Published on Sunday, October 19, 2003 by the New York Times
State Dept. Study Foresaw Trouble Now Plaguing Iraqby Eric Schmitt and Joel Brinkley
WASHINGTON, Oct. 18 — A yearlong State Department study predicted many of the problems that have plagued the American-led occupation of Iraq, according to internal State Department documents and interviews with administration and Congressional officials.
Beginning in April 2002, the State Department project assembled more than 200 Iraqi lawyers, engineers, business people and other experts into 17 working groups to study topics ranging from creating a new justice system to reorganizing the military to revamping the economy.
Their findings included a much more dire assessment of Iraq's dilapidated electrical and water systems than many Pentagon officials assumed. They warned of a society so brutalized by Saddam Hussein's rule that many Iraqis might react coolly to Americans' notion of quickly rebuilding civil society.
Several officials said that many of the findings in the $5 million study were ignored by Pentagon officials until recently, although the Pentagon said they took the findings into account. The work is now being relied on heavily as occupation forces struggle to impose stability in Iraq.
The working group studying transitional justice was eerily prescient in forecasting the widespread looting in the aftermath of the fall of Mr. Hussein's government, caused in part by thousands of criminals set free from prison, and it recommended force to prevent the chaos.
"The period immediately after regime change might offer these criminals the opportunity to engage in acts of killing, plunder and looting," the report warned, urging American officials to "organize military patrols by coalition forces in all major cities to prevent lawlessness, especially against vital utilities and key government facilities."
Despite the scope of the project, the military office initially charged with rebuilding Iraq did not learn of it until a major government drill for the postwar mission was held in Washington in late February, less than a month before the conflict began, said Ron Adams, the office's deputy director.
The man overseeing the planning, Tom Warrick, a State Department official, so impressed aides to Jay Garner, a retired Army lieutenant general heading the military's reconstruction office, that they recruited Mr. Warrick to join their team.
George Ward, an aide to General Garner, said the reconstruction office wanted to use Mr. Warrick's knowledge because "we had few experts on Iraq on the staff."
But top Pentagon officials blocked Mr. Warrick's appointment, and much of the project's work was shelved, State Department officials said. Mr. Warrick declined to be interviewed for this article.
The Defense Department, which had the lead role for planning postwar operations and reconstruction in Iraq, denied that it had shunned the State Department planning effort.
"It is flatly wrong to say this work was ignored," said the Pentagon spokesman Larry Di Rita. "It was good work. It was taken into account. It had some influence on people's thinking and it was a valuable contribution."
The broad outlines of the work, called the Future of Iraq Project, have been widely known, but new details emerged this week after the State Department sent Congress the project's 13 volumes of reports and supporting documents, which several House and Senate committees had requested weeks ago.
The documents are unclassified but labeled "official use only," and were not intended for public distribution, officials said. But Congressional officials from both parties allowed The
to review the volumes, totaling more than 2,000 pages, revealing previously unknown details behind the planning. New York Times
Administration officials say there was postwar planning at several government agencies, but much of the work at any one agency was largely disconnected from that at others.
In the end, the American military and civilian officials who first entered Iraq prepared for several possible problems: numerous fires in the oil fields, a massive humanitarian crisis, widespread revenge attacks against former leaders of Mr. Hussein's government and threats from Iraq's neighbors. In fact, none of those problems occurred to any great degree.
Officials acknowledge that the United States was not well prepared for what did occur: chiefly widespread looting and related security threats, even though the State Department study predicted them.
Senior said the Pentagon squandered a chance to anticipate more of the postwar pitfalls by not fully incorporating the State Department information.
"Had we done more work and more of a commitment at the front end, there would be drastically different results now," said Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, the senior Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee.
Testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Feb. 11, Marc Grossman, the under secretary of state for political affairs, said the working groups were "not to have an academic discussion but to consider thoughts and plans for what can be done immediately."
But some senior Pentagon officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that while some of the project's work was well done, much of it was superficial and too academic to be practical.
"It was mostly ignored," said one senior defense official. "State has good ideas and a feel for the political landscape, but they're bad at implementing anything. Defense, on the other hand, is excellent at logistical stuff, but has blinders when it comes to policy. We needed to blend these two together."
A review of the work shows a wide range of quality and industriousness. For example, the transitional justice working group, made up of Iraqi judges, law professors and legal experts, has met four times and drafted more than 600 pages of proposed reforms in the Iraqi criminal code, civil code, nationality laws and military procedure. Other working groups, however, met only once and produced slim reports or none at all.
"There was a wealth of information in the working group if someone had just collated and used it," said Nasreen Barwari, who served on the economy working group and is now the Iraqi minister of public works. "What they did seems to have been a one-sided opinion."
Many of the working groups offered long-term recommendations as well as short-term fixes to potential problems.
The group studying defense policy and institutions expected problems if the Iraqi Army was disbanded quickly — a step L. Paul Bremer III, the chief American civil administrator in Iraq, took. The working group recommended that jobs be found for demobilized troops to avoid having them turn against allied forces as some are believed to have done.
After special security organizations that ensured Mr. Hussein's grip on power were abolished, the working group recommended halving the 400,000-member military over time and reorganizing Iraqi special forces to become peacekeeping troops, as well as counterdrug and counterterrorism forces. Under the plan, military intelligence units would help American troops root out terrorists infiltrating postwar Iraq.
"The Iraqi armed forces and the army should be rebuilt according to the tenets and programs of democratic life," one working group member recommended.
The democratic principles working group wrestled with myriad complicated issues from reinvigorating a dormant political system to forming special tribunals for trying war criminals to laying out principles of a new Iraqi bill of rights.
It declared the thorny question of the relationship between that secular state and Islamic religion one "only the people of Iraq can decide," and avoided a recommendation on it.
Members of this working group were divided over whether to back a provisional government made up of Iraqi exiles or adopt the model that ultimately was adopted, the Iraqi Governing Council, made up of members from a broad range of ethnic and religious backgrounds. The group presented both options.
The transparency and anticorruption working group warned that "actions regarding anticorruption must start immediately; it cannot wait until the legal, legislative and executive systems are reformed."
The economy and infrastructure working group warned of the deep investments needed to repair Iraq's water, electrical and sewage systems. The free media working group noted the potential to use Iraq's television and radio capabilities to promote the goals of a post-Hussein Iraq, an aim many critics say the occupation has fumbled so far.
Encouraging Iraqis to emerge from three decades of dictatorship and embrace a vibrant civil society including labor unions, artist guilds and professional associations, could be more difficult than anticipated, the civil society capacity buildup working group cautioned: "The people's main concern has become basic survival and not building their civil society."
The groups' ideas may not have been fully incorporated before the war, but they are getting a closer look now. Many of the Iraqi ministers are graduates of the working groups, and have brought that experience with them. Since last spring, new arrivals to Mr. Bremer's staff in Baghdad have received a CD-ROM version of the State Department's 13-volume work. "It's our bible coming out here," said one senior official in Baghdad.
Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company