Fallujah: Iraq’s most dangerous city unexpectedly emerged as the major battleground of the Iraqi insurgency. For twenty months, one American battalion after another tried to quell the violence, culminating in a bloody, full-scale assault. Victory came at a terrible price: 151 Americans and thousands of Iraqis were left dead.
The epic battle for Fallujah revealed the startling connections between policy and combat that are a part of the new reality of war.
The Marines had planned to slip into Fallujah “as soft as fog.” But after four American contractors were brutally murdered, President Bush ordered an attack on the city–against the advice of the Marines. The assault sparked a political firestorm, and the Marines were forced to withdraw amid controversy and confusion–only to be ordered a second time to take a city that had become an inferno of hate and the lair of the archterrorist al-Zarqawi.
Based on months spent with the battalions in Fallujah and hundreds of interviews at every level–senior policymakers, negotiators, generals, and soldiers and Marines on the front lines–No True Glory is a testament to the bravery of the American soldier and a cautionary tale about the complex–and often costly–interconnected roles of policy, politics, and battle in the twenty-first century.
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“What kind of people loot dirt?”
Throughout most of Iraq, the latter days of April, 2003 was a time of great joy. Saddam’s murderous regime had collapsed; the shooting and bombing had stopped; and people could go anywhere they pleased and say anything they wanted. In Baghdad, the American forces were greeted with smiles, waves and shouts of joy. On the eastern bank of the Euphrates near the French embassy, wealthy Sunni suburbanites—anxious to win favor—led American Marines to the estates of Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz and high-level generals. When the giant Stalinesque statue of Saddam, arm raised and mustache bristling, fell in Firdos Square, Americans and Iraqis alike were pulling on the ropes. April 2003 was an interlude of good cheer, reminiscent of the liberation of Paris in 1944—a moment in time when people forgot their wants and their fears and flocked to the streets to cheer the soldiers.
In Fallujah, though, the residents did not cheer when paratroopers from the 82d Airborne Division drove into the city in late April. In Baghdad, looters as numerous as locusts had stripped every government building, even carting away bricks. In Fallujah, the windows and electric fixtures at the Baath headquarters at the Government Center remained intact. Most looting was confined to the industrial sector, and only the poor people who lived south of Highway 10 greeted the Americans with smiles. Across the Euphrates south of the city, the large estates of prominent Baathists and army officers stood empty but untouched, securely guarded by the curlicue Baathist symbol on the courtyard gates. Saddam’s apparatchiks did not consider themselves defeated. They were in temporary hiding and Fallujah was still their bastion, untouched by the war and unbowed by the presence of a few hundred American soldiers.
At dusk on April 28, 2003—Saddam Hussein’s birthday—a raucous mob of about a hundred men, women, and children pushed their way into the courtyard of the mayor’s office, where the 82nd had set up headquarters. The paratroopers had no warning that an anti-American demonstration was planned and had no idea what the Iraqis were protesting or why. The mob accused the surprised American soldiers of spying on women with night-seeing binoculars and of showing pornography to children. Using translators and loudspeakers, a group of paratroopers warned away the mob. The crowd walked several blocks to another neighborhood, where they harassed another detachment of paratroopers. Several men in the crowd were firing AK-47s into the air, which the veteran paratroopers interpreted not as a threat but as bravado. They told them to move on.
The mob then walked to a schoolhouse to harass another platoon of paratroopers, who were sleeping inside. It was well after nine and dark. The crowd had a new demand: the soldiers had to leave immediately so that the children could go to school the next day. As the mob pressed up to the schoolyard wall, three Iraqis on a nearby roof started shooting their rifles.
Inside the schoolhouse a squad leader, convinced he was under fire, radioed his company commander for permission to return fire. At the same time another sergeant radioed the same request. Believing his men were under attack, the company commander gave the order, and the keyed-up paratroopers unleashed a fusillade of automatic weapons fire. In the next several minutes fifteen men, women, and children were killed and dozens were wounded. None of the paratroopers were injured.
