By Richard Sale, author of “Clinton’s Secret Wars”
The stated aim of the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 was to promote an American style democracy in Iraq, and this meant creating a free market economy and building of a society based on the rule of law, according to then President George W. Bush and his advisors.
Using the “war on terror” as a premise, U.S. companies made millions attempting to build courts, ministries political parties, police, yet the funding necessary to promote a democracy in Iraq was meager, inadequate and ill-funded. According to Middle East experts like former Ambassadors David Mack and Ned Walker, and former president of the Middle East Institute, Phil Stoddard, the Bush administration disdained nation-building from the start. It thought it could dislodge the old system without having thought through what it would take to put a new system in place.
In fact, American attempts to create a workable democracy in Iraq were nothing but a hollow pretense, and the U.S. failure was chiefly due to America not understanding the structure of political power in Iraq. Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein had run the country with the help and support of the secular Sunni Moslems in Iraq who made up 50% of the population. The Bush design was to rebuild Iraq, a foreign country, by decapitating the group who had run it for decades and instead giving new power to rival tribes and religious sects, mainly the Shia Islamics, many of whom were allied to Iran.
Whitney Bruner, a former CIA official who had been the CIA Chief of Station in Baghdad for three years, told Truthout that an Iranian spy by the name of Ahmed Chalabi had for years tried to lure the United States into a low-intensity war against Iraq to defeat the Iraqi ruling group, the Baathists, who were seen by the Bush Administration as Arab Nazis. “The aim of Chalabi and the neocons was to destroy secular Sunnis in Iraq,” Bruner said. “Chalabi was an Iranian spy, smoothing the way for Iran,” Bruner said, a verdict confirmed by former senior CIA officials, some with active security clearances.
Saddam was a dictator who relied more on loyalty than on military competence and used relatives or Sunni secular loyalists in key positions, and the Iraqi Army at the time of the 2003 U.S. invasion enjoyed wide popular support among the Iraqi people at large, according to retired Army Col. Pat Lang, the former chief of Middle East operations for the DIA who had spent years in Iraq. He said in a recent interview that the Army “was the pride of the nation.” The Iraqi Army was the center of the country’s power, and in 1998, when President Bill Clinton gave the order to bomb Saddam’s installations in Operation Desert Fox, not a single bomb was dropped on the Iraqi army, according to then CENTCOM commander, Gen. Anthony Zinni.
The Iraqi army had other functions that included providing jobs for the populace which also helped to hold the country together. Lang said that Iraq was a nation of civil servants who depended on their paychecks for their survival. Having the help of the Sunni Arabs in rebuilding Iraq after the Bush invasion was seen by many Middle East experts as key to rebuilding the conquered nation and creating a new democracy.
After the 2003 U.S. invasion began, groups of senior Iraqi Republican Guards met with senior U.S. generals. At that time, the Iraqi military were not fighting with the invading U.S. units in the field, but were falling back, according to sources and published accounts. (1) Many U.S. officials, especially U.S. generals, wanted the Iraqi Army kept intact. Gen. Jay Garner, for example, saw the Iraqi Army as a source of labor, and he wanted to “screen out the bad guys” then use other Iraqi soldiers for reconstruction. As these discussions continued, Iraqi officers were still asking U.S. generals if they would continue to get their salaries.
But it was a neocon faction in the U.S. Defense Department and the White House that made a dreadful error that would result in a nationwide collapse of security and an insurrection that would cost over 2,800 American lives in the field. The chief U.S. official in Iraq and head of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), Ambassador Paul Bremer, wanted to fire the Iraqi Army en masse and rebuild from scratch. By firing the Iraqi Army, he said, the United States would be relieved of the burden of paying it. What was the point of paying for an army that had fled its post? It was said. Thus, with one blow, by one fiat, the Americans purged the Iraqi Army of Saddam’s Baathists, destroying the Iraqi Army, the Iraqi Ministry of Defense, and Saddam’s intelligence communities -- a total of 300,000 people who had run the key government ministries. Plus, under the new Bush program, there was no provision for retaining former troops for other jobs. All of those fired and left out on the street were chiefly Sunni Arabs. In other words, Bremer’s decision left half of Iraq’s population with no political voice.
In the words of a Bush official, two-star Gen. Carl Strock, the fall of Saddam was expected to “create a Wizard of Oz moment.” After the wicked dictator was deposed throngs of Iraqis would hail their liberation and go back to work for the new American regime. This simplistic approach was embraced by the White House, Strock said. (2)
The disestablishment of the Army and the Ministry of defense and Iraq’s intelligence communities was a failure to understand the regional dynamics, the debacle due to vast ignorance of rival religious and ethnic groups. Bremer said in a memo that he wanted to “eradicate Saddamism.” By his order, the top levels of the Baath Party were to be barred from holding jobs but to the Iraqis, it appeared that the United States was more and more reluctant to turn over power to the Iraqis, according to U.S. officials interviewed by Truthout.
