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Cordesman: Rebuilding Iraq 12/2/02 Page 1
Center for Strategic and International Studies
1800 K Street N.W.
Washington, DC 20006
(To comment: Acordesman@aol.com
For Updates see CSIS.ORG, “Military Balance”)
Planning for a Self-Inflicted Wound:
US Policy to Reshape a Post-Saddam
Rough Draft for Comment
Anthony H. Cordesman
Arleigh A. Burke Chair for Strategy
Center for Strategic and International Studies
Revision Two: December 3, 2002ഊCordesman: Rebuilding Iraq 12/2/02 Page 2
The hardest part of war is often the peace, and this is particularly likely to be the case if
the US goes to war with Iraq. It is not that the US is not planning for such contingencies;
it is the quality of such planning that is at issue. Unless it sharply improves, it may well
become a self-inflicted wound based on a series of “syndromes” that grow out of
ignorance, indifference to Iraq’s real needs, and ethnocentricity.
The US does not have to suffer from “Iraq War Peace Syndrome.” Some good studies
and planning efforts are emerging, but they are the exception and not the norm, in an
uncoordinated and faltering effort. Far too often, we are rushing our planning efforts
without making adequate efforts to make up for our lack of knowledge. As a result,
planners both outside and inside the US government may end in doing more harm than
good, and in laying the groundwork for serious postwar friction and problems. In fact, a
pattern of Iraq war peace syndromes has begun to emerge that is deeply disturbing.
1. The “We Know What We're Doing Syndrome”
One of the most important things we need to do is to admit our level of ignorance and
uncertainty. Far too many "experts" who are now working on postwar planning have (a)
never been in Iraq to the point of having practical knowledge of the country, and (b) have
concentrated on the threat so long that they have little intelligence data on the workings
of its government, civil society, and economy.
More generally, the US government does not have much of the data it needs to formulate
a detailed peace plan. Looking back over the last 10 years, we generally failed to
seriously examine what was happening inside Iraq in social and economic terms, and to
collect and honestly analyze much of the data on social change, the economy, and the
way the government functioned.
We should be actively pulling together all that exiles, friendly businessmen and other
working in Iraq, the UN, NGOs, and others know about the day-to-day functioning of
given national, regional, and local government activities in Iraq. We should be
examining existing Iraqi structures and institutions in detail to know what needs changing
and what we can build upon. We should be looking at the Iraqi constitution and legal
system to see what could be a valid base for change.
More important, we should have teams ready to survey the situation in each area, town,
and governate as we advance. We should have teams ready to work with key local and
then governate leaders. We should have teams ready to work with the ministries in Iraq's
government once we get to Baghdad. We should admit that we really do not know what
we are doing, and cannot know until the war unfolds. We should be flexible, and
emphasize surveying Iraq's postwar needs in partnership with Iraqis in Iraq at the local,
regional, and national level; making minimal changes in working civil structures.ഊCordesman: Rebuilding Iraq 12/2/02 Page 3
2. The “US as Liberator Syndrome”
We may or may not be perceived as liberators. We are dealing with a very sophisticated
and long-established tyranny, and we really don't know how an intensely nationalistic
people with deep internal divisions will react, and how the impact of the fighting will
affect the people. We don't know how long any support will last by a given group or
faction the moment we become involved in trade-offs between them.
We may well face a much more hostile population than in Afghanistan. We badly need to
consider the Lebanon model: Hero to enemy in less than a year. We also need to consider
the Bosnia/Kosovo model where internal divisions leave no options other than stay and
police or leave and watch civil conflict emerge.
A little self-honesty on our past mistakes in nation building and occupation would help;
especially when we perpetuate the myth we did so splendidly in Germany and Japan.
Things eventually worked out in Germany and Japan because we enforced minimum
change and took advantage of existing institutions. We only adopted this approach under
duress, however, and because the Cold War forced us to reverse many of our initial plans
and policies. Economic recovery took five years. For the first year, people died for lack
of medical attention, starved, and suffered. We could get away with because most of the
world was suffering and because of the legacy of anger towards Germany and Japan
coming out of the war. We cannot possibly expect such tolerance today.
Couple this to an unpredictable but inevitable level of collateral damage and civilian
casualties, to what the word "occupation" means in the Arab world because of Israel, to
the historical memory of the British mandate and US ties to the Shah, to Shi'ite tensions
over US relations with Iran and the Axis of Evil, and to factional tensions in Iraq, and we
are almost certain to face serious problems with at least some major blocs of Iraqis.