The next day seven major Western news outlets sent reporters from Baghdad to cover the story. Most filed similar stories about a terrible tragedy caused by a sudden flare-up in the dark. Several Iraqis had fired weapons, they reported, but while the Iraqis said they had been shooting in the air, the American soldiers said they had been the targets. The reporters wrote that they did see graffiti written in English on the walls of the school where the soldiers were sleeping, disparaging the Iraqis with slogans like “I love pork” and a drawing of a camel with the words Iraqi Cab Company below it.
The press focused on the human cost of the incident, the clash of cultures, and the bitterness the casualties had caused throughout the city. The shootings, according to the news accounts, would unleash a cycle of retribution: more deaths and more revenge attacks. But they gave no explanation as to why or how Fallujans had mounted an anti-American protest on Saddam’s birthday, just days after the regime had collapsed, at a time when most Iraqis were celebrating.
Six months later Jamil Karaba, a Fallujah resident, was arrested after he was overheard bragging about organizing the mob and planting gunmen among the protesters.
Called the “destruction-maker,” Karaba was an alcoholic former Baathist with several prior arrests and with ties to the gangster element in town. Provoking an incident was a centuries-old guerrilla stratagem for turning the people against the soldiery. And this time, as so often in the past, it had worked.
The next day a screaming mob carried on its shoulders the mufti Sheikh Jamal—the senior imam who interpreted Islamic laws—to the mayor’s office.
“All Americans leave Iraq!” he shouted, as the crowd roared in agreement.
Cities acquire caricature, if not character. New York is frenetic and brash; San Francisco is liberal and laid-back; Los Angeles is imbued with glitter and celebrity. Ask Iraqis about Fallujah, and they roll their eyes: Fallujah is strange, sullen, wild-eyed, badass, just plain mean. Fallujans don’t like strangers, which includes anyone not homebred. Wear lipstick or Western-style long hair, sip a beer or listen to an American CD, and you risk the whip or a beating.
For centuries the city had traded with—and stolen from—merchants who were headed east to Baghdad. The frontier town bordering an open desert attracted outcasts and criminals. In the early twentieth century European travelers learned not to tarry in Fallujah. After Iraq won its independence in 1959, Fallujah became a source of enforcers for the ruling Sunni-dominated Baath Party. The city’s tough reputation continued under Saddam.
Laid out in a square grid of wide boulevards, Fallujah comprised two thousand blocks of courtyard walls, tenements, two-story concrete houses, and squalid alleyways. Half-completed houses, garbage heaps, and wrecks of old cars cluttered every neighborhood. The six lanes of Highway 10 ran straight through the center of the two-mile-long city, from a traffic cloverleaf on the eastern end to the Brooklyn Bridge, over the Euphrates, to the west. South of Highway 10 sprawled the decaying buildings and waste pits of a decrepit industrial zone. On an aerial map the layout of straight streets and dense blocks of houses faintly resembled Manhattan, giving rise to nicknames. Next to the industrial zone was Queens, a poor section of shabby three- and four-room houses. North of Highway 10 were the spacious houses of East Manhattan and Midtown, with its established mosques. The Government Center was in Midtown, while the old souk and marketplace, called the Jolan, were next to the Euphrates to the west. Along the main street were the billboards, restaurants, repair shops, and other struggling efforts of a merchant class. It was a city of monochrome color, without architectural flair.
With forty-seven mosques in its neighborhoods and fifty more in the neighboring villages, Fallujah was called “the city of a hundred mosques.” For decades the city had been the repository of the extreme Wahhabi, or Salafi, traditions flowing in from Saudi Arabia. Saddam, distrusting Fallujans’ fundamentalism, had restricted their movements and used them as his cat’s paw.
Although 60 percent of Iraqis were Shiites, the 20 percent who were Sunnis had held the political power for centuries. When Saddam’s army was defeated and thrown out of Kuwait in 1991, the Shiites in southern Iraq, encouraged by ill-conceived American exhortations, had revolted. To crush them, Saddam incited sectarian hatred. The Shiites, he warned the Sunnis, were blasphemers who had to be killed to preserve the true Muslim religion. Imams in Fallujah and other Sunni cities led the faithful in the chant: “Our blood and souls to redeem you, O Islam.” Saddam’s army, led by Sunni officers, crushed the Shiite uprising.
