmetric means. I was also cautious about using the word “insurgency” at first. Insurgency struck me as an organized effort with a central command and control committed to the overthrow of a government. DoD's official definition of the term supported this interpretation.
In summer 2003, Iraq didn't have its own government and, moreover, the attacks seemed to lack central coordination. I told senior DoD officials that we had “to do a better job of using words that are well thought through and calculated to express exactly what we mean.”
I didn't want to end up with another label like “war on terror” that we might regret down the road.
Abizaid didn't back down. In response to my queries, he gave the reasons why he believed it was a guerrilla war: The resistance had some public support; the attacks were sustained and asymmetric; and it was beginning to demonstrate some organization. The growing momentum of the attacks, particularly in western, Sunni-populated areas, proved Abizaid's point. He had done what I expected of all those who served in the U.S. military: When questioned by the Secretary of Defense, he marshaled the facts and arguments to support his position. He convinced me that we were indeed facing an insurgency. In November 2003, I asked for information and briefings on historical insurgencies and what the lessons learned of Britain's successful counterinsurgency in Malaya (now Malaysia) during the 1950s were.
There was no mistaking that there was a gaping blind spot where our government and intelligence community might have anticipated the possibility of an insurgency in Iraq.
s the months went on, it was clear that when I made suggestions to Bremer, he did not take them well. His formal direction from the President to report through me was being ignored. He was receiving guidance directly from many in the administrationâthe President, Rice, Powellâand choosing which guidance he preferred. After four months of what looked to me to be a series of unfortunate decisions, I felt a need to intervene.
I was onboard a military plane returning to the United States after a four-day trip to Iraq and Afghanistan on September 8, 2003, when I scanned the Pentagon's “Early Bird,” a compilation of the top national securityârelated stories in major newspapers. One item that caught my attention was an op-ed by Bremer in the
entitled, “Iraq's Path to Sovereignty.” This was the first I'd heard of the article's existence. In fact, I had just spent two days in Baghdad with Bremer, and he had mentioned nothing about it, nor had he even hinted at the startling news it contained.
“[H]ow can we get Iraqis back in charge of Iraq?” Bremer asked in his article. “Elections are the obvious solution to restoring sovereignty to the Iraqi people. But at the present elections are simply not possible.”
He outlined seven steps that Iraq would have to take on its path to self-government, including economic progress, ratification of a constitution, and then elections. Only after the completion of these steps, Bremer wrote, would the CPA relinquish control of the country. I thought to myself that a turnover could take years under Bremer's policyâand if there were a stalemate at any step, it could take longer. This was quite a departure from our approach in Afghanistan. Afghans had had a sovereign interim government operating before their new constitution was drafted, let alone ratified, as a number of increasingly frustrated Iraqis noted.
I recognized, of course, that the plan Bremer was now outlining was similar to the approach long favored by the State Department, in which Iraq would regain sovereign power only after a multiyear period of U.S. administration. Indeed, Secretary Powell, at Bremer's request, flew to Baghdad to insist that this plan was the only way to ensure a successful and stable Iraq.
Bremer recounts Powell declaring to a meeting of the Iraqi Governing Council in Baghdad that giving sovereignty to the Iraqi leaders at that time was “entirely unacceptable.”
Bremer's decision to publish his op-ed without informing meâand his apparent decision to follow the State Department's viewâended even the pretense that he reported through the Department of Defense, or that I was in any way in Bremer's line of authority.
Yet I was astonished to learn much later that Bremer had approached the President about moving out from under his theoretical reporting relationship through me, citing my “micromanagement.” “Don terrifies his civilian subordinates,” Bremer reportedly told the President. “I can rarely get any decisions out of anyone but him. This works all right, but isn't ideal.”
The micromanagement charge was ironic coming from Bremer, of all people. Over the previous months I had worked to try to develop a good working relationship with him. I commended him for his work and made a point of noting whenever he seemed to be on the right track.
I still had considerable sympathy for the challenges he faced. He was in a tough job and getting criticism and advice from all sides. The Iraqis were pressing for more authority. The insurgency was blossoming. But Bremer and his CPA suffered not from too much oversight on my part but from too little. That needed to change. Bremer's op-ed reflected the still unresolved internal conflicts in the administration's Iraq policy. I decided it was worth a last-ditch effort to get it back on track.
eginning in September 2003, after Bremer's article was published, I assembled a review group on Iraq policy, headed by Doug Feith and Lieutenant General Walter “Skip” Sharp, the director of plans on the Joint Staff. I hoped to bring resolution to the unresolved debate about our strategy for when to hand over authority to Iraqis. With input from Generals Myers, Pace, and Abizaid, we reformulated the five principal U.S. strategic goals for an Iraqi government: renouncing terrorism, abandoning WMD and long-range missile programs, seeking peace with its neighbors, remaining a unified country, and developing the Iraqi economy.