No study or that does not deal at length with these risks, or prepare for them on a
contingency basis, can do more good than harm. We should focus on giving Iraqis what
they want, and not on giving Iraqi what we feel they. Our actions should be based on
partnership and a high degree of humility, not on occupation and arrogance.
3. The We Lead and They Will Follow” or “Coalition of the Willing Syndrome”
Our coalition of the willing may well be much smaller than the coalition of the unwilling.
We need to understand just how deeply hostile the Arab world is because of the Second
Intifada and our ties to Israel. Surveys show around 80% of Arabs, and high percentages
of other Islamic nations, see the Palestinians as the key issue in politics and express anger
at the US over ties to Israel. We also need to understand that in the Gulf, many Arab also
see the US as responsible for the suffering of the Iraqi people under sanctions.
The UN debate shows we face a largely doubtful and antiwar world. In practical terms,
we will be subject to relentless Arab, regional, and global examination and criticism fromഊCordesman: Rebuilding Iraq 12/2/02 Page 4
D-Day on. We cannot hope to get an Iraqi, regional, or world mandate to act as occupiers.
In fact, if we act in this way, we are certain to encounter massive problems.
Any humanitarian failures at any point will come back to haunt us. So will any mistakes
in dealing with Iraqi factions, any delays in transferring power, and any deals with the
outside the Iraqis and Arab world see as being at Iraqi expense.
We need to base our peace plans on the reality that we will be judged by their success for
years to come, and that any failures can have explosive regional impacts. This time we
virtually must succeed and we must be prepared to make the necessary commitment in
spite of the potential cost. At the same time, we need to understand just how firm and
enduring the linkage will be to our success in dealing with the Arab-Israeli conflict and
the Second Intifada. We may have the luxury of fighting one war at a time, but we do not
have the luxury of focusing on a single peace.
4. The “Best Case War Syndrome”
Far too often, we now base our postwar plans only on fighting a best-case war. We have
no justification for such planning. We may get serious urban fighting. We may see the
use of WMD. We may have to sharply escalate and inflict serious collateral damage. We
may see factional struggles and warlords emerge, and we already are caught up in a
messy struggle between the Kurds and exile groups like the INC.
No plan is worth considering that does not explicitly examine what can go wrong in the
fighting and how it will impact on the post-fighting outcome.
5. The “Rebuilding Effort Begins After the War Ends Syndrome”
Our rebuilding effort in Iraq must begin on D-Day, not after the war. Everything we do
from bombing to the first ground contact with Iraqis will be conducted in a media
fishbowl, with the world observing and often searching for any fault or flaw. We cannot
be perfect, but we can be prepared and act with the knowledge that even seemingly trivial
actions during the war can have powerful global effect and shape postwar attitudes.
We must realize that one day after our forces enter any area, the world will hold us to
blame for every bit of Iraqi suffering that follows, as well as for much of Saddam's legacy
of economic mistakes and neglect. The first minute of the war is the beginning of the
peace, and any plan that does not explicitly recognize this is dangerous.
6. The “Let’s Ignore the Iraqi Media and Information Issue Syndrome”
It seems incredible, but a number of studies ignore the need to provide detailed media
coverage to the Iraqi public the moment we go to war, and then to immediately take
control of the Iraqi media and Ministry of Information and change them to become
legitimate sources of information. Even some good studies of psywar efforts to deal withഊCordesman: Rebuilding Iraq 12/2/02 Page 5
the Iraqi military treat the problem as one of dealing with the career military and not the
Iraqi people and the different factions within it.
We are already engaged in a battle for hearts and minds we have done little to win. We
will confront a desperate dictatorship in combat, and what we say over radio and TV, and
to the Iraqi people as we advance, may be critical in limiting or avoiding urban warfare
and prolonged resistance. We also have to be able to talk to the faction in Iraq and
reassure those we plan to work with. The Ministry of Information, the state controlled
radio and TV, and the press need to be reshaped the moment we have access to them. The
Ministry of Information, in particular, is one of the worst single instruments of repression
in Iraq and needs to be abolished or restructured the moment we can do so.
7. The “Overthrow the Regime is Enough of a US Policy Goal Syndrome”
Our failure to clearly define our postwar policy goals for Iraq is another area where we
need early action. In fact, the Bush Administration has already faltered badly. There is
serious confusion and hostility in the Arab world and much of the rest of the world over
our objectives in going to war.
We face an Arab world where many see us as going to war to seize Iraq's oil, barter deals
with the Russians and French, create a new military base to dominate the region, and/or
serve Israel's interest. Our lack of clear policy statements has encouraged virtually every
negative conspiracy theory possible.