Just before the Americans drove into Fallujah in April 2003, the mufti Jamal, the senior Sunni cleric in the city, warned the residents that the American invaders would turn Iraq over to the Shiites. The radical clerics were calling President Bush “Hulagu II,” a reference to the conquest of ancient Baghdad by the Mongol leader Hulagu, assisted by a Shiite leader who betrayed the ruling caliph. The Americans, the mufti told the citizens, were modern-day Mongols—infidel invaders and occupiers.
Fallujah’s pro-Coalition mayor, Taha Bedawi, could not stand up against the anger that the shooting had provoked. He asked the paratroopers to leave the city, explaining that revenge attacks were inevitable. Maintaining peace between tribes depended upon exchanging an eye for an eye, one life for another. If an insult went unavenged, the family and tribe suffered humiliation and were seen as weak, thus encouraging further attacks. While the mayor was talking, a group of men gathered outside under banners that read “US killers we’ll kick you out.”
The 82nd Airborne units withdrew on schedule in early May and were replaced by a company from the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment. In the following weeks, although the American soldiers kept a low profile, repeated firefights erupted. The regiment, assigned to patrol more than a thousand square kilometers, could devote fewer than two hundred mounted soldiers to Fallujah and its environs.
Every day on the dusty brown courtyard walls along Highway 10, more anti-American slogans were scrawled: “God bless the holy fighters of the city of mosques.” “Kill the infidel Americans.” “USA leave our country.”
The JTF decided to make Fallujah the “most occupied city in Iraq,” replacing the two hundred soldiers of the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment with fifteen hundred soldiers from the 2nd Brigade of the 3rd Infantry Division.
The Fallujah campaign of the 3rd ID had two prongs—the carrot and the stick. The “stick,” or force, focused on raids. The 2nd Brigade mounted raids at night on houses that had been identified by informers or by the OGA—Other Government Agency, aka the CIA. During the daytime the 3rd ID conducted large-scale sweeps to search for weapons and arms dealers, locking down whole sections of the city for several hours at a time.
The armored presence of the 3rd ID was intimidating. During the daylight hours things were usually calm, although Iraqi police often turned their backs on the Americans and children were as likely to throw rocks as to laugh and ask for candy. The men rarely smiled. Yet the children were friendly south of Highway 10. The brigade’s executive officer, Lieutenant Colonel Eric Wesley, and New York Times reporter Michael Gordon felt safe enough to walk into the old Jolan quarter and talk with Iraqis in the crowded souk. The Washington Post reporter Rajiv Chandrasekaran ate lunch at the Haji Hussein, a popular kebab restaurant.
The raids were getting results, but whenever the wrong house was searched, the entry tactic—smashing down a door in the middle of the night—frightened a family and created more hostile Fallujans. LtCol Wesley called the raid successes “linear,” like picking apples in a vast orchard one by one.
The brigade would have preferred to have “exponential” success, which involved the “carrot”: winning over Fallujan hearts and minds by infusing jobs, repairing infrastructure, and building relationships with the mayor, the sheikhs, and the clerics. The Americans would provide the city’s leaders with money and contracts. They in turn would reach out to the unemployed and disaffected, reducing the appeal of the insurgents and attracting recruits for the local security forces. If the Americans could show that they wanted to help improve the living conditions and would leave intact the city leadership and traditions, the theory went, then most youths would not support the insurgents.
Bargaining went on with the mayor, the sheikhs, and the city elders. The brigade called this a “relational approach”; you do something for me, and I do something for you.
“Let’s be reasonable about this,” LtCol Wesley told the city elders. “You have a stake in a better future, and we as American soldiers are here only to help you. We have no designs upon this city.”
Whenever the nighttime attacks decreased, the curfew was lifted. Amnesty and cash rewards were offered for weapons, albeit with scant results. The humvee replaced the tank and armored personnel carrier as the routine patrol vehicle, reducing noise and damage to the streets. As long as progress seemed to be made, the brigade would show the velvet glove rather than the iron fist.