Our plan called for the prompt assembly of a group of Iraqis to select an interim prime minister, help draft a constitution, and pave the way for elections. We also called for a date certain for the transfer of full sovereign authority: no later than the middle of 2004. I wanted to give Iraqis concrete assurance that the occupation of their country was going to endâand soon.
I asked Bremer and Abizaid to fly to Washington to discuss it with us at the Pentagon. My hope was to sit down with Bremer and have him offer ideas and input, with the ultimate goal of getting him to buy in to our plan. I had a sense that our effort might prove successful.
Prominent Iraqis had protested Bremer's views as set forth in his op-ed. They were not pleased with his assertion that Iraqis would be taking on substantive roles later rather than sooner. Their significant outcry seemed to have put Bremer in a more cooperative mood. In fact, I thought he might be ready to accept a dignified way for him to drop his plan altogether.
I cleared much of my calendar for the two days Bremer and Abizaid would be in Washington. Over the course of our hours-long meetings, we showed them our strategic review and solicited their thoughts.
As I had hoped, Bremer was receptive. By the close of our discussions, he had reversed his position that the Coalition Provisional Authority could not be dismantled until after elections were held.
On October 29, 2003, with Bremer's acquiescence, I presented the agreed-upon proposal to the President and the members of the National Security Council. As he heard our timetable, Powell again expressed reservations, calling the turnover plan “exceptionally ambitious.”
The President liked it, however, which was not surprising since it was in line with what I thought he had preferred to do all along. Bush soon set June 30, 2004, as the deadline for turning over sovereign power to the Iraqis. The occupation now had a foreseeable end.
As this was going on in October 2003, there was a curious development. A number of news outlets began to report that there had been a shake-up in the administration's Iraq policyâbut it was not the one that actually had just occurred. “President Bush is giving his national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, the authority to manage postwar Iraq and the rebuilding of Afghanistan,”
In what the
New York Times
called “a major reorganization” of the postwar effort, it quoted a senior administration official as saying that “[t]his puts accountability right into the White House.”
The news stories surrounding Rice's announcement reported that she had established something called the “Iraqi Stabilization Group,” with undetermined responsibilities. CNN reported that it “will be responsible for handling the day-to-day administration of Iraq.”
One newspaper ran a cartoon of Rice pulling down a statue of me in front of the Pentagon, as Saddam's statue had been pulled down in Firdos Square.
I thought it would have been terrific if Rice and her staff had the interest and skill to manage all U.S. efforts in Iraq and improve the situation. But they did not. In fact, the lack of resolution on issues relating to the administration's Iraq strategy at the NSC level had been a major contributing factor to the problems in the first place. Years later I learned that Bremer had been having a daily phone call with Rice at 6:00 a.m., Washington time. She had had ample opportunity to offer Bremer and the CPA management advice. After the press began speculating about the new powers of Rice's groupâand the supposed coup against the PentagonâRice tried to clarify the situation. Publicly she said she had consulted on the establishment of the group with various officials, including me. That was not the case. I was informed of the new group's existence as a fait accompli, but not consulted about whether it was desirable, necessary, or appropriate.
I sent the cartoon to Rice with a note saying she should keep it for her scrapbook.
The news stories about Rice's new management plan also repeated the widely believed canard that the State Department had been cut out of postwar planning.
The stories bore the unmistakable fingerprints of Powell's top aides.
I had been eager for the State Department to accept more responsibility in Iraq and would have been the last person to shut them out. When we asked the State Department to send experts to Iraq, they failed to meet their quotas.
When we asked for support for reconstruction teams in Afghanistan and Iraq, they struggled to fill them. When the State Department was in charge of training the Iraqi police, it did not get the job done. Powell was in National Security Council meetings and principals meetings on Iraq and shared in every major decision. It was a mystery as to what these State Department officials felt they were not involved in. I was skeptical that either the National Security Council or the State Department truly wanted to be accountable for the administration's Iraq policy, and I was all too aware that Rice and the NSC were not able to manage it.
On October 6, 2003, I sent a memo to the President with copies to Cheney and Andy Card. “In Monday's paper,” I wrote, “Condi, in effect, announced that the President is concerned about the post-war Iraq stabilization efforts and that, as a result, he has asked Condi Rice and the National Security Council to assume responsibility for post-war Iraq.”
I recommended that Bremer's reporting relationship be formally moved from Defense to the NSC or to State:
At this point there is a certain logic to [the] transfer. We all understand and agreed that at some point the stabilization responsibilities would move out of DoD.
Next, increasingly, Jerry Bremer has been reporting directly to Colin, Condi and you, as well as to DoD, so the effect of the change should not be major.
Third, the responsibilities that Jerry is currently wrestling with are increasingly non-DoD type activitiesâthey are increasingly political and economic.
Finally, Condi, in effect hasÂ ... announced that that is the case. To not make the transfer now will cause confusion as to where the responsibility resides.