One of the first huge mistakes was cancelling local elections that would have given Iraqis some measure of control over their own affairs. The CIA had installed a Sufi as mayor of the central Iraqi town of Najef who was not only unpopular locally but was getting bad press in the international media. Bremer told the U.S. military to fire the mayor, which was done, but the U.S. military in Najef wanted to hold an election. At this news, there was a wave of joy because the Shias in Najef, long oppressed by Saddam, wanted to elect their own candidate and felt they would have an opportunity to govern themselves. Instead, Bremer cancelled the election. He was afraid the wrong candidate would be elected. The U.S. Marines in Najef complained that this was not what they had in mind “after hearing the White House talk about bringing democracy to the Middle East.” (3)
Iraq Relief and Reconstruction Fund (IRRF) 2 which was touted as the chief engine for rebuilding post-war Iraq, in fact allocated “relatively few resources” for that goal, (4) Only $10 million in IRRF2 funding went to civil society programs, and almost no money went for anticorruption with was rife in Iraqi society. The United States never even began to carry out in conquered Iraq substantial steps to produce an Iraq that exhibited strong and democratic and local governments
In 2003-04, the CPA and the U.S. Embassy recognized the need for more money to support the political process as outlined in the Transitional Administrative Law (TAL) needed to create democracy. Bremer’s CPA moved money into democracy projects on the grounds that Iraq was about to regain its new sovereignty in November 2003. The CPA reprogrammed $358 million from infrastructure projects to democracy building while DOD, State and ISAID were to make efforts to develop new political parties to replace the old Sunni dominated ones. Another $380 million was moved into that program after a 2004 strategic review gave another $100 million to strengthen local and provincial governments and $300 million to reduce sectarian conflict. (This produced only negligible results.) In May of 2004, the CPA established the Independent Electoral Commission. But lacking sound political knowledge, CPA decided that Iraq had to be regarded as a single voting district which meant, in practice, that the candidates would be responsible to their parties, not the voters. So much for democracy.
By then there was armed insurrection by Shia warlords against the U.S. occupation, plus the excluded Sunni groups, half of Iraq’s population, had begun to attack U.S. troops because they suspected U.S. efforts at creating a liberal democracy under the rule of law were a sham, a cloak for U.S. occupation. They would be proved right. The first “free” Iraqi elections took place on January 30, 2005. A State Department report said, “Today, free elections are transforming Iraq. Economic recovery is also picking up, with GDP growing from $18.9 billion in 2002 to $33.1 billion in 2005.” And President Bush brayed, “Today the people of Iraq have spoken to the world, and the world is hearing the voice of freedom from the center of the Middle East.” (5) Hardly. In fact, the elections were not “free” at all because they had already been compromised by an Iraqi politician, Iyad Alawi, who garnered 14 percent of the vote, getting about 40 seats. His presence in that election needs comment because he had been both a paid CIA agent and a CIA asset before the election took place.
During the Clinton administration, the CIA was busy recruiting men who would act as assets and agents inside Iraq. There was a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) that said that if Saddam was to be toppled, the impetus would have to come from within his most intimate military circles, and this is where the CIA focused its efforts. There had been an assassination attempt in 1993 that had been put together by the Republican Guard that was almost successful. Saddam was to be killed as he moved about from one secret location to another. The plot had been betrayed with only 24 hours to go.
President Clinton and his advisors put together a plan called the “Silver Bullet Coup.” The CIA was looking for someone who would poison or shoot Saddam, according to former U.S. Ambassador Ned Walker. At the CIA, the hawks rooting for the coup included James Pavitt and George Tenet. Former U.S. diplomat David Mack said “the word from on high was ‘stay with it’ and people did.”
Troubling questions remained. Iraq was a society of 150 or more tribes. By destroying a leader who was the center of power, would the United States unleash anarchic chaos? (Under Bush it would.) But to U.S. Middle East analysts, to render a country leaderless meant not only to remove an unjust force, but also to take away the inducements, safeguards, restraints that heretofore had operated to maintain society and its secure functioning. With the advent of anarchy, wouldn't people discover it was possible to do all sorts of atrocities with impunity? Loot, burn, sabotage, and kill? As Lang said, if Saddam had secured order by means of fear, it was still order. On the eve of the Desert Storm War of 1991, Lang talked of mistaken U.S. assumptions one of which was that the United States would underestimate the Iraqis, seeing them as cowards, and the other being the fact that in spite of Saddam being “criminal, brutal and inhumane” in the eyes of his people he was “still a legitimate ruler.” Lang had warned then that a war with Iraq “would not be a pushover.”
