US Postwar Iraq Strategy a Mess, Blair Was Told

March 14th, 2006 - by admin

Ewen MacAskill / Guardian – 2006-03-14 08:13:21,,1730429,00.html

US Postwar Iraq Strategy a Mess, Blair Was Told
Ewen MacAskill / Guardian

(March 14, 2006) — Senior British diplomatic and military staff gave Tony Blair explicit warnings three years ago that the US was disastrously mishandling the occupation of Iraq, according to leaked memos.

John Sawers, Mr Blair’s envoy in Baghdad in the aftermath of the invasion, sent a series of confidential memos to Downing Street in May and June 2003 cataloguing US failures. With unusual frankness, he described the US postwar administration, led by the retired general Jay Garner, as “an unbelievable mess” and said “Garner and his top team of 60-year-old retired generals” were “well-meaning but out of their depth”.

That assessment is reinforced by Major General Albert Whitley, the most senior British officer with the US land forces. Gen Whitley, in another memo later that summer, expressed alarm that the US-British coalition was in danger of losing the peace. “We may have been seduced into something we might be inclined to regret. Is strategic failure a possibility? The answer has to be ‘yes’,” he concluded.

The memos were obtained by Michael Gordon, author, along with General Bernard Trainor, of Cobra II: the Inside Story of the Invasion and Occupation of Iraq, published to coincide with the third anniversary of the invasion.

The British memos identified a series of US failures that contained the seeds of the present insurgency and anarchy.

The mistakes include:

· A lack of interest by the US commander, General Tommy Franks, in the post-invasion phase.

· The presence in the capital of the US Third Infantry Division, which took a heavyhanded approach to security.

· Squandering the initial sympathy of Iraqis.

· Bechtel, the main US civilian contractor, moving too slowly to reconnect basic services, such as electricity and water.

· Failure to deal with health hazards, such as 40% of Baghdad’s sewage pouring into the Tigris and rubbish piling up in the streets.

· Sacking of many of Saddam Hussein’s Ba’ath party, even though many of them held relatively junior posts.

Mr Sawers, in a memo titled Iraq: What’s Going Wrong, written on May 11, four days after he had arrived in Baghdad, is uncompromising about the US administration in Baghdad. He wrote: “No leadership, no strategy, no coordination, no structure and inaccessible to ordinary Iraqis.”

He said the US needed to take action in Baghdad urgently. “The clock is ticking.” Both Mr Sawers, who is now political director at the Foreign Office, and Gen Whitley see as one of the biggest errors a decision by Donald Rumsfeld, the US defence secretary, and General Tommy Franks, the overall US commander, to cut troops after the invasion.

Mr Sawers advocated sending a British battalion, the 16th Air Assault Brigade, to Baghdad to help fill the gap. Although the US supported the plan, Downing Street rejected it weeks later.

The British diplomat is particularly scathing about the US Third Infantry Division, which he describes as “a big part of the problem” in Baghdad. He accused its troops of being reluctant to leave their heavily armoured vehicles to carry out policing and cites an incident in which British Paras saw them fire three tank rounds into a building in response to harmless rifle fire.

Mr Sawers, who had been British ambassador to Egypt before being sent to Iraq and is at present on a shortlist to be the next ambassador to Washington, sent the memo to Mr Blair’s key advisers, including Jonathan Powell, the No 10 chief of staff, and Alastair Campbell, head of the Downing Street press operation at the time.

Mr Sawers, in later memos, welcomed the replacement of Gen Garner with Paul Bremer, a US diplomat. But in a memo written in June 25, Mr Sawyer concluded that, despite Mr Bremer’s arrival, the situation was getting worse.

In that memo, Mr Sawers expressed opposition to further troop reductions. “Bremer’s main concern is that we must keep in-country sufficient military capability to ensure a security blanket across the country. He has twice said to President Bush that he is concerned that the drawdown of US/UK troops had gone too far, and we cannot afford further reductions,” Mr Sawers said.

Throughout his time in Iraq, however, Mr Sawers remained optimistic Mr Bremer would make a difference.

His views in the memo are echoed in a note by Gen Whitley, who says that while Gen Franks took credit for the fall of Baghdad, he showed little interest in the postwar period. “I am quite sure Franks did not want to take ownership of Phase IV,” Gen Whitley wrote.

He added that Phase IV “did not work well” because the concentration was on the invasion. “There was a blind faith that Phase IV would work. There was a failure to anticipate the extent of the backlash or mood of Iraqi society.”