Sorting out who among the tens of thousands of males was a committed enemy, though, and gauging the depth of the population’s hostility proved vexing. The soldiers spent days with bulldozers and rakes constructing a first-class soccer field downtown. When they finished and returned to base, a mob gathered at the soccer field, ripped down the goalie nets, scraped the dirt from the field, and heaped garbage on the site.
“What kind of people loot dirt?” a soldier asked.
Inside the city were enemies determined to prevent ordinary families from ever seeing that infidel invaders had improved their lives.
In July a massive internal explosion blew out the walls and demolished the roof of the Al Hassan Mosque, killing the imam and several other Iraqis. As a disaster crew removed the bodies, a crowd gathered to blame the Americans. “There is no God but Allah, America is the enemy of God,” they chanted, as others screamed that an invisible aircraft had dropped a bomb.
The situation threatened to escalate into a citywide riot. Ra’ad Hussein Abed, a city official who spoke good English and hoped eventually to be appointed mayor by the city elders, approached LtCol Wesley. He arranged a meeting with Sheikh Ghazi, one of the wealthiest and most powerful traders in the city, to try to defuse the tension. Ghazi, a shrewd and urbane businessman, admitted to Wesley that the imam was a radical preacher known to be building improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, to blow up vehicles on the highways outside town. He assured Wesley there would be no riot.
Wesley was convinced that alliances with Ra’ad and like-minded citizens who wanted the city to progress would undercut the appeal of the shadowy insurgents, who were offering fear of the Shiites and hatred of infidels. He believed that there were four types of insurgents: unemployed youths, religious extremists (who benefited by gaining a following), criminals, and former Baathists (the hidden planners and financiers). To pry away from the hard-core insurgents those motivated by revenge, the brigade paid a solatium—what Iraqi tribes called blood money—to the relatives of those who had been killed or injured in the April 28 shooting.
The city elders praised the 3rd Brigade for the action and asserted that the Iraqi police were ready to take on more responsibility. The 2nd brigade commander, Colonel Joseph DiSalvo, turned over the twenty-two checkpoints inside the city. But Mayor Taha was worried, fearing that his pro-American stance would leave him isolated. He warned that the opposition was biding its time, not softening its stance.
The brigade contracted with dozens of “companies,” sheikhs and loose groupings of unemployed men, to undertake projects like cleaning up the garbage. It purchased fans for the schools, air-conditioning units for the hospital, and a generator for the water-pumping station.
The needs of the city, though, overwhelmed the resources the Americans were able to offer. The brigade disbursed about $150,000 a week, while the city needs were a thousand times that amount, calculated at $150 million. There were 70,000 unemployed; an industrial park stood idle; and power, sewer, and water plants were decrepit. The farmers were clamoring for seeds, tractors, and gasoline; the schools had no textbooks or lights. Fallujah, like all cities in Iraq, had crumbled into ruin, as Saddam had looted his country. Any accountant would have declared the books hopelessly out of balance. But with their can-do spirit, the American soldiers had set to work.
The occasional sniper, mortar, and RPG round—harassment attacks—was taken in stride by the 3rd ID’s combat-hardened soldiers. IEDs, though, were a different matter. In Vietnam hidden land mines were the bane of the infantryman, accounting for 20 percent of the casualties and sapping morale. A grunt never knew when he would be blown up walking down a trail. In the flatlands of Iraq, the highways were the trails. IEDs accounted for 68 percent of all American fatalities. All who traveled the roads feared and loathed them.
IEDs were simple to make—just combine metal (for shrapnel) and an explosive armed with a blasting cap that could be set off by a radio frequency from a garage door opener or cell phone. The triggerman could be on a roof a block away.
The 3rd ID learned to spot IEDs—in the bloated stomach of a dead dog, a barrel tipped at an improbable angle, a cardboard box too heavy to be blown by the wind, a car parked in an odd place. In mid-July, though, one soldier was killed and three wounded when an artillery shell detonated as a convoy drove through western Fallujah. Dozens of local residents had driven around the device, but no one had warned the Americans.
