May 12, 2009
The record of the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) in Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein compares favorably to that of many other U.S. efforts at post-conflict reconstruction, particularly in the areas of economic development, rule of law, education, health and democratization, according to a study released today by the RAND Corporation.
However, these achievements were undermined and overshadowed by the failure of American civilian and military authorities to protect the Iraqi population from the criminals and extremists among them who pulled Iraq into civil war.
The RAND study is the first history of this pivotal period to be based upon a review of nearly 100,000 internal CPA documents, as well as original interviews with senior Authority, White House, Pentagon and State Department officials.
"The CPA and its leadership must bear their share of the blame for America's inability to secure the country that it occupied, but the Authority was by no means the sole or even principal source of this failure," said James Dobbins, lead author of the study and a senior fellow at RAND, a nonprofit research organization.
"On the other hand, the Authority's accomplishments in those areas where it was in the lead are more substantial than generally recognized. These are all the more noteworthy given the severe shortage of personnel and other resources under which the Authority operated, and the almost total absence of prior planning or preparation which preceded its creation."
For many Americans and Iraqis, the now-defunct Authority has become a convenient repository for blame about everything that went wrong during the occupation of Iraq. Yet in the course of its brief existence — little more than a year — the Authority restored Iraq's essential public services to near or beyond their prewar level, instituted reforms in the Iraqi judiciary and penal systems, dramatically reduced inflation, promoted rapid economic growth, reduced unemployment, put in place barriers to corruption, began reform of the civil service and the educational system, vastly boosted spending on health care, promoted the development of the most liberal constitution in the Middle East, and set the stage for a series of free elections, according to the RAND study.
Accomplishments in these and other fields compare favorably to performance in prior post-conflict reconstruction efforts going back to the occupations of Germany and Japan after World War II. For instance, Iraq's economy grew 46.5 percent in 2004, the highest growth rate achieved over a comparable period in any of 22 earlier post-conflict missions, with the single exception of Bosnia. Little American or international assistance reached Iraq throughout the occupation, and these results were thus achieved largely with Iraqi funding. But the Authority and the U.S. military could not halt Iraq's descent into civil war and the resultant violence slowed — and in some cases reversed — the progress in other fields initiated during the Authority's tenure. The Authority largely succeeded in the areas where it had the lead responsibility, but failed in the most important task — security — for which it did not. The degree to which one judges the Authority's overall performance, therefore, must depend heavily on how one assesses its contribution to the deteriorating security situation.
Much subsequent criticism of the Authority has revolved around two of its earliest decisions: to purge the government of senior Ba'athists and to dissolve the Iraqi army.
The decision to fire thousands of senior Ba'athist officials had been made in Washington prior to arrival of CPA Director L. Paul Bremer in April 2003. The initial application of this order was more limited than generally recognized, but it was a mistake to have prematurely turned its implementation over to Iraq's new political leaders, who had every incentive to replace in public office Saddam's supporters with their own, according to the study.
The decision to formally dissolve the largely absent Iraqi army was unnecessarily rushed, contained no initial provision for pensions and made more difficult the rebuilding of a new force. More serious was the failure of the Authority to quickly train, equip, organize and deploy the numbers of Iraqi soldiers and police needed to assist a badly under-strength U.S. and coalition military force in securing the country. This slowness reflected an under-appreciation of the need, but also the lack of capacity anywhere within the U.S. government to undertake a train-and-equip mission of this magnitude.
Bremer's two most controversial decisions had been reviewed in the Department of Defense and approved by his superiors, but they had not been adequately debated or fully considered by the rest of the national security establishment, something then-National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice and her staff should have insisted on, Dobbins says.
The study, "Occupying Iraq: A History of the Coalition Provisional Authority," was conducted within the International Security and Defense Policy Center of the RAND National Security Research Division. It can be found at www.rand.org . Support for the study was provided by the Carnegie Corporation of New York.
Among those who participated in interviews and reviewed early drafts of the study were several present and former RAND analysts who had served with the CPA, including Keith Crane, David Gompert, Terry Kelly, Olga Oliker, David Brennan, and Andrew Rathmell.
The other authors of the report are Seth G. Jones, Benjamin Runkle, and Siddharth Mohandas. As with all of RAND's work, the study's conclusions were reached independently by its authors and subject to thorough peer review.