The centerpiece of the Silver Bullet Coup (SBC) was the exile outfit, the Iraqi National Accord (INA). It had been formed in the 1990s by a reformed Baath Party member Iyad Alawi who was rumored to be an agent of Saudi Arabia, but according to Whitley Bruner, Alawi never worked for the Saudis, and the CIA had recruited Alawi in 1992.
Unfortunately, Alawi was a disreputable man of the shadows. In the early 1970s, when he moved from Lebanon to London, Alawi was still a member of Saddam’s secret intelligence service, the Mukhabarat, and in 1973 he had the job of heading the Iraqi Student Union in Europe, a key intelligence post that required him to cultivate the elite Arab students who were being schooled at the best universities in London. Operating out of the Iraqi Embassy and using his medical studies as a cover, Alawi tracked Iraqi dissidents and rebellious students and worked at his job until 1975.
“He was definitely a paid Mukhabarat agent,” said Vince Cannistraro who claims that Alawi worked as an assassin. “I know he was a hit man for a time, so if you’re asking me if Alawi had blood on his hands, the answer is yes.” Philip Stoddard, former CIA official and former president of the Middle East Institute noted that Alwai had indeed been a hit man, and added, “He was your basic thug.” Another CIA official confirmed that “Alawi did ‘wet work’ -- in other words, killing.” David Manners, former CIA chief of station in Jordan and head of the foiled DBAchilles coup, disagreed. “I don’t think it happened,” but he didn’t elaborate.
There is one discreditable episode that doesn’t easily lend itself to a recasting of the facts. Several former CIA officials, who asked not to be named, said that from 1991 to 1995, Alawi’s organization the INA smuggled car bombs and other devices into Baghdad from northern Iraq. One such bomb blew up a movie theatre in downtown Baghdad. In 1996, a former INA member, Amneh al-Khadeami, who claimed he was the chief bomb-maker, talked of the bombings in a videotape in which he complained of being shortchanged supplies and money. Former CIA Iraq analyst Kenneth Pollack said of the bombing, “Send a thief to catch a thief.” Alawi would be part of another CIA attempted coup, DBAchilles which was wrecked by a double agent. “Alawi was corrupt to the core,” said Cannistraro.
In 2003, with the Iraqi Army disbanded, Gen. Garner lobbied to get more funds for his Office for Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance in Iraq. He was planning to attach U.S. advisors to the top Iraqi ministries to manage the country until a new U.S. sponsored Iraqi government was in place. The new government was to include Ahmed Chalabi, the Iranian spy and Alawi plus other exiles who had been meeting with the Bush White House in London and Kurdistan.
Within the administration, there was an ongoing dispute over the problems that would result by purging the old regime and thereby depriving any new government of the human capital it needed to succeed. Of course, setting up a new interim government faltered. Chalabi, for example had zero popular backing, and suddenly the excluded and scorned Sunnis began to attack the American presence. Alawi, for his part, had pressed for limited de-Baathization, but it was discovered that he had contracts with the Iraqi military, according to published accounts. (6)
Local corruption was a way of life in Iraq as it was elsewhere in the Middle East, and it usually involves large public procurement projects, “more funding infusions and inadequate government economic management,” the U.S. had nothing in place to fight it. According to a SIGAR document, “Iraqi corruption exerted a corrosive force upon (the) fledgling democracy contributing to flight of capital that directly harmed the country’s economic viability.” (7) The institutions of government were “undermined by the widespread association of political elites with corrupt activities.” (8) ibid.
Under Bremer, the CPA failed to provide adequate resources to the institutions it said it wanted to create, the Commission of Public Integrity (CPI) and the ministry inspector generals (IG) system. The Iraq Inspectors General’s office created by Bremer was ineffective because it was seen as “a foreign body inserted into Iraq’s body politic.” (9) Bremer authorized only $35 million for the CPI, not nearly enough for it to be effective, says SIGAR audits.(10). The illusion that the Iraqis were to eventually govern themselves was laid bare when it was learned that the CPI has no powers of arrest. Although the CPI was formed in January 2004, it was leaderless until the last days of 2004 when Bremer appointed CPI’s first commissioner. The State Department gave only $11 million to train investigators. Criminal cases were assigned to an overburdened court charged with prosecuting terrorism, organized crime and ethnic and sectarian violence. The CPI had an 8 percent conviction rate. In 2006-7, when Iraqis came to power, CPI voided 48 cases involving 102 defendants and CPI members became targets of assassinations.