In short, our ultimate intentions in Iraq are already a major issue that vague words cannot
deal with. There a is a critical need to clarify our intentions in enough detail to show we
really will act in the interest of the Iraqi people, to refute the major conspiracy theories
that have already developed, and prove we are not a “neo-imperialist” or “occupier. In
fact, we need to act as soon as possible.
8. The “UN and the World Doesn’t Matter in Shaping the Peace Syndrome”
We face a massive legal problem that many US studies current ignore. A range of UN
resolutions already govern what can and should be done in Iraq, of which “oil for food” is
only the most obvious. In the real world, we have only the following options: (a) reject
the primacy of the UN and the UNSCR's dealing with oil for food and calling for
democracy and human rights in Iraq and create our own plans and structure; (b) rely on
the UN to do what it is clearly prepared to do and act for us; and (c) rely on an
unpredictable mix of US, UN, and NGO institutions we will have to build when and if
All of these options are bad, but (c) is best and we need to face this fact. We also need to
face the fact that we cannot pass our problems on to a non-existent international
community that is willing to sweep up after our military parade. We may well get UN
and international cooperation but only if we lead and contribute actively. We have to stay
as long as it takes, or at least until we can hand a mission over to the Iraqis.ഊCordesman: Rebuilding Iraq 12/2/02 Page 6
9. The “Democracy Solves Everything Syndrome”
Broad generalizations about democracy suddenly solving Iraq’s problems are mindlessly
stupid. Iraq will benefit from added pluralism of the kind already called for in UN
resolutions. Moreover, Iraq already has provision for such steps in its existing and draft
constitutions. However, the practice in Iraq has been strong men and dictators for nearly
half a century. Iraq no has no viable political parties, no exile or internal leaders with
proven popular legitimacy, and deep ethnic, religious, and tribal/clan divisions.
We also must deal with the different goals and priorities of Iraq’s neighbors and the UN.
Turkey and Iran will be real constraints on how a future government deals with the Kurds
and Shiites. This means we already have “non-democratic” priorities. We virtually must
enforce territorial integrity, and limit Kurdish autonomy. There will be no valid self-determination
or democratic solutions to these issues.
Iraq is not going to become a model government or democracy for years. It faces too
many problems in internal power sharing, dealing with regional issues, and developing
political parties that can look beyond selfish interests. It faces too many other challenges
in terms of developing a rule of law, protecting human rights, and dealing with urgent
economic and security issues.
If we try to impose too much of our political system, we will also face growing problems
with both Iraqis and the Arab world the moment we try to tell Iraqis how they should
govern rather than help them find better solutions. Rather than catalyze other Arab
nations to become democratic, we will catalyze Pan-Arab hostility and give the Arab
world the impression that we have joined Israel as “occupiers.”
10. The “Limited Presence and Peacemaking Syndrome”
There are US war plans that call for an early US military presence in Kirkuk to ensure
that the Kurds do not attempt to seize it and to deter any Turkish movements. It is less
clear that the US has clearly tailored plans to occupy Shi’ite areas in ways that would
block Iranian adventures and halt uprisings or efforts at control by Shi’ite factions. There
also are some who strongly oppose executing such efforts because of the risk or cost, and
who want to avoid a major US military peacekeeping role regardless of the risks.
Some form of clear peacemaking/peacekeeping strategy is vital and past wars provide the
lesson that the earlier the US forces are present, the easier the task and the smaller the
presence required. In the case of Iraq, this is needed to prevent civil war, halt warlordism,
and provide the security needed to rebuild the nation. If it is not done, the alternatives
will either be to come in later with much larger resources, or fail in key aspects of
shaping the peace.
The US must be prepared from the start to deal with the broader territorial issues -
authority over the city of Kirkuk and its environs, shaping their ethnic mix, and control ofഊCordesman: Rebuilding Iraq 12/2/02 Page 7
its key nodes of oil production and distribution. The US must also be prepared to help the
Iraqis dcal with the constitutional issue - what mix between devolution and centralization
will be acceptable to the Arabs and the Kurds alike? (The last time, the issue went to
arbitration under the League of Nations mandate, took years and years to resolve, and
eventually had to be enforced by the RAF using poison gas. Scarcely the best precedent!)
