Self-Fulfilling Prophecy
State vs. Iraq planning.


Michael Rubin

On May 1, insurgents in Fallujah rejoiced. American Marines surrounding the city began their withdrawal without arresting the perpetrators of a brutal March 31 attack on civilian contractors. The Arab satellite network al Jazeera reported insurgents celebrating in the streets, flashing victory signs. Militants drove through the streets shouting, “Islam, it’s your day!” and “We redeem Islam with our blood.” Minaret-mounted loudspeakers declared “victory over the Americans.” Across the region, militants pointed to the Fallujah deal as evidence that they had forced the U.S. to withdraw from Fallujah, just as they had forced a withdrawal from Mogadishu in 1993, and Beirut in 1983. Speaking on Saturday, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei said, “The occupiers have gotten themselves caught in a trap like a wolf.” He added, “The ruling gang in America, with the Zionists pulling the strings, wants to swallow this rich part of the world through the greater Middle East plan, but contrary to their assumptions, the arrogant powers will choke on this mouthful.”

The cause of the militant celebration was the arrival in town of General Jasim Muhammad Salih al-Dulaymi. He entered the town wearing the Iraqi Army uniform in which he had sworn his lifelong allegiance to Saddam Hussein. Outside Fallujah, Iraqis expressed shock at the choice. I spoke with a former Iraqi army officer familiar with Jasim’s career. After graduating from the Police College, Jasim entered the Republican Guard. His command in Karbala coincided with the Republican Guard’s suppression of the 1991 uprising. Pleased with his actions, Saddam promoted Jasim to be chief of staff of a Republican Guard division charged with the protection of Baghdad. Between 1993 and 1997, Jasim led the 38th Division of the Iraqi army in Kirkuk. During his residence there, the Baath party and Iraqi army conducted an ethnic-cleansing campaign against the city’s Kurdish and Turkmen residents. Not all Iraqi military officers were Baathists, but Jasim was. The Baath party is strictly hierarchical. He rose to be udhu shubaa, the third-highest rank. No one could obtain such a rank without having blood on his hands. Iraqis say he is a cousin to Khamis Sarhan al-Muhammad, number 54 on Iraq’s most wanted list. Unfortunately, it appears Coalition military spokesman Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt misspoke when he said that the U.S. military had vetted Jasim and found him satisfactory.


Iraq did not have to be this way. Many journalists and pundits argue that had the Bush administration only given carte blanche to State Department “professionals,” then the U.S. would not face the crisis in Iraq that we face today. David Phillips, a Council on Foreign Relations scholar who describes himself as an adviser to the “Future of Iraq Project,” told Knight-Ridder that, “The administration’s plan today is exactly what they rejected in the fall of 2002 because it wasn’t ideologically compatible.”

Such claims are untrue, perpetuated either for partisan gain or because those making them were not as involved as they pretend. Firstly, deputy National Security Advisor Steven Hadley and Zalmay Khalilzad, then the National Security Council’s point man on the Middle East, coordinated State Department and Defense Department planning. There was seldom a day when Hadley or Khalilzad did not preside over a meeting or video teleconference to identify problems and work through solutions. The Future of Iraq project was a valuable exercise, but it was more an academic seminar than a plan. Defense Department officials participated when invited. The Iraqis who participated in the Future of Iraq program also met regularly with Defense Department and National Security Council desk officers. I know. I worked on the Pentagon’s Iran and Iraq desk for several months before the war.

Ironically, it was the Defense Department and not the State Department which sought to implement the recommendations of the Future of Iraq Program’s “Transition to Democracy” report. The report is worth reading. According to its preamble, “Nothing…requires the United Nations or United States to police or manage into existence the new and budding democratic institutions. That is a challenge that the people of Iraq must and will face up to on their own.” The Defense Department agreed and proposed immediate sovereignty for a government combining exiles with “internals,” weighted to the latter. It was a surprise when we learned the State Department opposed its own recommendations and sought to promote exiles like Adnan Pachachi known not for his opposition to Saddam Hussein during his decades in exile, but rather for his oft-stated opposition to Kuwait’s right-to-exist.