Iraq’s Board of Supreme Audit, created in April 2004 was to be an entity similar to the U.S. government accounting Office (GAO), but it balked at investigating corruption. It had a staff of only 1,200 and had only five computers and had only 100-15- real auditors. (11) U.S. funding for anti-corruption efforts were pointedly inadequate. In sum, the anti corruption measures of the United States were deemed “fragile,” according to a State Department and a 2006 SIGAR audit.” (12).
In May of 2005 the U.S. was pushing the Iraqis into drafting a new constitution but the Sunnis resisted. They had been largely cut out of the negotiations. They disliked the federal model, wanting a more centralized government.
Sporadic Efforts to Establish the Rule of Law.
There was never any U.S. coordinated effort on establishing rule of law programs. There were simply not enough capable personnel. There was little effective coordination between “U.S. elements in Iraq, between Washington elements and the field, and between the United States and its coalition partners, potential donors and NGO implementers. SIGAR concluded in its audits that “the government had been very slow to disburse the few funds allocated for rule of law projects, particularly regarding capacity building” within Iraq. (13)
The inability to build Iraqi courts is another outstanding U.S. failure. The Iraqi courts were disbanded at the same time as the Iraqi army. At the time of the U.S. invasion Iraq had about 710 judges. U.S. efforts to build courts foundered in part because the Iraqi legal establishment felt it was “detached from the planning and rehabilitation process” and the CPA had largely left out Iraqi lawyers in helping build the new court system. (14)
Unfortunately, when it came to finding competent judges, the U.S. Department of Justice team failed to include a single Iraqi legal professional, and the CPA was using inexperienced people making arbitrary decisions affecting Iraqi law. “Iraqis are feeling like strangers in their own country,” said an Iraqi official Al-Sarraf. (15) The new Iraqi justice system was to be powered by the political biases of the neocons. The CPA had to determine if judges who had served under Saddam could continue in office. One hundred eighty were dismissed. By the fall of 2003, few Iraqi courts were up and running, and because of Sunni attacks, and they accounted for only 20 convictions and only 80 trials nationwide. When CPA tried to construct courthouses, they did not have enough resources to be successful. Corruption was still a major force, with many police and court investigators accepting bribes. With sectarian violence rising, by the end of 2008, attacks on judges were a plague, with more than 40 judges or family members being murdered. Many judges quit and fled, leaving Iraqi more corrupt and dangerous.
Under U.S. authority contractors in Iraq were to be “reimbursed for all expenses, regardless whether the projects have been successfully completed,” according to SIGAR congressional testimony.(16) The testimony goes on to say “In the unstable environment of 2004, cost-plus contracts appeared to be an open check book.” (17) The contractors complained of working in a dangerous environment but the fact was the U.S. government was “negligent about controlling costs,” according to the head of SIGAR, Stuart Bowen in testimony before Congress. (18)
The four year cost for rebuilding was originally estimated at $55 billion but it grew to be $60 billion with at least 10% having been wasted and not used effectively, and that total is rising all the time, according to a Feb. 13,2013 SIGAR audit. Some reforms enjoyed some success in controlling costs while existing structures “perpetuated existing problems.” (19)
The Rights of Women
After Hussein's fall in 2003, women leaders in Iraq saw a key opportunity to gain more power in Parliament. Yet the sad fact is that the United State’s involvement in Iraq was seen as detrimental to women. Since Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki was elected Prime Minister of Iraq, not one woman has been appointed to his senior cabinet. Former President Jimmy Carter had warned that it would be ironic if women in Iraq enjoyed fewer rights under the U.S.-sponsored constitution than under Saddam Hussein, but that is what happened. Constitutionally, women lost a number of key rights after the United States entered Iraq. The Family Statutes law, which guarantees women equal rights when it comes to marriage, divorce, inheritance, and custody was replaced by one that gave power to religious leaders and allowed them to dictate family matters according to their interpretation of their chosen religious text. (20)
(1) Cobra II, The Inside Story of the Iraqi Invasion, Michael R. Gordon and Gen. Bernard E. Trainor.
2. op. cite, p. 537
3. op cite, p. 562
4. Testimony of Stuart W. Bowen, Inspector General, Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, before the House Subcommittee on International Organizations, Human Rights, and Oversight of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, United States House of Representatives, Feb. 24, 2010 337 page document, pp 203
5. op. cite, pp. 205
6. Gordon, Trainor, op. cite, pp. 546)
7. SIGAR Testimony, pp. 211
9. SIGAR Testimony, pp. 214
10. SIGAR testimony, pp. 215.
12. ) SIGAR testimony pp. 216
13. SIGAR Testimony, pp. 207
14. SIGAR Testimony, pp. 209
16. SIGAR Testimony, pp. 178
19. SIGAR Testimony, pp 179.
20. VSalbi, Zainab. "Why Women Are Less Free 10 Years after the Invasion of Iraq". CNN. Retrieved 15 May 2013.)