In response, Lieutenant Colonel Eric Schwartz, the U.S. commander in the city, set up a checkpoint to search all cars. “If something like this happens,” he said, “we are going to take away one of their basic rights, and that’s freedom of movement.”
While no major firefights broke out against the enormous firepower of the 3rd ID, an underlying sullenness pervaded the Fallujans. Those who would be seen with the Americans—Taha, Ra’ad, Ghazi—trod carefully. They knew others were watching them, apprising how close they were to the Americans. The town had an edginess, an attitude of simmering resentment. Visiting Fallujah in midsummer, an experienced reporter, Rajiv Chandrasekaran of the Washington Post, called it “the most hostile place in Iraq.”
It was difficult to single out an enemy who looked like every other civilian. The insurgents wore no uniforms; they operated from their homes, not from military camps; they had no military communications that could be intercepted; and they had no rank structure, yet they all knew one another. Most guerrilla movements, like the Vietcong, had an identifiable hierarchy and a clear chain of command. Not so in Iraq, where in the summer of 2003 hundreds of independent cells operated when the spirit moved them. A rough analogy were the American Indian tribes in the nineteenth century, sharing a hostility toward the settlers while launching raids at different times for different reasons.
Throughout the scorching days of summer—as temperatures reached the 120s and 130s—the 3rd ID persisted with its two-prong approach: responding with force to attacks while working to establish good relations and modestly boost the moribund economy.
In late August the 3rd Infantry Division departed, to return home. LtCol Wesley left believing that the tragic killing of the civilians in April had triggered resentment in a traditional city controlled more by imams and tribes than by former Baathists. He was convinced that a huge influx of money could deflect recruits from the insurgency. The brigade, though, had but a pittance to spend, just enough to convince the residents that the Americans could really make a difference if they wanted to. The sheikhs, quick to criticize while angling for contracts, were unimpressed by the trickle of funds; the 70,000 unemployed remained unemployed; the IEDs persisted; and the soccer field lay looted of its dirt, evidence of a hidden, calculating enemy who could organize the people.
A Broken Chain of Command
IN THE CITY OF FALLUJAH, AMERICAN battlefield commanders acted as the police, the soldiers, the development planners, the economic administrators, the political advisers, and the court of final appeal. But unlike the colonial powers of Europe that had ruled the Middle East a century earlier, the Americans were filling their military, police, municipal, and political power roles without the assistance of an indigenous army and civil service bureaucracy. In this respect, Fallujah was typical of Iraq in the summer of 2003.
The April attack on Saddam’s regime and its headquarters in Baghdad had been overwhelming and the city had fallen more quickly than most had expected. The military leader of the Coalition (mainly American forces, with substantial British forces) was General Tommy Franks, who commanded CentCom. Before the war Franks had persuaded Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld that the development of postwar Iraq should remain under the control of CentCom.
“Unity of command is an essential principle,” he later wrote in his memoir. “In combat, there had to be one line of authority.”
This approach reflected a lesson learned from Vietnam, where in 1967 the thousand-man American reconstruction or pacification staff had reported to the U.S. ambassador. But progress had stalled due to bureaucratic turf wars and conflicting staff procedures. By contrast, the U.S. military had a clear chain of command and standardized staff procedures. So a frustrated President Lyndon B. Johnson had shifted the reconstruction staff and budget from the U.S. ambassador to the military commander, General Creighton Abrams. This move pulled together, under one undisputed authority, all the complex, competing, and often redundant U.S. civil and military pacification programs. It consolidated both policy and resource decision-making under a single military commander, charged with the responsibility for security.
Similarly, Rumsfeld agreed with Gen Franks that unity of command under military leadership was appropriate for Iraq. He appointed retired Lieutenant General Jay Garner as the CentCom deputy for reconstruction.
Three weeks after Baghdad fell, President Bush signaled that major hostilities had ended in Iraq. “We’ve done it,” the president declared to rousing cheers on board the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln.
