Bremer: Iraqi Army? What Iraqi Army?

As part of his determination to not be thrown under the bus by the Bush administration, former head of the CPA in Iraq has penned his defense in an Op-Ed for the New York Times entitled, How I Didn’t Dismantle Iraq’s Army.  If only it were true…

The situation came about when it became clear that the official stance from the White House was that Bremer acted on his own, that it had no warning Bremer was going to disband the 500,000 strong army without even bothering to disarm them thereby contributing greatly to the insurgency we see today.

Yesterday we learned that Bremer had indeed stated the plan in a letter delivered to Bush, but as I theorized, it’s more than likely that Bush never actually bothered to read that far.

As it would turn out, Bremer had indeed been more than forthcoming with his plans regarding the Iraqi military:

Meanwhile, Walter Slocombe’s consultations with Americans officials in Washington and Baghdad showed that they understood that the only viable course was to build a new, professional force open to screened members of the old army. Mr. Slocombe drafted an order to accomplish these objectives. I sent a preliminary draft of this order to the secretary of defense on May 9. The next day I sent the draft to the Defense Department’s general counsel, William J. Haynes, as well as to Mr. Wolfowitz; the under secretary for policy, Douglas Feith; the head of Central Command, Gen. Tommy Franks; and to the coalition’s top civil administrator at the time, Jay Garner, asking for comments.

But along with this bit of defense comes Bremer’s assertion that there really wasn’t an Iraqi military to begin with:

IT has become conventional wisdom that the decision to disband Saddam Hussein’s army was a mistake, was contrary to American prewar planning and was a decision I made on my own. In fact the policy was carefully considered by top civilian and military members of the American government. And it was the right decision.

By the time Baghdad fell on April 9, 2003, the Iraqi Army had simply dissolved. On April 17 Gen. John Abizaid, the deputy commander of the Army’s Central Command, reported in a video briefing to officials in Washington that “there are no organized Iraqi military units left.” The disappearance of Saddam Hussein’s old army rendered irrelevant any prewar plans to use that army. So the question was whether the Coalition Provisional Authority should try to recall it or to build a new one open to both vetted members of the old army and new recruits. General Abizaid favored the second approach.

In the weeks after General Abizaid’s recommendation, the coalition’s national security adviser, Walter Slocombe, discussed options with top officials in the Pentagon, including Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz. They recognized that to recall the former army was a practical impossibility because postwar looting had destroyed all the bases.

Moreover, the largely Shiite draftees of the army were not going to respond to a recall plea from their former commanders, who were primarily Sunnis. 

Uh-huh.  Thankfully, some of us have seen the movieNo End In Sight, and know that there are some other sources of information as far as if there was an Iraqi Army to be had or not.

In an interview with Frontline, Lt. General Jay Garner (ret.), the head of ORHA, the authority that was to be in charge of post war Iraq until Bremer moved in with the CPA, had this to say about Bermer’s non-existent Iraqi Army:

Well, our initial plan when we were in Washington, and initially in Kuwait, was that this war went in much like the first Gulf War, where you have thousands of POWs, maybe hundreds of thousands. … The army was about 400,000, so from that, we would bring between 150,000 and 250,000 back. We wanted to keep them in their unit structures, because they had already had a command-and-control system. They had vehicles, what was left. They knew how to take orders, and they had the basic skill sets to do the things you need to do in early reconstruction of a country. So they were a labor force, and they provide a certain amount of security, like guard static locations — guard buildings, guard ammo dumps or displaced ammunition, that type of thing. …

By the 15th of May, we had a large number of Iraqi army located that were ready to come back, and the Treasury guys were ready to pay them. When the order came out to disband, [it] shocked me, because I didn’t know we were going to do that. All along I thought we were bringing back the Iraqi army. … Why we didn’t do that, I don’t know.

“Between 150,000 and 250,000” and “a large number of Iraqi army located”?  Where the hell was Jay getting this stuff, his ass?

Apparently not.  It is reasonable to assume that Garner probably got his numbers from Col. Paul Hughes who had been appointed under him within the ORHA organization.

In an interview with Tavis Smiley, Hughes recounts the events that led him to actually getting out of his office and working towards touching base with some of this Iraqi military organization that according to Bremer and Slocombe had just magically disappeared:

Well, that was an interesting event. I was in the Republican Palace in Baghdad handling some daily issues when a battalion commander from the 101st Airborne comes in and goes, “Colonel, I need to talk to somebody. I’ve got a bunch of Iraqi generals and colonels that want to meet with somebody from ORHA,” the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance.

At that point in time, we had nobody from the Pentagon in Baghdad with us serving as the liaison to what had been the Iraqi military, so it fell on me to go meet with these fellows. So I went out into certain parts of Baghdad to meet with these generals and colonels and, over the course of several meetings, hammered out a procedure whereby they were going to provide me a great deal of information about soldiers and units and equipment and ammo depots and things of that nature and, in return, we would provide them a twenty dollar payment.

But wait, there’s more:

Well, certainly that’s what you get from the documentary. I can only speak to the one that revolved around the disbanding of the Iraqi military. In our time in Washington, D.C. with Jay Garner before we departed for the theater, we had talked about what we would do with the Iraqi military. We understood that they were large. We understood that these men knew how to use weapons. We understood that there were a lot of weapons and ammo dumps across the country.

So the intent for us was to get in there, make contact with the Ministry of Defense and then organized a process where we could pay these men twenty dollars each. That was the equivalent of about six months of pay so that they could take care of their families and hopefully stay off the streets long enough for us to sort out what the military was going to be doing.

We had two processes that we were putting into play. One was to reform these units as work battalions to help clean up rubble and things of that nature. The second one was to establish what we called DDR, which is Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration. It’s a process by which you take former combatants and reintegrate them into society so that they become productive members of the economy.

This all had been briefed to the president. The president approved it before we left Washington. But then when we got out there and when Bremer showed up, suddenly there was this snap decision made by these four men in the Pentagon, as the movie portrays, and you know the history. The Iraqi Army was disbanded.

So, if I read this properly, two top officials inside ORHA not only had a plan to use the Iraqi Army to repair Iraq’s infrastructure, but also to reintigrate these soldiers into a stable and peaceful society.  On top of that they were doing the leg work to make it happen, tracking down the soldiers when in fact their officers weren’t openly seeking the help of ORHA on their own.

Boy, that must have been an awful lot of work.  Probably best not to deal with it.  Bremer disbanded the Iraqi Army with CPA order #2, and his top guy and advocate in this, Walt Slocombe, hadn’t even been to Iraq, claiming he could best serve the effort from his office in DC.

It’s not that the army wasn’t there to be used, it was that these guys couldn’t be bothered to put forth the effort to even try.  Meanwhile, men and women who cared about restoring Iraq to stability were forced to work out of gutted offices and still ended up with more than Bremer’s CPA.

But it’s nice of you to toss this bit of fluff out there to save your own neck, Paul.  Really appreciate it.

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