We were fiercely opposed by the State Department when we wanted to plan for the future. Future of Iraq program director Tom Warrick and others stonewalled Defense Department attempts to train a Free Iraqi Force (FIF). Had the program been implemented fully, it would have helped co-opt and coordinate Iraqi Army conscripts as they switched their allegiance from Saddam Hussein’s government, to that of the Iraqi people. The FIF was open to any Iraqi living outside Iraq. Many Iraqi political leaders talk a good game, but when asked to back up their words with constituents willing to put their lives on the line, fall short. Pachachi, Ayad Allawi, and Mowaffaq al-Rubaie may throw a good dinner party, but leadership goes beyond entertaining and saying what we may want to hear. As a result of stonewalling and delays, there was no critical mass of FIF leadership to channel the energies of the Iraqi army. Rather than having Iraqi forces liberate Baghdad, U.S. troops did.

While pundits blame the Pentagon for dissolution of Iraq’s army, the truth of the matter is that the Iraqi military dissolved itself. Conscripts, long-abused and humiliated by the predominantly Sunni Arab officer corps, simply returned home. Mid-level officers returned to the private sector or joined the Iraq Civil Defense Corps. Senior military officers like Jasim went into hiding, fearing popular retribution for their crimes. While Iraq did not degenerate into the degree of vigilantism predicted by the Future of Iraq program, Iraqis do remain bitter about the abuses of the past. When I visited Nasiriyah in October 2003, locals said that Interior Minister Nouri Badran would be unwelcome in their city because he had hired as his secretary an officer whom residents said personally executed 30 locals following the 1991 uprising.

Our professional diplomats maintained an effete attitude toward both Iraqis and Iraqi Americans. Many Iraqi Americans gave up high-paying jobs and left families in order to serve both Iraq and the United States. They formed the Iraq Reconstruction and Development Council (IRDC). Many IRDC members were also graduates of the State Department Future of Iraq project. Unfortunately, while our diplomats say the right things in meetings, they often fail to follow through on their commitments.

The State Department opposed involving the IRDC in Iraq’s reconstruction, perhaps fearing the challenge those familiar with Iraqi society might make to Foggy Bottom’s long-held assumptions regarding the role of tribal sheikhs and Islamists in society. Some ambassadors even refused to speak with IRDC colleagues. State Department officials working for Jay Garner sought to stall IRDC deployment claiming lack of space at a time when beds were available. The racism and condescension toward Iraqi Americans were typified by a meeting which Garner called in early May 2003, at the request of his State Department aides. Gathering IRDC members around him, he told them that the diplomats were in charge and, as “Iraqis” they should subordinate themselves to the “Americans.” The Pentagon learned of the incident and Garner apologized the following day for insinuating that Iraqi Americans were somehow less American than career diplomats. Nevertheless, the attitude pervaded. And so liberation became occupation, with sheltered American diplomats eating food flown in from Kuwait while the IRDC employees patronized local markets and ate in Baghdad restaurants. While Coalition officials lived in Baghdad’s showpiece Rashid Hotel or air-conditioned trailers, many IRDC officials rented apartments in Baghdad. The office of Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) administrator L. Paul Bremer distributed brand-new SUVs to American diplomats, many of whom seldom drove outside the Green Zone, but forced IRDC head Emad Dhia to purchase a car in Baghdad out of pocket so that he and other IRDC members could inspect factories and ministry offices, talk to workers, and generally do the jobs which Arabic-speaking diplomats failed to do. More than 150 IRDC members have served their country well. They have helped calm protests in Sadr City, and have identified security and political problems in the countryside. One IRDC member in Basra made the ultimate sacrifice, bound, gagged, and executed while investigating a smuggling and corruption ring.

While first the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance and then its successor Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), reported to the Defense Department, the State Department retained effective control over the political operation. Of the first 18 senior advisers deployed to Baghdad, none were from the Defense Department; perhaps half were State Department bureau of Near Eastern affairs ambassadors or policy-planning staff members. It is true that the State Department did not initially deploy Warrick (although he has now been in Baghdad for a couple months). This had less to do with policy, and was rather due to a series of interactions with Iraqis which superiors deemed unprofessional. Regardless, the Future of Iraq program was larger than one person. There was no impediment to implementation of the State Department plan had the State Department chosen to do so. Policy is personnel.


Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Ryan Crocker became both Garner and Bremer’s governance director. He handpicked the political team, staffing it almost exclusively with career Near Eastern Affairs diplomats and members of the Policy Planning Staff. I have worked on the Iraqi issue for several years, and knew many of the diplomats and analysts from de-briefings following the academic year I spent teaching in Iraqi Kurdistan. Few supported Bush administration policy. In a seminar I attended before joining government, one U.S. diplomat spoke about the fallacy of regime change in Iraq. Several diplomats openly disparaged President Bush. One high-ranking career diplomat spoke of his affection for Howard Dean. I was surprised to see that a particular British analyst had joined the governance group. Shortly before the September 11, 2001,terror attacks, he had argued that any Saddam replacement would be “as illegitimate as Israel.” Rather than promote democrats and liberals, the Crocker team sought to stack the Governing Council with Islamists, Arab nationalists, and tribal leaders; they largely succeeded.

It was Bremer, his deputy Clay McManaway, and Crocker–not the Pentagon–who cast aside the “Transition to Democracy” report. The Future of Iraq program report states, for example, that “abuse of power by one regime after another since 1958 has resulted in the practice of ‘legislation through decree’, the tendency to subvert constitutionalism by way of a flurry of proclamations, decrees and laws which ultimately serve the purpose of strengthening autocratic politics.” This is exactly what Bremer began to do, as the decrees listed on the CPA website demonstrate.

Bremer not only undermined the Governing Council, but he also emboldened Islamists. By brandishing his veto power, he removed accountability from Council members. Islamists could promise their constituents the world and blame Bremer for their inability to fulfill promises. Dawa-party chairman Ibrahim Jaafari became adept at this. Iraqis describe Jaafari as a politician who advocates theocracy, accepts money from Iran, and seeks to marginalize the political and social role of Iraq’s women. The recent State Department decision to limit Iraq’s sovereignty, by diminishing accountability, will only bolster the most intolerant elements of Iraqi society. U.S. diplomats, though, see Jaafari as a Western-educated doctor, and so, by definition, a democrat. It is the same failed logic that cursed Haiti with François “Papa Doc” Duvalier and which apologists use in advocating engagement with Syrian dictator Bashir Assad. The U.S. does not need another Syria or Iran.

The State Department’s war against Iraqi democracy is long, and often goes untold as reporters trade objectivity for access to colorful “unnamed senior State Department officials.” There is a history of making the wrong decisions. The U.S. military’s civil-affairs units generally did a stellar job of setting up provincial and town councils. These councils became the locals’ receptacle for complaints about everything from property restitution to decrepit infrastructure to the failure to implement de-Baathification. But Bremer’s office refused to give local councils budgetary authority to address their constituent’s concerns. In August, a senior ambassador in Bremer’s office suggested that the CPA would not implement the near unanimous Iraqi desire for fiscal federalism because it might complicate planning for the October 2003 international donor’s conference in Madrid. Rather than reverse the state-centered political and economic policy as advised by the Future of Iraq program, Bremer’s office chose to reinforce the failures of Saddam’s socialist model. Senior ambassadors cast aside long-term U.S. policy goals for short-term expediency. It is a pattern CPA often repeats.

The situation in Iraq is deteriorating. The reasons are simple. Instead of promoting Iraqi sovereignty, Foggy Bottom has for more than a year sought to limit it. Rather than put an Iraqi face on Iraq’s liberation, Bremer’s team has worked to marginalize Iraqi voices. The “Who We Are” section of the CPA website is illustrative. Rather than promote Iraqi self-governance, the CPA dedicates more than half the space to Bremer’s biography and photograph.

The State Department, CENTCOM, and CIA argument that only a strongman or benign autocrat can govern Iraq creates a self-fulfilling prophecy. Iraqi Shia and Kurds together represent three quarters of Iraq’s population. If the Kurds see CPA as promoting Sunni Arab resurgence, they will pursue full independence. The Shia will seek protection with Iranian-backed movements. The Shia may have welcomed liberation, but they remain scarred by our 1991 abandonment of them. Tribal sheikhs can provide no solution since most go to the highest bidder.

In October 2002, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said, “We do have a saying in America: If you’re in a hole, stop digging.” Many CPA policies have failed. It would be a tragedy for Iraqi democrats and Arab liberals if, in response to an anti-democratic challenge, the U.S. re-doubled its efforts to pursue the same “realist” policies which supported Saddam’s rise to power and rewarded terrorism. It is time to be serious about democracy. Presidential pronouncements are not enough if the State Department remains hostile to their implementation.

–Michael Rubin, a former Coalition Provisional Authority officer, is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.