11. “The Zero-Based Approach to Restructuring Iraq’s Government Syndrome”
Iraq cannot be treated as an intellectual playground for political scientists or ideologues,
and must not be treated as if its people were a collection of white rats that could be
pushed through a democratic maze by a bunch of benevolent US soldiers and NGOs. Iraq
is a country of 24 million people with a history of more than 80 years. It has a
constitution and a draft constitution. It has an existing National Assembly structure,
relatively modern legal system, and a history of past autonomy agreements with the
Iraq has a strong central structure based on a highly urbanized society. It is critically
dependent on food imports and allocating the revenue from oil exports. It has some 23
existing ministries. Some are now tools of repression and must be dismantled or totally
rebuilt, but most are vital to running the country. Many of its urban centers and
complexes and governates are tailored to local needs. A standardized, cookie cutter
approach to local or regional government would fail dismally anywhere in the world. It is
a recipe for disaster in Iraq.
There is no Iraqi with real-world experience in governing Iraq in countless largely
technical areas vital to the needs of some 24 million people other than the existing
structure of government. The courts, the legal system, the lawyers have many flaws, but
they are also Iraqi. The rule of law and human rights, and security for the individual, are
actually far more important than democracy and they too must be built on the existing
Iraqi structure of government.
Yes, we need to work with Iraqis at every level to clean up the existing system. We have
to destroy the one existing political party, the Baath, and "de-Saddamize" the existing
government while establishing a modern rule of law and reforming the economy. We
need to give exiles a role, and not simply exile groups like the INC that have more
strength inside the beltway in Washington than anywhere in the borders of Iraq. But,
nothing can be zero-based.
12. The “Let’s All Form Another Giant Discussion Group Syndrome”
Iraq’s mix of internal and external tensions make any slow, bottom-up, or “discussion
group”-oriented approach to restructuring power in Iraq a near certain recipe for failure.
We don’t have time for time-consuming efforts to create consensus. Cosmetic assemblies
and advisory bodies are certain to produce a major backlash.ഊCordesman: Rebuilding Iraq 12/2/02 Page 8
We may well have to push Iraqis into some new form of power structure within weeks of
the end of the fighting. We certainly have no more than months. We don’t have time for
long dialogue, although that can be used to adjust the initial arrangements.
We need to take a hard look at Iraq’s existing constitution and draft constitution, and the
idea of a constitutional convention and referendum creating a follow-on system has
worked elsewhere. This may also allow us to deal with the realities of power struggles
by changing Iraq’s current constitution to deal with a tailored form of republic or
federalism plus some form of Kurdish-minority rights.
But, we don’t have months in which to get started or more than a year in which to get a
new system working. Any peace plan that does not include clear and specific goals from
the start, and takes more than six months to get all of the key power sharing arrangements
in place, is a failure from the start.
We must find ways to produce rapid power sharing and to reallocate oil wealth and do in
ways that emphasize political stability rather than democracy per se. This is not only a
Kurdish issue, it is a who will lead the Shi’ites issue, and almost any postwar
arrangement will inevitably penalize today's ruling Sunni elite.
13. The “Let’s All Ignore the State’s Present Role in the Economy Syndrome”
More is also involved than governance and human rights. The National Iraqi Oil
Company is only the most critical of the many state entities that have to be used to
reshape and develop the economy. We need to work with Iraqi immediately to clean up
the NIOC and other economic institutions that affect development, free up the private
sector as much as possible, create an honest Iraqi-based structure for international
investment, and put Iraq back on the track to development as soon as possible.
The economic reform issue is as important as the governance issue. There must be
explicit plans to deal with state industry, with a key focus on energy. The issues of
freeing up the private sector, encouraging honest foreign investment, dealing with
agricultural reform, and creating a body of commercial law are critical.ഊCordesman: Rebuilding Iraq 12/2/02 Page 9
14. The “Dismantle the Army and Police Force Syndrome”
The Revolutionary Guards, the secret police, and other Saddam loyalists are
contemptible, but the idea we disband the entire army and security forces and start over
with training and ground up new groups is impractical and dangerous.
Many elements of the regular army are nationalist, not pro-Saddam. We don’t want
400,000 nationalists in the streets and hostile. We don’t want to leave a weak army in
service and an angry army in the streets. Germany after World War I showed the impact
that can have. By all means clean the army up, clean up the officer corps, provide
political training, etc., but leave the professional and competent elements in tact. Leave
Iraq with some dignity and coopt the army rather than destroy it.
Leaving the police in place, after the same purging, is even more important. The first
priorities are food and security and then jobs and security. Trying to bring in inexperience
mixes of outsiders, training a new police force from the ground up, and recreate a police-legal
system interface from the ground up is almost mission impossible in terms of
manpower, cost, and timeliness. Cleaning up the existing force is not.