I further noted that I had told Bremer months earlier that I would prefer to have him report to the President, Rice, or Powell. “[H]e is fully aware of my willingness to have this reporting relationship adjusted now that the circumstances there have matured,” I wrote.
No one took up my offer. In fact, Rice shortly thereafter reversed herself, apparently at the President's insistence, and informed the press that, contrary to her previous announcement, nothing about the administration's Iraq policy had changed.
One week later, after a principals meeting on October 14, 2003, Rice asked to see me privately. She apologized for the flap over Iraq and said that she was doing everything to correct it.
I interjected, “You're failing. You could have said something in the NSC meeting in front of the President and the principals.”
“Don, you've made mistakes in your long career,” she replied.
“Yes, but I've tried to clean them up.”
ver the first four years of the administration, I had repeated discussions with Rice and Card suggesting a series of reforms to the NSC process. Mindful of my own admonitions that complaints without tangible recommendations for solutions were generally unhelpful, I had sent a number of memos to Rice and Card proposing that they institute changes to improve the President's most important national security body. But there had been little or no improvement.
It was not pleasant to see these problems up close, knowing how they undermined our nation's policies.
On December 6, 2003, I went to Iraq to assess the situation on the ground and made another attempt to clarify Bremer's chain of authority. Meeting him at the Baghdad airport, we moved into the lounge, where I took him aside. “Jerry,” I began, “it is clear to me now that you are reporting to the President and to Condi.” My view was that he should report to Powell at the State Department, not to Rice at the NSC, and that State should take on the responsibility for the civilian aspects of reconstruction in Iraq.
“I will keep my hand in on security,” I said, “and I will try to be as helpful to you as I can, but I don't want four hands on the steering wheel.”
I also said I didn't think the NSC was doing its job well, and that Rice's taking on an operational role in Iraq was a grievous mistake. When the NSC staff engaged in operations abroad in the Reagan administration, I noted, they wound up overseeing a trade of arms for hostages in Iran and brought the Iran-Contra scandal down on the President's head.
Bremer told me that he shared my concerns about the NSC, and that he didn't disagree with or object to anything I said. I wished him well. At that meeting, as far as I was concerned, any lingering pretense that I oversaw his activities came to an end.
y the time I arrived in Baghdad that December, military officials told me they were beginning to believe they might finally have Saddamâofficially dubbed High Value Target Number Oneâin their sights. But reports of Saddam sightings were as frequent as they were unreliable. Even as a deposed dictator, he remained skillfully elusive. He had a number of hideouts and body doubles. He reportedly slept in a different place every night.
I put a high priority on Saddam's capture and considered it a critical step in giving Iraqis confidence that the old tyranny was gone and would never come back. Even after Saddam's overthrow, many Iraqis feared that the war was not overâand that the Baathists might be heard from again. They had lived in terror of the midnight knock on the door from regime agents for so long that they had difficulty moving past the worry that conceivably one day Saddam Hussein might return to power. Saddam had worked for decades to build his cult of personality. Suddenly turning himself into an amateur genealogist, he even declared he was a direct descendant of the prophet Muhammed. His picture was in all public buildings, on billboards, in homes, and in restaurants, reinforcing the idea in Iraqis' minds that he was everywhere and everything. Saddam had survived several wars, an earlier U.S. invasion, coups, and uprisings. Iraqis asked themselves, with justification, whether he might pull off such a feat again.
Even the death that July of Saddam's vicious sons, Uday and Qusay, had not been enough to overcome the fear that a Hussein regime could return in some form. Active participants in the regime's crimes, Saddam's sons long had been his heirs apparent and were rumored to be even more sadistic than their father. If Saddam died, Iraq under their leadership was likely to be even more oppressive and hostile to Western interests than it had been under Saddam. After the invasion, Uday and Qusay had gone into hiding. When coalition authorities tracked them to a building in Mosul, they became engaged in a fierce firefight, seemingly determined not to be taken alive. Their wish was granted.
After his sons were killed, there was an intelligence report that Saddam Hussein was paying $60 million for his agents to target the President's two daughters and my two daughters for reprisal attacks. That threat report was brought up at an NSC meeting in October 2003. I acknowledged it, but went on with our discussion.
“You need to take this seriously,” Bush said. He had received word that pictures of his daughters had been found in Uday Hussein's palace.
Tenet broke in, reinforcing the President's concern. “You took out Saddam's sons. They might well go after your daughters.” Needless to say, I was concerned about my family, but there was little I could do about it other than encourage them to take precautions.
On December 6, 2003, I visited Kirkuk in northern Iraq, where I met with Major General Ray Odierno. At a hulking six foot five inches, Odierno looked like a superhero in a movie. As commander of the Fourth Infantry Division in the Sunni areas to the north and west of Baghdad, he was leading the hunt for Saddam Hussein. I asked a number of questions about how close we were getting to him and what intelligence methods Odierno was usingâhuman intelligence, signals intelligenceâand how many suspects he was rounding up. Odierno made no promises but indicated that the trail was getting warmer.