The Coalition Provisional Authority

The Coalition Provisional Authority

With the notion of regime change fi rmly in their minds, the war planners, as had many others, posited a golden Iraqi future once Hussein was deposed. But they gave little thought as to how to go about building such a golden future. Many felt that with the downfall of the Baath Party would come a U.S.-assisted democracy that would refl ect the pluralism of Iraqi society. Outwardly, this appeared so. Approximately a month and a half before the invasion, President Bush decided to leave the reconstruction of Iraq in the hands of the Pentagon, thus making Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld a major player in the postwar scenario.

To handle this, the Offi ce for Reconstruction and Humanitarian Affairs (ORHA) was established and headed by retired general Jay Garner. Despite Garner’s military credentials, ORHA had little acknowledgment or support from the military after the fall of Baghdad. And though it seemed to be the working arm of the neocons back in Washington, it never got its programs off the ground. On May 22, 2003, the U.S. and British-sponsored United Nations Resolution 1483 authorized the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) to ease Iraq’s transition to democracy and, while doing so, carry on the reconstruction of the country.

The United States reserved the right to name the head of the CPA, and Rumsfeld chose L. Paul Bremer whom President Bush earlier in the month had named U.S. envoy to Iraq. The establishment of the CPA, with its power “to exercise executive, legislative, and judicial powers” (Hashim 2006, 18), lent credence to charges that the United States and United Kingdom were now occupying powers. It also superseded ORHA, which became a department of the CPA. Yet either way, ORHA or the CPA, Iraqi reconstruction and postwar governance was done through the neocon prism within the U.S. Department of Defense.

While the CPA was the real power in post-Hussein Iraq, it was cloaked by the 25-member Governing Council. The council was composed to refl ect Iraq’s ethnic and sectarian populations: “The Shi’a as a group would hold a slim majority . . . Kurds and Sunni Arabs would each have a roughly equal share of 20 percent of the seats,” and “minorities such as the Turkomen and Christian communities would need to be represented.” There were also political affi liations to consider: Islamists, Kurdish parties, secularists, and liberal democrats, among others (Allawi 2007, 164).

Among the members of the Governing Council were those who had made up the Leadership Council, but at least one member of the Governing Council had been associated with the Baath regime: Aquila al-Hashemi had been connected with Deputy Prime Minister Aziz. She was shot on September 20, 2003, and died three days later, never having made it to the UN General Assembly with a delegation of her colleagues, who were hoping to convince the United Nations to grant international recognition to the Governing Council (and thereby undercut the power of the CPA). Her assassination was dismaying evidence of how the insurgency was expanding.

The insurgency took many people by surprise, but it was only one aspect that showed how poorly prepared the CPA was. The CPA underestimated the amount of damage that was done to Iraq’s infrastructure by the invasion, which combined with, in the words of former postwar fi nance minister Ali A. Allawi, the “advance state of decay” (Allawi 2007, 114) that Iraq had fallen into in the years after the Persian Gulf War revealed that immediate postwar plans by the neocons in Washington, D.C., as well as exiled Iraqis in London (of which Allawi was one) were woefully shortsighted.

Another error was made early as the coalition forces, unable to prevent the breakdown of order in Baghdad (and elsewhere), failed to properly protect the fi les of the Baath regime, the exception to this being the Ministry of Oil. According to Allawi, these government fi les not only contained incriminating evidence against various Baath leaders but would have made future governance of Iraq easier (Allawi 2007, 115).

In many cities and towns, but especially Baghdad, looting and arson were for a time endemic to the overthrow of the regime. Food and other goods became scarce; public facilities were damaged if not destroyed. Securing proper health care became a problem as did procuring potable water and electricity. Naturally, a black market sprang up wherever there was a demand, and a good deal of stolen goods ended up in neighboring countries, a lot of it via Kurdistan.

Cultural institutions were also hit hard by the war and its aftermath, the best-known incident of this being the looting of the National Museum of Iraq. Just after the fall of Baghdad in April 2003, an estimated 15,000 pieces—many of these artifacts from ancient Sumer—were taken from the museum (though approximately one-third of these have been recovered).

There was also damage to archaeological sites by coalition helicopters. Among those sites damaged were the sixth-century B.C.E. temples of Nabu and Ninmah and the remains of a Greek theater dating back to the Seleucid Empire. The day after the National Museum was looted, the main building of the Iraq National Library and Archives was set afi re, causing extensive structural damage.

According to the library’s director, Saad Eskander, “it is estimated the library lost 25 percent of its collection, including rare books, whereas the archive lost 60 percent of its collection, including invaluable Ottoman records” (Eskander 2006, n.p.). Eskander also mentioned that the republican archive was completely destroyed.

While some U.S. offi cials’ reactions echoed the worldwide shock at the looting and arson, others gave defensive responses for the failure to protect the national treasures. Overall, the looting, terror, and violence following the breakdown in security caused by the struggle and the aftermath of the fall of the capital was compared to the Mongol sack of Baghdad in 1258. Another concern that had unforeseen effects was the theft of weaponry and explosives that helped to arm the insurgents.