Iraq and Beyond

Rebuilding Iraqi Security

By Andrew Rathmell, Olga Oliker, Terrence K. Kelly, David Brannan, and Keith Crane

Andrew Rathmell is a senior research leader with RAND Europe. All five authors are RAND researchers who served with the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq during its existence in 2003 and 2004.

From May 2003 to June 2004, the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) in Iraq sought to reconstruct Iraqi security forces and to develop Iraqi security institutions. We examined these attempts in the defense, interior, and justice sectors. We assessed the CPA’s successes and failures so that we could draw lessons from the experience, insofar as currently possible.

In planning for postwar Iraqi stabilization and reconstruction, the United States and its coalition partners had assumed a benign security environment and an Iraqi police force able to maintain order. Instead, the security environment deteriorated, and those police and security forces that remained were incapable of responding to rising criminality and political violence.

Once the CPA agreed in November 2003 to shift power to the Iraqis by the end of June 2004, the CPA was confronted with the challenges of restoring order, rebuilding Iraqi security forces, and building security institutions on an abbreviated timeline. Consistently, the emphasis on meeting short-term security needs at the expense of building long-term security institutions led to failures.

A U.S. soldier walks through the damaged building.
A U.S. soldier walks through the damaged building of the Coalition Provisional Authority headquarters in Najaf, Iraq, on April 17, 2004. The CPA had come under regular mortar and small arms fire in the previous few weeks.

These shortfalls must be addressed if the Iraqi security sector is to develop into an effective and accountable part of the nation’s governance framework. It is critical that Iraqi leaders and their international advisers not become mesmerized by the fielding of large numbers of security forces. While numbers are important, it will be vital to invest in the intangibles that cannot be so easily quantified, such as development of joint judicial and police investigatory capabilities; development of national security institutions, including the ministries of defense and interior; and sustained support to the justice sector, including anticorruption programs.

Another important need is for the Iraqi government at the highest levels to develop the capacity to make and implement security policy on its own. However, the United States and its coalition partners must realize that Iraqi ministers and senior officials are likely in the near term to be focused mainly on survival. In this perilous environment, it will be up to the United States and its international partners to ensure that long-term institution-building remains on the Iraqi agenda.

In retrospect, the CPA left a mixed record overall. Its aim was to build sustainable institutions that would contribute to the emergence of a secure and democratic Iraq. Its successes were often coupled with failures, or at least shortfalls that have persisted to this day. Several examples stand out:

  • The CPA helped Iraq’s political leaders establish security institutions, most notably the Ministerial Committee for National Security. However, there is little sign yet of the development of true coordination among various security ministries at working levels.
  • The CPA focused on identifying appropriate personnel to rebuild the Iraqi Ministry of Defense. This might prove wise if the ministry is allowed to mature. However, there are signs that the ministry will remain weak, which bodes ill for civilian control of the military.
  • When the CPA dissolved all other security forces, the Iraqi Police Service became the assurer of public safety and the lead Iraqi counterinsurgency force. But it was not trained or equipped for these roles. The situation had improved a little by June 2004 and continued to do so thereafter. However, the government institutions in Baghdad and in the provinces that oversee the police remain very weak.
  • Critical ministries such as oil and electricity are deploying increasingly professional security forces. However, the overall regulation of private security forces remains problematic.
  • Judicial reforms, including the establishment of an independent judiciary, made considerable progress under the CPA. However, efforts to fight organized crime and corruption have languished.
  • The CPA failed to develop an integrated, coordinated Iraqi intelligence apparatus. Such an apparatus could have been of great importance in the campaigns against the insurgency and organized crime.
  • The CPA instituted a stipend program for former members of the armed forces and appointed “clean” former officers to the security forces and ministries. However, the effort was insufficient to keep some former soldiers from joining the insurgency.

We identified six problems underlying the CPA’s approach that need to be addressed if Iraq is to recover from these past mistakes:

1. A lack of worst-case and contingency planning. This included the failure to prepare for the infiltration and intimidation of police forces, which required coalition troops to step back into the front line of security in key urban areas.

2. Structural constraints on rational policy development. An early, integrated approach to security-sector development rapidly unraveled. Coordination was subsequently devalued. Incentives to achieve it were not established.

3. Inability to mobilize funding and personnel. In most nation-building operations, mobilization of nonmilitary resources has been problematic. In Iraq, the scale of the operation and the security situation severely tested established mechanisms, and a reliance on untested mechanisms delayed the deployment of resources.

4. Emphasis on meeting the short-term needs of fielding Iraqi security forces at the expense of the long-term goals of building Iraqi security institutions. Filling the immediate security vacuum involved measures such as rapidly recruiting police and civil defense personnel with minimal vetting, as well as relying on tribes and militias, which were contrary to the coalition’s long-term goal of engineering a sweeping reform of the nation’s security sector.

5. Delays in ensuring Iraqi ownership of the reform process. Until November 2003, the CPA imported foreign expertise to manage Iraqi security affairs. It was only afterward that the CPA focused on developing Iraqi leadership and capacity. The result was patchy Iraqi ownership of reform, as well as limited capacity within the security institutions.

6. Ambiguity in long-term security relationships. It was never clear if the United States would have guaranteed protection for Iraq against external aggression for the foreseeable future, which would have allowed Iraqis to concentrate on building internal security forces. square

Related Reading

Developing Iraq’s Security Sector: The Coalition Provisional Authority’s Experience, Andrew Rathmell, Olga Oliker, Terrence K. Kelly, David Brannan, Keith Crane, RAND/MG-365-OSD, 2005, 122 pp., ISBN 0-8330-3823-0.
“Planning Post-Conflict Reconstruction in Iraq: What Can We Learn?” International Affairs, Vol. 81, No. 5, October 2005, pp. 1013-1038, Andrew Rathmell. Also available as RAND/RP-1197.
Rebuilding Security Forces and Institutions in Iraq, RAND/RB-9134-OSD, 2005, 2 pp.