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The National Strategy For Disaster In Iraq

In Early March, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld appeared before the Senate Appropriations Committee to request $65 billion in emergency security funds for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, on top of the $369 billion the United States has spent already. This appearance came amidst deep dissatisfaction among the US public over the war (only 30 percent approve of President Bush’s handling of Iraq), increasing sectarian violence, and a troubling human rights situation.

The testimony by Rice and Rumsfeld did little to reassure the American people that the administration is using taxpayers’ money wisely, amounting to “more or less a recitation of the administration’s standard formulations on Iraq,” according to the New York Times. Rice and Rumsfeld’s testimony yesterday ignored the US responsibility for Iraq’s current state of instability. The administration’s post-invasion failure to properly train security forces, oversee detainee interrogations, and plan for reconstruction have left a situation of chaos and insecurity in Iraq. (American Progress has a plan to move forward.)

In yesterday’s hearing, Rumsfeld touted the progress of Iraq’s security forces, noting that Generals George Casey and John Abizaid “have been impressed by the work of the Iraqi security forces.” As a sign of their increased capabilities, Rumsfeld said that in the case of a civil war, the plan would be “have the Iraqi security forces deal with it to the extent they’re able to.” But Rumfeld’s positive testimony focused primarily on the Iraqi Army and ignored the struggling — yet crucial — police force, which the United States has not prepared to restore order during a civil war. Senior military advisors acknowledge that “[t]rying to reform the police forces could take years, because sectarian loyalties have become entrenched, and police officers are rooted in their communities.”

When Shiite militiamen attacked dozens of Sunni mosques after the February bombing of the Shiite Askariya shrine, many “police units stood aside, either out of confusion or sectarian loyalties, according to Iraqi witnesses.” Rumsfeld’s testimony ignored the administration’s responsibility for the unprepared state of the police force, which has been “exacerbated by a lack of steady oversight” on the part of the United States. As of March 2005 — two years into the war — the Pentagon still had not developed a “system to assess the readiness of Iraqi military and police forces so they [could] identify weaknesses and provide them with effective support.” Reflecting Rumsfeld’s blind spot on the Iraq army in his testimony to the Senate, ” US advisors to the police units have been stretched thin as the United States focused on training Iraqi army recruits.”

Two years after his promise to shut down Abu Ghraib prison, Bush will finally do so. Prisoners from Abu Ghraib — now called an “incubator for terrorists” by US commanders in Iraq — will be moved to Camp Cropper, where Saddam Hussein is being held. But closing the infamous prison will not erase the blight on the US human rights record, and many Iraqis were skeptical that it was anything more than a public relations stunt. One Iraqi shopkeeper noted, “Closing Abu Ghraib will never improve the image of the Americans in Iraq. … I believe the Americans will close one Abu Ghraib and open a hundred new ones somewhere else.”

The legacy of Abu Ghraib is also living on in the Iraqi police force, which a recent State Department report criticized for its human rights abuses. In 2005, Human Rights Watch concluded that abuse by Iraqi police forces had become “routine and commonplace.” Last November, US officials discovered a secret prison run by Interior Ministry officials with links to a Shiite militia that had tortured and killed Sunnis. “US officials suspected that Iraqi police officers who worked at the illegal prison had received American training in interrogation.”

While Rice and Rumsfeld yesterday outlined the importance of additional security funding for Iraq, they ignored the country’s unfinished reconstruction projects. Last week, Amb. James Jeffrey, Senior Advisor to Rice and Coordinator for Iraq, stated that the United States will not be seeking significant additional funding for reconstruction projects in Iraq — except for prisons. “And in fact, in these two budgets, the only new construction is related to prisons, you know, which we see as a rule of law, capacity-building. … There is no significant new money apart from that in our accounts for reconstruction in the narrow sense of building up the infrastructure.”

“For a country like the United States that is promoting the advancement of freedom, building jails is not necessarily your best image,” said Rick Barton of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. But just because the administration is requesting no new funding doesn’t mean that the projects are finished. A recent report by Iraq’s Special Inspector General, Stuart Bowen, concluded that even the current $18.4 billion allocated for Iraq’s reconstruction will run out before projects are finished.

“Of the 136 water projects first envisioned, only 49, or 36 percent, will be completed. And only 300 of the 425 electrical projects will be completed. The goal of 3,400 additional megawatts of electricity will also be missed, with only 2,200 megawatts delivered.” Yet the United States cannot solely blame security problems for the slow pace of reconstruction. Bowen also noted that the United States never built up a plan to rebuild Iraq after the invasion:

“There was insufficient systematic planning for human capital management in Iraq before and during the US-directed stabilization and reconstruction operations.” (On the eve of the three year anniversary of the invasion, American Progress will host an event, “Iraq: Next Steps for US Policy,” featuring Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski.)