15. The “Debt and Reparations, Weimar Republic and Let’s Make a Deal
We need to be extremely careful about even a hint that we are bartering away Iraq’s post-Saddam
future to get political support, and saddling a new regime with hundred of
billions of dollars in debt, reparations, and contingency contracts will cripple it, just as
we once crippled the Weimar Republic.
We should decide on some policy calling for debt and reparations forgiveness, and the
voiding of contingency contracts by the new regime.
16. The “Oil Income Floats All Boats Syndrome”
Time for a reality check. The DOE estimates that Iraqi oil export revenues were all of
$14.1 billion in 2001 (including smuggling), out of total exports of all of $15.8 billion
and an economy worth $28.2 billion in market terms. The GDP is less than one-third of
what it was in 1989, and there are two decades of war and sanctions to make up for.
Oil revenues cannot possibly solve all of Iraq’s development problems. Real oil wealth
per capita will be under 1/10 th of its 1980 peak given the rise in population and the drop
in oil prices. Oil can still pay for a lot, but not for both rebuilding and development.
Consider the following points about Iraq:
•Steady decline in relative wealth since 1982, not 1991; 70% of cut in GDP per
capita before Gulf War.
•Massive population growth: 9.1 million in 1970, 22.7 million in 2000 and 36.9
million in 2020. 40% under 15. Unemployment in excess of 25%.ഊCordesman: Rebuilding Iraq 12/2/02 Page 10
•No longer has oil wealth in relative terms. A little over $700 per capita today
versus over $6,000 in 1980. See much worse in constant dollars. Around $23,820
for Saudi in 1980 versus $2,563 in 2001.
•Dependent on oil for food and “black” sector to operate. Heavily dependent on
food imports since late 1970s. Some estimate a 70% dependence on food imports
once the economy recovers.
•Medical and educational crisis.
•Many artifacts of a command economy that has been centered around a
dictatorship for three decades. Some solid economic institutions but no real
market system in terms of distribution, banking, uniform commercial code,
•Industrial development is weak and has a poor history.
•Oil revenue and development issue is critical, as is sharing revenue, but NIOC has
its thugs and killers. Saybolt indicates waterflooding and overpumping; 24 of 73
fields working, and 20-40% of wells at risk.
Yes, money will be a serious problem, particularly if debt and reparations are not
17. The Disarmament is Quick and Lasting Syndrome
We need a clear policy towards Iraq’s military industry and dual use facilities from the
start, and we need to understand that a postwar Iraq will exist in a still threatening and
proliferating region. Moreover, whatever we get rid of, the human talent and major dual
use facilities will remain. Getting rid of nukes also can just push Iraq towards a reliance
on biological warfare.
We need both a short term and long term plan to disarm Iraq. The long term plan must
include some way use a combination of UNSCR and national action to limit any risk of
future proliferation and possibly some form of US security guarantees to limit the
incentive to future regimes to proliferate.
18. The “No Exit Strategy Syndrome”
Every past peacemaking effort has shown that an explicit exit strategy is vital. The key in
this case is an entry strategy that makes a real peace possible, setting modest and
achievable objectives, treating the Iraqis as partners, and leaving when they either want
us to leave or are ready to have us leave. It is to avoid any chance of civil war, clearly act
in Iraq’s benefit, and plan to leave early rather than late.
Curing the “Iraq War Peace Syndrome(s)”
The first step in curing a complex disease like the Iraq War Peace Syndrome(s) is to
recognize the nature of the disease. As the previous list shows, this often suggests theഊCordesman: Rebuilding Iraq 12/2/02 Page 11
cure. The fact remains, however, that we face at least a decade of further instability in the
Gulf Region, whether or not we go to war with Iraq, and no matter how well the war
goes. Getting rid of Saddam and Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction is an important set of
goals if the war goals well. No war, however, can do more than provide a basis for
making Iraq somewhat better and then giving the Iraqis control over their own destiny.
No outcome of the war can reshape the Gulf or the Middle East.
The idea of instant democratization coming out of the war and spreading throughout the
region denies the laws of cause and effect and is ridiculous. So is the idea we know
enough about national building to create an Iraqi United States.
The best we can do is minimize our mistakes and the effect of the law of unintended
consequences. To do this requires both realism and commitment. If we rely on miracles
and good intentions, or act as occupiers rather than partners, we are almost certain to be
far more unhappy on the tenth anniversary of the next war as we were on the tenth
anniversary of the Gulf War.
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