Although the war seemed over, Iraq was nonetheless convulsed by looting. Television networks nightly showed pictures of friendly but uncontrolled mobs ripping apart government buildings. From the museum of history, artifacts dating back thousands of years were being hauled off in donkey carts. LtGen Garner and his staff appeared unable to get on top of the chaotic situation. President Bush soon decided to change leaders and organizations.
On May 10 he replaced Garner with former Ambassador L. Paul Bremer III, appointing him the president’s envoy to Iraq. Bremer would administer a new organization called the Coalition Provisional Authority, or CPA. He would report to the president through the secretary of defense and be vested with the broad policy-making and budgetary authority to build the new Iraq.
In regard to reconstruction, CentCom was thereby sent to the sidelines. The chain of command was broken into two pieces. If the war was over, there was no need for CentCom to remain in charge. Gen Franks, on the verge of retirement, enthusiastically agreed to abolish the post of his deputy CentCom commander for reconstruction. As Franks saw it, Bremer as the president’s personal envoy would bring to Iraq more political clout and money from the White House, which was exactly what was needed now that major hostilities had ended.
In early summer, as hostilities persisted, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld dismissed the attacks as the actions of “dead-enders” who had no chance of prevailing. On 17 July, though, Gen Abizaid reversed Rumsfeld’s assessment. The new head of CentCom said the situation had evolved into a “classical guerrilla-type campaign.” Far from being over, the Iraqi war was continuing as an insurgency.
With Iraq under wartime conditions, the closest historical analogy to Bremer’s post as envoy was that of the British viceroys in India in the late nineteenth century. Back then, though, the British controlled a large indigenous army commanded by British officers, and the viceroy approved all major military operations. Bremer’s case was different: he had the responsibility and the money to create Iraqi security forces—police and soldiers—in any model he saw fit, but he had no authority to approve, veto, or even comment on U.S. military operations.
Bremer set up headquarters in a vast, heavily guarded baroque palace in Baghdad called the Green Zone. Gen Abizaid established a forward headquarters in Qatar, four hundred miles south of Baghdad, splitting his time between Qatar and CentCom’s other headquarters in Tampa, Florida. Abizaid designated LtGen Sanchez as commander of the Joint Task Force in Baghdad, responsible for operations in Iraq. Sanchez was intense, unaccustomed to political-military geopolitics, and comfortable dealing with the details of military operations. Bremer was intense and intelligent, expert in geopolitics and the ways of Washington, and swift to wield his decision-making authority.
Because Bremer’s fledgling CPA was ill-organized and lacked sufficient State Department volunteers to act as provincial advisers, during the summer of 2003 the American and British battalion commanders acted as the de facto mayors of all Iraqi cities, reestablishing primary services and jump-starting governance. Forty battalions scattered across a country the size of California were swamped with demands for back pay, security, sewage, electric power, medical care, fuel, clean water, and the thousand-odd municipal services Americans take for granted. The CPA hadn’t either the staff or the funding to be of much practical help; in their frustration, the battalion commanders referred to CPA as Cannot Provide Anything. Across the country personal and organizational relations between the CPA and the JTF became strained.
Among the resources not provided was training and equipment for the Iraqi municipal police departments that under Saddam had investigated petty crimes and indulged in small-time graft. The dreaded intelligence service (Mukhabarat) and the army had dealt swiftly and harshly with the serious criminals. After the Saddam regime disintegrated, the CPA envisioned that a police force of 85,000 countrywide could provide internal security, as did the police in American cities.
As the senior CPA police adviser explained, “It’s as simple as, when have you ever seen police lead a coup? If you build a strong police force, you have a republic. If you build a strong military, you have a banana republic.”
Whatever its theoretical merits, the CPA security plan was irrelevant to conditions inside Fallujah. The police in Fallujah could expect scant help from the CPA, which did not have any staff in the city and little money to aid in a major way.
In the early fall of 2003, as the 3rd ID was pulling out of the city, Fallujah was not a major topic of discussion at the White House. The president and his advisers, though, were concerned that the Pentagon and the CPA weren’t acting as a coordinated team, even as pressures from the Shiites were mounting for immediate elections. So in October a third chain of command was added: the Iraq Stabilization Group, whose purpose was to coordinate Iraqi policy from inside the White House.
In charge of the group were the national security adviser, Dr. Condoleezza Rice, and her experienced deputy, Ambassador Robert Blackwill, who was appointed deputy assistant to the president for Iraq. Bremer and Blackwill were colleagues who had worked together in the State Department.
Thus three powerful and strong-willed personalities—Abizaid, Bremer, and Blackwill—had three separate chains of command and communication channels on Iraqi matters. Abizaid reported to Rumsfeld; Bremer reported to Rumsfeld and, as the president’s personal envoy, kept the White House informed; and Blackwill reported to Dr. Rice at the White House.
The priorities and the information sources of the three were vastly different. Bremer faced the most prodigious task—navigating Iraq toward a politically and economically sustainable democracy while relying on a thin staff in the provinces to provide information outside Baghdad. Blackwill was focused on preparing the path for transitioning to an Iraqi government, with eventual elections. Abizaid, working through Sanchez, had the most complete data about security and economic conditions throughout Iraq. While Ambassadors Bremer and Blackwill were concentrating on the Shiites for political stability, Generals Abizaid and Sanchez were concentrating upon the guerrilla war.
In the fall of 2003, in Fallujah and throughout the Sunni Triangle, north and west from Baghdad, there existed no effective local police and no Iraqi army. Approximately 150,000 American soldiers were fighting several thousand insurgents hidden among five million Sunnis, whose leaders were telling them they had all been disenfranchised.
The absence of Iraqi military units and leaders stemmed from two decisions that Ambassador Bremer had made in May. The first was to ban senior members of the Baath Party—a political organization that had served Saddam’s regime and provided the entry point for careers such as medicine, teaching, and the military—from government positions. Kurdish and Shiite leaders, who had been oppressed by the Sunni Baathists, acclaimed the ban enthusiastically.
The second decision was to abolish the army. Bremer said he was merely codifying a fact; namely, that the Iraqi Army had dissolved. But on the ground that wasn’t quite true. Every American battalion commander was being besieged by Iraqi officers offering to come back to work and bring their soldiers with them. American divisions even had plans designating Iraqi units to be re-formed.
Both the Pentagon and CentCom had the chance to object to Bremer’s edict, but neither did so. When Bremer announced his decision in May, the Pentagon, CentCom, and the CPA shared the misimpression that the shooting war was winding down and that consequently there was no need to rush a tainted army back into service. Hearing no serious objection from CentCom, CPA started to develop from scratch an Iraqi Army that would protect the country’s borders and be excluded from any internal role. Countering an insurgency was not a mission of the new Iraqi army.
Although Gen Abizaid declared in July that Iraq faced “a classical guerrilla-type campaign,” neither CentCom nor the CPA made any major alteration in strategy or budget. This would emerge as a major problem. Reflecting the view that prosperity is the cornerstone of security, in early fall Bremer submitted to the U.S. Congress a budget requesting $18 billion for Iraq, of which 80 percent was allocated for development (electricity, sewage, schools, and the like) and 20 percent for security (police, the army and border guards). At a time when the insurgency was growing, the policies and the resources of the CPA presupposed an Iraq at peace.
Beginning in late August and running throughout the fall, the deputy secretary of defense, Paul D. Wolfowitz, concerned about the trends, asked the CPA to reallocate funds to develop forty or more National Guard–type Iraqi battalions. One or two battalions would be sent to each Sunni city to back up the beleaguered and outgunned police. Wolfowitz’s request resulted in a series of budgetary tussles with Bremer, who joked to his staff about having “to feed the squirrel cages back in the Pentagon” and referred to the “6,000-mile screwdriver from Washington.”
Bremer’s span of control and the enormity of his duties were staggering. He was responsible for selecting an Interim Governing Council, advising Secretary Rumsfeld and President Bush, informing the United Nations, preparing to return sovereignty, and determining Iraqi economic and security policies and budgets. In light of the onerous restrictions imposed by Congress, readjusting security spending was no easy task.